PUNTA ARENAS, Chile – Travellers to Antarctica need to pack plenty of things for the trip – but not many visitors to the frozen continent plan on taking more ice with them. Ryan Bahl does things a bit differently.
He’s preparing to set up the first-ever official, organised ice hockey game at the bottom of the world. In the process he’ll become the first man to play hockey on every continent, an achievement that’s attracted the interest of the Guinness Book of Records and the Hockey Hall of Fame. At the same time, there’s a powerful environmental message, with the project raising funds to support conservation projects in the fragile polar region.
But doing all that needs ice. And not just the snow-coated, glacial tracts that grind across Antarctica. The first step is to get an ice rink that can be transported to the foot of the globe and assembled on the landmass. Perverse as it sounds, it means taking ice to the Antarctic.
“We’re really trying to make it professional,” said Bahl during the recent Copa Invernada tournament in Punta Arenas, Chile, where he represented the Stanley Penguins of the Falkland Islands.
“I’ve seen pictures of guys in Antarctica skating, stick-handling, playing with pucks and stuff, but we’re calling this an official game. So we need a proper rink – boards, clean ice, referees, all that kind of stuff. We can’t be sure that it’s the first time hockey will be played on Antarctica but I think it will be the first ever official game.”
That ramps up the logistics. A rink will need to travel down from Canada, while creating a two-inch ice surface – even for a small ice pad – will take around 25,000 gallons of water. Much of the $100,000 fundraising target will be eaten up by the playing surface.
But the ambitious project could leave a lasting legacy – on Antarctica and beyond.
“We’ll bring the rink down from Canada but we don’t want to take it back again,” Bahl added. “Ideally we’ll find some way to make it sustainable so we can come back to Antarctica and play each year.”
“We’d like to donate the rink to a community in this part of the world – we’re hoping that Grant [Budd, a British hockey player pioneering the game on the Falklands] could make it work. Earlier in July we brought four youth teams to Chile, 75 people came over altogether from the Islands, so it would be extremely awesome if we could get the rink to the Falklands. I think that will work out, and if we can make it a sustainable thing we’ll be able to take the rink down once a year and send it back to Antarctica for our game.”
Repeat events would help to meet the already huge demand for the chance to play at the edge of the world. Just six weeks after setting up a website at www.antarctichockey.com
, Bahl had more than 350 people interested in playing. By the time the game comes around next year that could have grown into thousands – far more than could be accommodated on one trip.
And the project has rapidly gained attention throughout the hockey community.
“You find that pretty much everyone in hockey is a good guy,” Bahl said. “This has grown organically up to now, we’ve not done much marketing, and people are coming forward to help. The Hockey Foundation is looking at the logistics of the rink, an agency in LA is helping us with a business plan and the Hockey Hall of Fame has been in touch about getting some of our uniforms for the museum after the game."
“It’s just been mayhem. As soon as the site went live I started getting 20 or 30 emails a day from people interested in getting involved. It’s really cool that the hockey community wants to help and share the work so that it’s not all about me.”
Bahl, from San Diego, California, first got the idea after a hockey career that took him right around the world. He’s played in 14 countries on six continents, from California to Cape Town, Hong Kong to Chile. But to claim that world record he was told he needed to get to Antarctica.
“To be honest, the whole project almost started out of spite,” he smiled. “I spoke to the Guinness Book of Records thinking that I might be the first, or the youngest, to play on all six continents. They told me they couldn’t recognise six continents as an official record because it didn’t include Antarctica. So I guess this started off with me trying to prove them wrong.”
But the idea quickly grew into something bigger. Bahl is keen to show that hockey can be played anywhere, and also hopes to raise money to protect the environment and make sure that future generations still have opportunities to play the game outdoors, where it all began on the ponds of Canada.
“I’m keen on promoting the idea that people can get out and try new things, whether that’s playing pro hockey in Europe or getting involved in amateur tournaments like the Copa Invernada in Chile,” Bahl added. “It’s cool when people can get out of their regular bubble, experience new cultures and meet new people … and there’s nothing better than a game on Antarctica to prove that there’s literally no borders or limits to where you can play hockey.”
“Also, hockey was traditionally played outdoors on frozen ponds. But if we don’t protect our environment, future generations may not have the same opportunities to play outdoors. Even here, when I came this time last year we had a foot of snow everywhere and it was white wherever you looked. Now it’s just rainy and muddy out, totally different. So any additional money we can raise will go to wildlife organisations in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands to help conserve the environment.”
For more details on the project, and how supporters can contribute via a Gofundme account, a sponsorship package, or by signing up to play in Antarctica, visit http://www.antarctichockey.com/