Unicycle hockey is somewhat unusual in the world of sport (and that’s ignoring the fact that it’s an entirely separate sport played on a completely unrelated wheeled vehicle!) in that it’s not like older sports that have historic variations and similar games that have evolved into the version we know today and it’s not like lots of other modern sports that have a clear, recorded start point.
In fact, nobody is entirely sure when or where unicycle hockey was first played or if it was even a real thing when it first showed up – the first record we know of was a short clip in the 1925 german silent movie Varieté which showed two of the actors riding unicycles around a stage and holding hockey sticks with two small goals at either end with a ‘ball’ that appears to be a rolled-up bundle of cloth.
The whole thing only lasts around 20 seconds and the players spend more time messing about with the goals and their hats than actually playing the game!
The scene the clip appears in is something of a circus medley with performers demonstrating a host of other circus skills so there’s no context to explain if this is even a game that people played or just a couple of circus unicyclists entertaining themselves between shows.
Unicycle Hockey – 1960’s-1970’s
The next public appearance of unicycle hockey was an article in the August 1960 edition of The Bicycle Journal where one of the members of the Albuquerque Unicycle Club tells us “Our activities consist of all types of racing, riding, basketball and unicycle hockey”
But once again, there’s no background info and no more details to help us find out if this is a bit of fun between club members or something with a wider network of players and teams. This does seem unlikely though as the Albuquerque Unicycle Club was the only known unicycle club in the US at the time.
There are passing mentions of unicycle hockey being played in Japan in the early 70’s but still without any real detail (or none that has survived until now at least) so the next major milestone in the sport is the founding of the first unicycle hockey club in 1976.
Wheel People was founded in California and is the first known unicycle hockey club and, while it may be the first known unicycle club, it’s certainly not the best known one as all we really know about the club is that it ran for around 10 years. No details on members, matches, rules, or anything really.
Unicycle Hockey – 1980’s -1990’s
Just like big hair, spandex, and scrunchies, unicycle hockey really started to gain popularity in the eighties with new clubs springing up around the world.
Germany saw its first club, LaHiMo, founded in 1985 and two British clubs were also formed towards the end of the decade. The first by workers of DM Engineering who manufactured DM Unicycles in Dorset and the second was LUNIS, based in north London.
This inevitably led to the first competitive unicycle hockey matches being played in the UK and the first national competition was held at Covent Garden in 1988, with LUNIS claiming victory.
The 1990’s saw even more adoption of the game across Europe with Switzerland joining the fun and a significant increase in players in Germany. By 1991 Germany had at least three teams and founded the first unicycle hockey league which was, and still is the largest in the world.
As popularity continued to rise, the first European Championships of unicycle hockey were held in September 1993 as part of the European Juggling Convention the was being hosted in Leeds, UK. LaHiMo took victory against LUNIS in the final but they didn’t do it without help – they couldn’t field a full compliment of players so they joined forces with players from another team, Tous En Piste, and the newly formed group, called LAHIMO en piste, went on to claim the title.
Hot on the heels of the first European Championship came the first World Championship as unicycle hockey was included at Unicon, the World Unicycling Convention and Championships, for the first time in 1994. Eight teams from Germany, Canada, Peurto Rico and USA competed with Germany taking home the title against USA in the final. 1994 was the 7th iteration of the biennial event and the hockey was clearly well received as it’s been included in every convention since.
Unicycle hockey has continued to grow steadily ever since and there are currently active teams in at least 16 countries around the world and an ever growing number of national leagues to match.
Germany has by far the biggest national league with over 70 teams registered, which unsurprisingly translates to regular success in international competitions.
Switzerland and Australia have the biggest leagues after Germany with 20 and 8 teams in them respectively and both nations are seeing the fruits of their strong domestic competitions with Switzerland winning the 2018 world championships at UNICON XIX and Australia claiming regular victories in the Asia-Pacific Unicycle Competition.
Interest continues to grow in this wacky and unusual sport and unicycle hockey is now a staple in several major international unicycling events such as the biennial APUC which welcomes competitors from up to 8 countries across Asia, Eurocycle which hosts the European championships and of course UNICON where players compete in the world championships.
Recent world events have obviously put the brakes on for most competitive sports but it’s clear to see that unicycle hockey is only going from strength to strength within the unicycling community. And as more teams and competitors from around the world take part in the ever-growing international competitions (UNICON alone has around 2000 participants) there seems to be no doubt that unicycle hockey will only get more and more popular – you could even say it’s due to experience ‘hockey stick growth’ in the near future…