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At first glance, seeing an Underwater Torpedo League battle is akin to seeing a train wreck. You can’t take your eyes off it but breathe a sigh of relief that you’re not involved.

This wild sport seems made for only the most fearless adult athletes. But fear not! Anyone from a doggy paddler to a triathlete can learn what it takes to compete in Underwater Torpedo League. The goal of Deep End Fitness, the force behind UTL, is to elevate your fitness and teach you swimming skills that will instill confidence underwater. That confidence can lead you to brave your own underwater battle.

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So dive into this article to learn more about Underwater Torpedo League, Deep End Fitness, and find out where you can get adult swimming lessons with a whole new twist (our sports directory is always a great resource).

The Story Behind The Sport of Underwater Torpedo League

man sitting at bottom of pool holding his breath
Don Tran Practicing Breath Hold Underwater

With roots steeped in the military, Underwater Torpedo League is somewhat of a water polo and football hybrid. The game is actually called underwater football in the military, and it traces back to the Vietnam Era. Both the Marine Corps and the Navy have some version of it, explains Don Tran, one of the founders of UTL and Deep End Fitness.

“The Navy SEALs played a version of it with fins,” says Don.

Don and his business partner, Prime Hall, met when they served as Marines. They were both Marine Raiders, part of the Marine Corps elite Special Operations. Prime was Don’s instructor at Marine Corps Water Survival School (MCWSS), a grueling course in the military with a pretty high failure rate.

As someone who worked in military sales for a diving equipment manufacturer, I was witness to a lot of this type of training and can tell you first-hand, it is no joke. The guys who make it past these schools are the best of the best.

In 2018, the two friends combined their passions for underwater competition and fitness and turned that love into two businesses–Underwater Torpedo League and Deep End Fitness.

The Rules of Underwater Torpedo League

Underwater Torpedo League match guys trying to steal torpedo out of another guy's hands underwater.
Battle Royale During An Underwater Torpedo League Match

The primary objective of UTL is to score goals. Goals are a point a piece, and the first team to earn five points wins the match. A game consists of three matches, so the team who wins the most matches wins the game.

Goals are on opposite ends of the deep end of a pool. One player is in possession of the torpedo at any given time and attempts to shoot the torpedo into the opponents’ goal. Sounds simple enough, right?

Here’s where it gets interesting. Players are allowed to tackle the torpedo holder, and the torpedo holder’s teammates are allowed to attack the tacklers. Stiff arming, pulling or pushing players away from the goal, and even using knees to create distance between players are all perfectly legal. You can’t push a player to the surface. If the torpedo holder feels overwhelmed at any time, they only need to release the torpedo, and the player can surface for air.

Watching the game in action is like watching an underwater ballet choreographed by warriors. It’s thrilling and scary and weird and captivating–all at once. Part of you wants to play. Another part of you hyperventilates thinking about it.

Safety Is Priority Number One

Despite it looking scary, Don emphasizes the safety factor in Underwater Torpedo League. You don’t go from zero to full-bore torpedo assassin on day one. Building confidence is one of the biggest keys to being comfortable in the water. That comes through swim training that focuses on skills to build that confidence, which is what Don and Prime’s other company, Deep End Fitness, offers.

In addition, all UTL games have a referee ready to stop play when they see any unsafe interactions. Gameplay might look chaotic, but it’s actually very structured (it was formulated by military guys, after all).

Jump Into the Deep End of Fitness to Hone Your UTL Skills

Deep End Fitness promotes itself as being “designed for the non-swimmers to get more comfortable in and around the water.” So if you think the training is only for hardcore athletes, think again. The company wants to make swimming approachable for even the most reticent swimmers.

What does the training entail? Don explains. “We always start off with a circle of trust and do a quick safety brief to make sure everybody knows what’s going on because our training is inherently riskier…because of the water factor.” For a beginner session, everyone introduces themselves, including their swimming backgrounds, and states their goals. This gives the trainers a good idea of how to work with the swimmers.

Woman poolside doing breath exercise
Poolside Breathing Exercises at Deep End Fitness Training

Before getting into the water, swimmers start the session on land. “We do some breath work on land, some stretches and warm-ups, and then we’ll do some type of breath hold exercise on land to give them a little bit of confidence before they get into the water,” continues Don.

Once a beginner builds confidence, they have to pass a screener test to advance to the intermediate class. That test includes a 10-minute water tread, a 25-meter underwater swim, and carrying a 10-pound brick out of the water for 25 meters. Finally, the beginner will have to throw goggles and mask into the pool’s deep end and retrieve them while keeping hands behind their back and only using their mouth.

Deep End Fitness Intermediate Training

Once a swimmer passes the screener test and advances to intermediate training, the training intensifies. Similar to CrossFit-type workouts, Deep End Fitness does things like AMRAPs (As Many Rounds As Possible) and other high-intensity training sessions. They integrate weights, help develop stamina, and focus a lot on breathwork and mental acuity.

Underwater Torpedo League scrimmage sessions often get worked into the classes.

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Who Participates in Deep End Fitness and Underwater Torpedo League?

Woman carrying weights at bottom of pool
Intermediate Training With Deep End Fitness

Deep End Fitness training currently operates at 17 facilities nationwide, and Don said the makeup of participants varies with the locations. Cities like San Diego and Long Beach have large military presences, so naturally attract more military participants. But Don says besides the military, the intermediate class attracts free divers and Cross Fitters. The male-to-female ratio sits at about 85 percent to 15 percent, respectively.

The class in San Clemente has a lot of pro surfers with kids, so they created a kid’s portion of the class. At the end of class, kids and parents play in UTL scrimmages.

The training even attracts drowning victims who want to overcome their fears. Don thinks Deep End Fitness training is a perfect way to face that fear–and beat it.

“We truly believe our niche is helping people understand their limitations and capabilities, number one,” says Don. He continues, “Number two is, if I’m faced with the fight or flight symptom–which everybody [is] when they’re underwater–[we’re] helping them navigate that and adapt to that stress.”

“The more adapting your body does to respond to that stress, the more coping mechanisms you build, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” finishes Don.

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How You Can Train With Deep End Fitness And Play Underwater Torpedo League

Deep End Fitness has ambitious goals to offer its training at 40 facilities by year-end. Visit our sports directory to see what’s available now, and bookmark it to check back for future openings in your area. Or you can visit the Deep End Fitness website as well.

If you don’t have a facility near you to train, or if you’ve moved away from a training facility, you can still bring Underwater Torpedo League to your very own pool. They offer the UTL game in a box, which includes the goals, torpedo, and game rules (as an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from these sales).

If you’re not ready to ready to play but would rather spectate, that’s okay, too. You can visit UTL’s website for their latest in-person events, or subscribe to their YouTube channel to catch all the heart-pounding excitement of their games.