Downtime: Kayak polo in 3D

AdamHugo24

The Richmond Rapids kayak polo club practicing ahead of their Riverrock debut this weekend. (Photos courtesy Adam Hugo)

When Adam Hugo returned to Richmond after five years in Austin, Texas, he brought back with him a love not for barbecue or live music, but for something else the two cities now have in common: kayak polo.

The owner of 3D rendering firm Hugo Render has spent the past year or so promoting the sport and building a local club, Richmond Rapids, with co-founder and fellow Austin transplant Omar Hafez.

Now with enough members to compete, the club is putting its play on display as a new attraction at this year’s Dominion Energy Riverrock, the weekendlong outdoor sports and music festival that gets underway today on the downtown riverfront.

AdamHugo7

Adam Hugo, right, aims to block a throw.

The Richmond Rapids will be competing against four other teams – from Austin, New York, San Francisco and Canada – in what’s being called the Cup of the East, a round-robin tournament that’s the last stateside event before the 2024 world championships in Deqing, China. Hugo said the coach of the USA team will be at Riverrock selecting the final roster based on performance in Cup of the East.

“That’s pretty cool,” Hugo said matter-of-factly. “Riverrock has made gold medals for the first-place team, and then Sports Backers is providing a top goal-scorer accolade, and they get a cool Hydro Flask.

“I’m really hoping that we just grow our player base and get more people to know what it is, and maybe that could lead to people wanting to sponsor us or us getting more members,” he said. “We’ve got some events scheduled after Riverrock for youth beginners or adult beginners that want to come out and try out the sport, two clinics where we’re hoping to retain some of that momentum.”

AdamHugo9

Hugo looking to throw.

A lacrosse player as a student at St. Christopher’s School, the 27-year-old grew up in the West End and did his share of canoeing and kayak fishing before moving to Austin, where he discovered kayak polo on social media platform Meetup.

“It was super-addicting and fun, and from there I got hooked,” Hugo said. “I started to get better at the game too, until eventually I was playing it competitively for Austin’s club.”

Soon enough, he was competing for national and international teams, in such locales as Belgium and Brazil.

“It’s pretty crazy all the places you get to go. It’s way more popular in Europe, actually. Here, it’s still developing,” he said. “I think partly because of how far away each state is from each other. In Europe, Germany and France can (easily) practice against each other.”

AdamHugo11

The club practices in the river across from Tredegar.

Essentially water polo but on a boat, Hugo likened kayak polo to basketball as well, with teams of five shooting for goals and jostling for position.

“But unlike basketball, there is a goalie sitting in front of the goal. The goal is suspended in the air; it’s only about a meter by a meter and a half. The goalie will use his paddle to defend the goal, and you just work an offense and a defense pretty similarly to basketball,” he said.

Players use their hands, and their paddles, to pass the ball and take shots at the goal, all the while bumping kayaks in what Hugo described as a high-contact water version of bumper cars.

“You’re moving with your paddle with two hands, but you also have to have one hand free or the paddle to catch the ball, so it’s a super coordination thing,” he said. “Some people will catch the ball with their paddle and fling it, and then some may catch it with their hands. People are bouncing it off their boats; it’s really chaotic and crazy to watch.”

The kayaks have bumpers on the front and are smaller in size to allow players to dip bows and sterns to knock around opponents. Players wear helmets with faceguards and life jackets, and Hugo said injuries are rare.

AdamHugo1

Hugo, right, with Hafez, a fellow Austin transplant who co-founded the Richmond club.

Having started Richmond Rapids last May with Hafez, a Northern Virginia native who similarly relocated from Austin, Hugo said he’s enjoyed seeing the sport pick up here. The club practices in the river across from the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar.

“Creating my own club was part of the motivation for coming back here,” he said. “I just thought Richmond would be a good place, because of how many whitewater kayakers there are.”

In relocating from Austin, where he said it had gotten too crowded, Hugo likewise moved his Hugo Render firm, which he founded after graduating from St. Christopher’s and taking a gap year.

With a staff of six who work remotely, the company creates 3D visualizations and renderings for commercial clients, including his father Jay Hugo’s 3North design firm. 3North’s renderings for the new Riverfront Amphitheater that’s developing near Tredegar were made by Hugo Render.

