Although proud of the Barracuda Water Polo Club’s sporting prowess, members agree that the true mark of the club’s longevity has been the camaraderie and team spirit it fosters.
In 1963, a pod of Tugun lifesavers left the sand and surf to secure weekday jobs in Brisbane city. To maintain their fitness for weekend beach patrols they erected nets and played water polo in West End’s Musgrave Pool, giving rise to the Barracudas. Almost 50 years later, the Barracuda’s Water Polo Club has nurtured 14 Olympians and currently has seven potential stars vying for the national teams and the honour to play in the London Olympics in 2012.
Beijing Olympian Rhys Howden (24) was one of many at the club who started as a junior. Now he is hoping to join Australia’s Olympic water polo team, the Sharks, for the second time. “I have grown up in and around Barras. My dad (former British water polo champion Phil Howden) got me and my brother into it,” he says. Rhys made his national debut in 2007 in China and in 2008 “played himself” into the Olympic team, the Sharks. He recognises he owes a lot to the “old guys” at Barras who not only developed his water polo technique but also helped him establish his livelihood, a tropical plant rental business.
Rhys’s younger brother, BJ Howden, and teammate Dan Young also have aspirations to play for the Sharks in 2012. In the meantime, all three train, play and socialise at the club, injecting a real sense of fun into the pool. “It is important to encourage younger players; they are our future and this is a pretty good way of giving back to the sport,” Rhys says.
An important part of the club is its long-term supporters. “See look there is Al; he has been here as long as I have,” Rhys says of Al Humphries, who for the past 12 years has seen thousands of club members through the turnstiles at the pool, as the lessee of Musgrave Swimming Pool.
While the men’s teams at the Barras club are strong, the exploits of the women have been even greater. In 2011, they became the only team ever to win three consecutive National League titles. Having step sisters and Olympians Kate Gynther and Mel Rippon in the Barra ranks had a lot to do with the success. Kate’s father, Neil Gynther, joined the club in 1968. “The real strength of the Barras is the fact that a lot of the old members who have been around a long, long time are still involved with the club,” Neil explains. Today’s stars are also active with the club. Mel Rippon, captain of the Stingers at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, currently coaches the under 16s girls, while Rhys has also coached the younger boys.
West Ender and Barras Under 16s player Bede Denham says, “It is great because at Barracudas water polo, sometimes you can play up in an older age group and you learn a lot from those boys. They usually know more and are better than you and bigger, but they look after you. Training is fun and there’s some teasing, some humiliating those who stuff something up, such as missing the cage [the goal] entirely, or not listening properly … but it’s all good. There’s a lot of laughing.”
Words by Maria Ceresa