Though it might surprise some who are unfamiliar with it, water polo can be an awfully physical sport – think full-contact basketball, all while treading water as you aim to keep your head above water.
And no one knows the physically demanding nature of the sport more than Garrett Davis, a 16-year-old Ocean Park resident who has been playing against older, stronger competition since he was about nine years old.
“It’s so physical, and that was one challenge for me – always getting put up with older age groups,” he explained. “I just wasn’t the same as them, physically.
“Water polo’s not a huge sport, so everyone around Canada kind of knows everybody, and me being younger, everybody knew me, so it was like, ‘Oh, this kid’s younger than us, I’m just gonna pound on him.’
“It wasn’t always fun, but I’m sort of used to it now… I think it’s kind of funny that people have to beat on me to get me to stop scoring.”
Scoring has rarely been a problem for the multi-sport athlete, who also plays basketball and rugby at Earl Marriott Secondary. And this week, he’ll be trying to do it against the toughest competition he’s ever faced, as a member of the Canadian national under-17 team, which earlier this week travelled to Lima, Peru for 2017 Pan American Championships, which run until July 9.
Davis was long-listed for the team earlier this year, and in early June made the final cut.
Once again, he will be the youngest player on the team.
A member of the Langley-based Fraser Valley Water Polo club, Davis – who learned to swim with the Crescent Beach Swimming Club – was turned onto the sport as a youngster, thanks to a friend from California who used to visit the Semiahmoo Peninsula each summer.
“(Water polo) is really popular in California. I used to go down there just to swim, and he’d always say, ‘let’s play water polo’ so I just jumped into it. I was always a good swimmer, but swimming lengths just got kind of boring for me,” he said.
“So to add a ball, and to be able to check someone and to be able to score, that was just more interesting to me.”
Though he’s now one of Canada’s top youth players, Davis is quick to admit that, in the beginning, he struggled with the intense fitness demands of the sport, which requires players to stay in the water for the better part of four eight-minute quarters.
“The only time I really get a breath is when it’s halftime, or when my coach calls a timeout, but definitely, when I started out, I was not the most athletic-looking kid out there,” he said.
When he entered high school, Davis said he began to take the sport more seriously. He worked out, starting eating “super healthy” and also starting running in an attempt to improve his cardiovascular strength.
“I just did it so (water polo) wouldn’t be as hard.”
This week’s journey with the national program isn’t his first foray with a Canadian team. In recent years, he’s also been a part of national U14, U16 and even U19 teams. However, those teams only went on what Davis called “training trips” – to places like Calgary, Saskatoon, Montreal and California.
The Pan American Games mark the first time Davis will face international competition.
“Playing for Canada, it’s always been a dream of mine,” he said. “This is the biggest thing I’ve done. I’m looking forward to it.
Incidentally, one of his Team Canada teammates this week, Vancouver’s Sandro Miletic, was on the other end of one of Davis’ more physical moments of the club water polo season.
In fact, it was a full-on fight.
Davis was playing for his Fraser Valley team, and Miletic for the Pacific Storm. The game was particularly bruising one, and the action escalated to the point where the two were whistled for “fighting above the water.”
“We’re friends – we’re close. We text all the time,” Davis said. “But there were punches thrown.”
When fists began to fly, “everyone started freaking out – players, coaches, everyone,” he said. Both players were ejected, and hopped out of the pool. But rather than collect their bags and leave the area, they instead walked towards each othe, eventually meeting in the centre of the pool deck.
“I was ready to just run at him, and I’m sure he felt the same way about me,” Davis said.
“Everyone thought we were going to start fighting again, but we just put our hands out and gave each other a hug. After the game, everything was good. There’s probably not too many sports where you see that.”
Davis, Miletic and the rest of the Canadian team will stay in Peru for the duration of the Pan American Games – which features other sports aside from water polo – and will return home July 10.