Amphitheater 1

One of Hugo Render’s renderings of the upcoming Riverfront Amphitheater. (BizSense file)

Hugo said he’s put his design skills to work for Richmond Rapids to create media, brochures, logos and apparel. He said connections he’s made with the company also have helped in navigating the club among various groups that make up Richmond’s riverfront community.

When he’s not at work, the Manchester resident said he is often on the river, where his 10-person club can be seen practicing. He said he and Hafez have put about $12,000 into the club with the hope that it becomes self-supportive through sponsorships or club memberships.

At Riverrock, they’ll be competing in the Brown’s Island canal, with tournament rounds scheduled throughout the day Saturday and Sunday, leading up to the finals at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. An exhibition match also is scheduled at 3:30, and the club’s getting an assist from Whiting-Turner, the construction firm building the new CoStar building that’s sponsoring building material for the tournament and made the nets behind the goals.

AdamHugo22

Club members getting some pointers from Mark Poindexter, coach of the USA National Team and leader of the Austin Aquabats club.

Being the host and home team, Hugo acknowledged that the pressure is on for the Richmond Rapids this weekend. But with kayak polo added to the Riverrock mix, for Hugo and Hafez, that’s a win in itself.

“It’s a little bit of pressure, but we’re so new, it’s kind of hard to fully compete at the level of some of these clubs who have been around for like 20 years,” Hugo said. Laughing, he added: “We’ll see what happens.”

This is the latest entry in our Downtime series, which focuses on business people’s pursuits outside the office. If you, a coworker or someone you know around town has an exciting or unique way of passing time off the clock, drop us a line at [email protected]. For previous installments of Downtime, click here.

AdamHugo24

The Richmond Rapids kayak polo club practicing ahead of their Riverrock debut this weekend. (Photos courtesy Adam Hugo)

When Adam Hugo returned to Richmond after five years in Austin, Texas, he brought back with him a love not for barbecue or live music, but for something else the two cities now have in common: kayak polo.

The owner of 3D rendering firm Hugo Render has spent the past year or so promoting the sport and building a local club, Richmond Rapids, with co-founder and fellow Austin transplant Omar Hafez.

Now with enough members to compete, the club is putting its play on display as a new attraction at this year’s Dominion Energy Riverrock, the weekendlong outdoor sports and music festival that gets underway today on the downtown riverfront.

AdamHugo7

Adam Hugo, right, aims to block a throw.

The Richmond Rapids will be competing against four other teams – from Austin, New York, San Francisco and Canada – in what’s being called the Cup of the East, a round-robin tournament that’s the last stateside event before the 2024 world championships in Deqing, China. Hugo said the coach of the USA team will be at Riverrock selecting the final roster based on performance in Cup of the East.

“That’s pretty cool,” Hugo said matter-of-factly. “Riverrock has made gold medals for the first-place team, and then Sports Backers is providing a top goal-scorer accolade, and they get a cool Hydro Flask.

“I’m really hoping that we just grow our player base and get more people to know what it is, and maybe that could lead to people wanting to sponsor us or us getting more members,” he said. “We’ve got some events scheduled after Riverrock for youth beginners or adult beginners that want to come out and try out the sport, two clinics where we’re hoping to retain some of that momentum.”

AdamHugo9

Hugo looking to throw.

A lacrosse player as a student at St. Christopher’s School, the 27-year-old grew up in the West End and did his share of canoeing and kayak fishing before moving to Austin, where he discovered kayak polo on social media platform Meetup.

“It was super-addicting and fun, and from there I got hooked,” Hugo said. “I started to get better at the game too, until eventually I was playing it competitively for Austin’s club.”

Soon enough, he was competing for national and international teams, in such locales as Belgium and Brazil.

“It’s pretty crazy all the places you get to go. It’s way more popular in Europe, actually. Here, it’s still developing,” he said. “I think partly because of how far away each state is from each other. In Europe, Germany and France can (easily) practice against each other.”

AdamHugo11

The club practices in the river across from Tredegar.

Essentially water polo but on a boat, Hugo likened kayak polo to basketball as well, with teams of five shooting for goals and jostling for position.

“But unlike basketball, there is a goalie sitting in front of the goal. The goal is suspended in the air; it’s only about a meter by a meter and a half. The goalie will use his paddle to defend the goal, and you just work an offense and a defense pretty similarly to basketball,” he said.

Players use their hands, and their paddles, to pass the ball and take shots at the goal, all the while bumping kayaks in what Hugo described as a high-contact water version of bumper cars.

