While it is the heart of winter in Europe, about 8,000 kilometers away there is an island where water polo is played all year round in tropical temperatures. In the sea! We are talking about the island of Bonaire, a special municipality of the Netherlands in the Caribbean Sea. This small island, where everything goes ‘poko poko’ (take it easy), is the proud home of the swimming and water polo club Bonaire Barracudas and the dream location to play water polo.
Bonaire has less than 20,000 inhabitants, making it wonderfully quiet and leaving plenty of space for unspoiled nature. A visit below the surface of the water shouldn’t be missed either. The island is known as a divers paradise. Bonaire Barracudas plays its matches in that great setting.
The club exists thanks to Simone Sweers, who came to Bonaire in 1992 to live and work there as a physiotherapist. In the Netherlands, she was an enthusiastic player for GZC Donk (Gouda), with a lot of love and passion for the sport. When she recognized that there was no water polo club on Bonaire, she decided, together with Valerie Stimpson, to change that. This led to the foundation of the swimming and water polo club Bonaire Barracudas. And although the club has seen many trainers and members come and go since it was founded in 2004, Simone is still one of the driving forces behind the club, which now has about a hundred members.
“Water polo has been on the rise here over the past five years”, she explains. “We now have several teams in the categories U10, U12, U14 and U16. This is thanks to various projects, such as the ‘Bonaire Aquatics Youth Outreach Program’. In close collaboration with the Bonaire Aquatics Bond, this project has been implemented since September 2018, whereby trainers from Bonaire Barracudas give water polo training to children in after-school care once a week. Three locations for after-school care are currently participating in this project. In this way, these children are introduced to the sport at a young age and talents can be stimulated to continue.”
More than half of the Barracudas are under 18 years old. The main reason for this is the lack of educational opportunities on the island. After high school, many players go abroad to study. “We hope to inspire foreign teams to make a water polo holiday or training trip to Bonaire,” Simone continues. “They can make unlimited use of our sea pool. In combination with the climate, this makes Bonaire the ideal destination for a training camp with our Barracudas as a sparring partner!”
Even when you are on a holiday on Bonaire, you don’t have to miss out on your beloved hobby, because at the Bonaire Barracudas you are always welcome to play water polo. Five days a week at different times, training is given by five enthusiastic trainers. As said, all those training and competitions take place in the sea. Simone: “Bonaire does not have a regular swimming pool. Playing water polo in the sea is of course a bit different than in a normal pool. You are dealing with a different floatability, salt water in your eyes, waves, coral and pikas (very small jellyfish that sting). But also with turtles swimming under you, jumping dolphins in the distance or suddenly a group of flying fish in the field!” The Barracudas love their sea pool. Often they even train until sunset, and anyone who has ever been to the Caribbean knows that nowhere in the world are the sunsets more spectacular than there. The rest is wonderfully simple: the swimming pool is demarcated by lines in the water and a clubhouse is not necessary: even at night it never gets colder than 25 degrees on Bonaire.
The members of the club are just as diverse as the residents of Bonaire. The club believes it is important that the members are a good reflection of the inhabitants of the island. Although the club does not have as many local members as, for example, the soccer clubs on the island, almost all nationalities are represented; the Bonaire Barracudas are Dutch, Surinamese, Venezuelans, Colombians, Chinese, Americans and of course Bonairians. During the trainings, English, Dutch, Spanish and Papiamento are often mixed up.
The seniors also form a colorful group with men and women of very different ages and backgrounds. At the end of 2018, water polo fanatic Max van Drongelen came to Bonaire to give the senior team a new boost. “When I came, the seniors were a small group of men and women who just wanted to throw a ball in their spare time,” Max says. Malou, Max’s sister, also came to Bonaire at the end of 2019. Together they have professionalized the training of the seniors. Both have been playing water polo since childhood in the Netherlands (at ZV de Kempvis and ZPB) and now they are happy to pass on this knowledge to the inhabitants of the island. “The group has grown enormously in two years, so now there is a complete women’s team and a complete men’s team,” Malou says. “The men and women train together because the level difference in the group is quite large. There are people who come to play water polo for the first time, but also seniors who have been training for years. This makes training very challenging! And because the training is in the sea and we cannot continuously shout against the wind for instructions, we also participate in the water.” Brother Max adds: “The group is so fanatical and the people are so nice. It’s fun to do!”
Because the Bonaire Barracudas is the only water polo club on the island, they are dependent on the teams from the surrounding countries for competition. Due to its geographical location, the club is not part of the Dutch swimming federation (KNZB). To participate as a special municipality of the Netherlands in competitions in the American and Caribbean regions, they have founded their own federation: the Bonaire Aquatics Bond (BAB). There are regular matches against Curaçao and Aruba. In 2019, two youth teams participated in Carifta, one of the largest aquatics tournaments in the Caribbean. In February 2020, just before the COVID-pandemic, the U14 took part in a major youth tournament in Miami. For the seniors, there is the ABC-cup every year, a tournament between Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao.
The pandemic ended the international program in 2020, but they are confidently looking ahead. Malou: “We are already busy with the preparations for the fifth edition of our international senior tournament, which is scheduled for October 2021. This tournament is an open competition for club teams (men and women) from different countries. The aim is to offer an event to share the passion for water polo, gain competition experience, have fun and learn from each other.” For this tournament teams from Curaçao, Aruba, Trinidad & Tobago, the Netherlands, Colombia and Barbados are invited. The tournament is from Thursday 28 to Sunday 31 October 2021 and when there are many registrations, the three days prior to the tournament will also be played. “The preliminary registration has already started. The deadline for the definitive registration is March 8, 2021. So interested teams can still register!”