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5 min

Pulling the Triggerfish

Full contact in Speedos

CARDIO & CAMARADERIE. The Mighty Triggerfish, Toronto's gay and lesbian water polo team hosts the Polopalooza tournie on Fri., Mar 27 to 29. Credit: Josh Levy

If you’re turned on by the sight of athletic men and women in Speedos or even the scent of chlorine in the air then be sure check out the Mighty Triggerfish, Toronto’s gay and lesbian water polo team.

I’m at the University of Toronto Athletic Centre to meet up with my buddy Charles Pavia who has agreed to show me why water polo is one of the best workouts around and a great way to spend Friday nights too. Pavia is well known about town as a fun-loving promoter of parties at clubs like Straight and Fly, but few realize he leads a secret life as one of the Triggerfish’s star goalies.

Pavia leads me into the pool area. There are so many sexy boys and girls around that I don’t know which way to look first.

What is water polo anyway? It’s not that game where somebody in a blindfold yells out “Marco!” and everybody tries to keep away from him, is it?

“No,” laughs Pavia, “and it’s not with horses either! It’s a full-contact sport — and not in the gay sense of the term — like soccer or basketball but played in the water.”

Pavia started playing water polo a few years ago. Why? “Cute boys.” Pavia says he’s since discovered a sense of brotherhood among the Triggerfish that he never experienced while playing team sports like soccer in high school.

The Triggerfish consist of both recreational and competitive teams. Everybody starts out on the rec team. Once a player masters his eggbeater (treading water with just the legs), endurance and the basics of the game, they can choose to move up to the competitive team.

Pavia takes me into the locker room to get changed and introduces me to his sexy teammates. You sure get to know people quickly when you first meet them naked. As the rowdy group slips into their Speedos it is obvious they have a total blast together. But as we head out onto the deck I notice most of the guys are sporting mouth guards. Dazzled by multicoloured baskets, I’ve forgotten that water polo is a full-contact sport. Triggerfish are among the toughest fish in the sea: playful but aggressive. What have I got myself into?

The Triggerfish were formed almost a decade ago when Toronto played host to the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics Association; none of the original founders are left. “The final one retired this year,” says Pavia. “Some people moved, some adopted children and some are in their 60s.

“We have a wide range of people on the team, even our coach’s mom. It consists of gays, lesbians, straight guys and straight girls, so it’s this really cool mix of all kinds of people. It’s one of the few places where men and women and gays and straights all come together recreationally to enjoy themselves.”

What does it take to be a member?

“You need to be able to swim four lengths of the pool without stopping. And you need to be able to tread water for a limited amount of time. Because everything else we can teach you. As long as you can swim and stay afloat, you’ll pick up the rest.

“When I started I thought I can swim, I grew up swimming, I can do this,” says Pavia, “but I was in the pool for less than five minutes and I was on the side, holding on for dear life, heaving because it was so difficult to do eggbeater for any length of time. You don’t realize how much work it is when you can’t ever touch the bottom or stop. It’s the ultimate cardio routine.”

I’m dreading it.

I slip into the pool with the rest of the team, feeling decidedly out of place. I have no idea what to do with the yellow balls floating all around me.

Every practice starts with warm-up lengths. After just a couple of minutes I’m wheezing. We launch into a series of drills: swim hard up on the net, shoot, then swing around to attack the next player in line. I am completely wiped out after just 10 minutes or so.

Fortunately a big source of inspiration comes in the form of the team’s beloved coach Christi Bardecki, who patrols the deck barking orders and instructions with a huge smile on her face. Bardecki played for the national Canadian team and is currently a member of the British team. She loves coaching the Triggerfish and it shows.

“What’s unique about this team?” Bardecki asks with a grin. “Everything. They’re pretty amazing. The biggest thing is that they’re people from all walks of life — some who have never even played the sport before! But water polo brings everyone together and they fall in love with it and it’s what keeps us all going.”

Is it common to have men and women playing on the same team?

“Um no, this is one of the only intersex teams I know. But it doesn’t really change the dynamic. It doesn’t have much to do with gender; it’s more about how competitive you want to be. It can get rough out there, but it’s all in good fun.”

The Triggerfish hold the seventh-annual Polopalooza from Fri, Mar 27 to 29. Flirtatious team member Scott McVittie says Polopalooza has a reputation as the most spirited and exciting tournament in North America. This year the Triggerfish will be hosting teams from Atlanta, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, as well as many teams from closer to home.

Pavia is particularly excited about the participation of the team from the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston. “We’ve been playing with RMC for three or four years now. They too are a mixed team of men and women. They are cool with us. They’ve even taken us to the gay bar in Kingston when we’ve been there competing.

“They are excited to attend Polopalooza. This will be the first time they’ve come to play at our tournament since it’s difficult for them to get funding to leave Kingston because it’s taxpayer money. I think we’re hosted-housing all of them.”

That should be fun. I bet everyone is fighting over who gets to put them up. Pavia smiles. “No comment.”

Polopalooza is about more than just water polo — there are parties too. “We have a registration party at Woody’s on Friday the 27th and then we’re gonna go to Straight after that. Everybody’s welcome,” says Pavia. “Saturday night after the first day of games we’re gonna have a big casino-themed party upstairs at Fly.”

The Triggerfish are sending two teams — more than 25 players — to compete in the Out Games in Copenhagen this coming July. As a result fundraising is a big part of the Polopalooza. Pavia is particularly excited about the Roaming Kissing Booth where it’s a loony for a peck, a toonie for lips and five bucks for more. “Twenty bucks is anything goes,” says Pavia with a grin, “so come and kiss a water polo boy.”

Pavia is the current holder of the Perky Pom Poms Award for the most-spirited player, and it’s easy to see why: His enthusiasm is infectious. “I think it’s awesome that we have over 70 people who for the most part have never played water polo in their life climbing into a pool every week in the freezing cold winter and in the hot summer — it’s crazy.”

The practice climaxes in a short match. I do my best, but I’m tired and I’m lousy. Afterward everybody tells me how well I played for a first-timer, but I know they’re just being friendly. I stank up the joint. But man, did I have fun.

When we hit the showers after the practice I can’t help but get a little turned on. This is a remarkably fit, fun and well-hung team. I can’t think of a more satisfying way to spend a Friday night.

In the end coach Bardecki describes it best: “This is the most dynamic sport you’ll ever see in your life. It’s a combination of hockey, soccer, basketball and wrestling in the water — and you get to see it all in bathing suits!”