AUSTRALIA has an increasing number of LGBTI sports teams. If you’re looking around for a new sport, one you might not have considered is water polo.

Melbourne Surge is Victoria’s LGBTI-inclusive water polo club. It’s been around for about 15 years, and has grown from a small group to accommodate more than 75 players.

President Ash McMaster says anyone can join the club. “Male, female, gay, straight, and anyone in between is welcome,” he says.

“And any ability as well. It’s not about being an elite athlete – it’s about coming along, being fit, being social, and getting what you want out of the club on your own terms.”

Ash says water polo has been regarded as one of the most difficult sports in the world, requiring speed, endurance, strength, and coordination. He’s been involved with the club for four years.

“I’d never played a team sport before,” he says. “I heard about Surge at Midsumma.

“There’s always a perceived notion that sport can be homophobic, and people are inherently afraid of that, and being able to be out and be yourself.

“To be able to feel like I could go into a sporting community that was welcoming was really quite positive. It was a great experience for me to be able to join the sport and do that.”

The club is the fastest-growing in Water Polo Victoria. Ash says the governing body is very supportive of Surge, and they’re proud of their inclusivity.

“They’ve always been really positive about the message that we have and making sure that we feel included,” he says.  

Melbourne Surge runs a rookies program each year, recruiting people who are new to water polo for a ‘crash course’ to develop their skills over a number of weeks. While many sports don’t have pathways for adults to get started, the club makes it easy to get into water polo even for people with no experience.

Ash says people can pursue the sport at their own level within the club, whether it’s playing socially or on the competitive team.

“You don’t have to be the best every time, you don’t have to always win,” he explains. “You can do what you want and get what you want out of the sport.”

Mitch Clark is a member of Melbourne Surge. He went through the rookies program at the start of last year, and is now on the competitive team.

“I’m really enjoying it,” he says.

Mitch had been involved in cycling and running before he joined the club, but had never done team sports before.

“The rookies program is great for people with zero skills to go and learn and not feel judged for being terrible,” he laughs.

Mitch says he’s been lucky in that he’s never encountered homophobia in a sports context.

“But I do know it’s a big problem for other people,” he adds. “I think having these sorts of groups take away as many impediments to inclusion as possible, and they’re a great idea.”

Water polo players come from all walks of life, but it’s a close group.

“You can’t go out anywhere without running into someone from Surge,” says Mitch. “It’s a community.”

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