“You’re moving with your paddle with two hands, but you also have to have one hand free or the paddle to catch the ball, so it’s a super coordination thing,” he said. “Some people will catch the ball with their paddle and fling it, and then some may catch it with their hands. People are bouncing it off their boats; it’s really chaotic and crazy to watch.”

The kayaks have bumpers on the front and are smaller in size to allow players to dip bows and sterns to knock around opponents. Players wear helmets with faceguards and life jackets, and Hugo said injuries are rare.

AdamHugo1

Hugo, right, with Hafez, a fellow Austin transplant who co-founded the Richmond club.

Having started Richmond Rapids last May with Hafez, a Northern Virginia native who similarly relocated from Austin, Hugo said he’s enjoyed seeing the sport pick up here. The club practices in the river across from the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar.

“Creating my own club was part of the motivation for coming back here,” he said. “I just thought Richmond would be a good place, because of how many whitewater kayakers there are.”

In relocating from Austin, where he said it had gotten too crowded, Hugo likewise moved his Hugo Render firm, which he founded after graduating from St. Christopher’s and taking a gap year.

With a staff of six who work remotely, the company creates 3D visualizations and renderings for commercial clients, including his father Jay Hugo’s 3North design firm. 3North’s renderings for the new Riverfront Amphitheater that’s developing near Tredegar were made by Hugo Render.

Amphitheater 1

One of Hugo Render’s renderings of the upcoming Riverfront Amphitheater. (BizSense file)

Hugo said he’s put his design skills to work for Richmond Rapids to create media, brochures, logos and apparel. He said connections he’s made with the company also have helped in navigating the club among various groups that make up Richmond’s riverfront community.

When he’s not at work, the Manchester resident said he is often on the river, where his 10-person club can be seen practicing. He said he and Hafez have put about $12,000 into the club with the hope that it becomes self-supportive through sponsorships or club memberships.

At Riverrock, they’ll be competing in the Brown’s Island canal, with tournament rounds scheduled throughout the day Saturday and Sunday, leading up to the finals at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. An exhibition match also is scheduled at 3:30, and the club’s getting an assist from Whiting-Turner, the construction firm building the new CoStar building that’s sponsoring building material for the tournament and made the nets behind the goals.

AdamHugo22

Club members getting some pointers from Mark Poindexter, coach of the USA National Team and leader of the Austin Aquabats club.

Being the host and home team, Hugo acknowledged that the pressure is on for the Richmond Rapids this weekend. But with kayak polo added to the Riverrock mix, for Hugo and Hafez, that’s a win in itself.

“It’s a little bit of pressure, but we’re so new, it’s kind of hard to fully compete at the level of some of these clubs who have been around for like 20 years,” Hugo said. Laughing, he added: “We’ll see what happens.”

This is the latest entry in our Downtime series, which focuses on business people’s pursuits outside the office. If you, a coworker or someone you know around town has an exciting or unique way of passing time off the clock, drop us a line at [email protected]. For previous installments of Downtime, click here.

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Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
27 days ago

Awesome! This is what I liked about Richmond when I first moved here — not the stuffiness and old resentments, but the portion of the city that was truly active and creative. Now, for a city Richmond’s size and wealth the amount of actual innovation is not going to be off-the-charts, but at least it would borrow a lot from more prosperous and creative places, crawl before it walks, and live up to some of its great potential, including taking advantage of one of the nicer, funner splashier rivers that run through the downtown. As I told Outside Magazine in… Read more »

George MacGuffin
George MacGuffin
27 days ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

…until one sees the map of the James with all the locations of sewage treatment plants up-river, and the city’s Combined Seage Overflows (CSO) that frequently contribute to raw sewage spills. The west has cases of necrotizing fascitis, but they’re small charms, er, cases.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
26 days ago

That’s cute. Not sure bringing up NF is relevant to the James, other than the fact that it is water — people get that on beaches I think the most, and they even get it from swimming pools.

The thing that gives me most pause is slightly different, the amoebae that can enter through your nose when diving into a warm lake…

As far as the James goes, the main danger is still drowning from rapids I think and I have not heard of an infection problem.

https://rvanews.com/news/death-by-river-an-alarmist-consults-a-medical-professional/127654

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
26 days ago

PS, I am curious where these treatment plants are — I was under the impression that they are mostly downstream of Richmond.

Runoff can be a problem, sure. But this is true in creeks in the Shend. Valley esp where there is livestock, and of course even in clear mountain streams….