In 2009, United States Marine Prime Hall, who had passed the three-week Marine Corps Water Survival School in which less than 50 percent of enrollees complete, was an instructor to certify combat water-safety swimmers. That's how, in 2010, he met and trained Don Tran at Camp Pendleton in California. From that point on, Hall and Tran spent nearly a decade learning to remain calm in any and all dangerous underwater situations.
“We were on the same team together at Marine Training School. We worked together every day. We saw each other at our best, saw each other at our worst, we were always together. After we graduated, we went out to Marine First Raider Battalion, at Camp Pendleton,” Don told me on the phone.
While the two attended Marine Special Operations School together, a game called underwater football was part of their training. “It’s a bit of an underground sport in the military, played by Marines, Navy SEALs, and Navy divers,” Don toldOutside magazine. “And it is exactly what it sounds like. You’re tackling each other underwater, trying to get a ball through a goal.”
But leave it to the United States Armed Forces to double down. The military-adapted version tossed aside the safety net of things like snorkels and added a football. “We played it every day, and we got really proficient at it, and built the framework of the game,” Hall told Task and Purpose magazine inan interview. “It was obviously my passion, and I was the one who was making deals with my captain so I could get all the guys in the pool so we were ready for dive school, but really, I wanted to play the game.”
Then, there were deployments. Lots of deployments.
In 2017, when both men were at crossroads in their military career, they decided to take what they love - the water, survival instruction, and good ole friendly competition - and try something new: theUnderwater Torpedo League.
The what now?
The Underwater Torpedo League is like a combination of ice hockey, water polo, and football. But, get this, it’s all played underwater. And it is exceptionally bad ass.
The object of the game is to move the torpedo underwater and place the torpedo in the goal area, a weighted net at the bottom of a 12 -14 feet deep pool, while other players attempt to stop you. Opposing players are allowed to tackle, pull on, hold back, or grapple with the player that has the torpedo.
Each game consists of three matches, with each match offering a point scoring round of five points per match. The team that reaches five points first wins the match. The team that wins two of the three matches wins the game.
Put me in, Coach.
In case you forgot, let us remind you: All underwater. If a player surfaces any part of his body with the torpedo, it will result in a penalty.
Why a torpedo? It’s simple. Don and Prime found that by drawing attention to something underwater, like a toy torpedo, participants can focus on something other than their breath, or lack thereof. So they focus on the torpedo, not the fact that they can’t breathe.
“When training to be Marine Raiders, everybody has that anxiety of being underwater and holding your breath. How do you cope with that? So we took what we learned in the military and instead of stressing people out all the time, we teach them to be confident and calm instead,” Don told me. “Calm breeds calm. We took that training principle into how we train now.”
And it’s not just for Marines. Don and Prime also startedDeep End Fitness, where they train elite athletes from all walks of life. “When we train for MMA, it’s like, okay how do I remain calm when I am getting choked out, without air? That’s how to stay calm in the clutch. When it’s the NFL, it’s okay well the average length of play is 19 - 24 seconds. So for an NFL athlete, without their breath, what can they do on the field in that length of play?” Don said.
Who is it for?
Turns out, lots of people. The Underwater Torpedo League is made up of some of the most elite athletes out there: current and retired NFL players, Olympic swimmers, professional surfers, military and MMA Fighters.
“We developed Deep End Fitness training program because we were fortunate enough to have a whole bunch of athletes from the NFL and a lot of MMA fighters come out to some of our training sessions and they were like, listen the sport is great and all, but the training methodology you guys use is what really is breaking barriers for us,” Don said.
Deep End Fitness is a training program based off of the acronym F.R.E.E.; Focus, Relaxation, Economy of Motion, and Efficiency of breathing. Their website boasts a roster of not just the Underwater Torpedo League, but also of participants in advanced military prep programs, surfers, ocean lifeguards, and elite athletes like MMA fighters, olympic swimmers, and NFL players.
Sink or Swim. Or maybe float.
One of the cool things about Deep End Fitness is that it levels the playing field. “Water is the great equalizer,” said Manuel Colon-Perez, a certified DEF Instructor. “You can take a stellar land athlete and put them in the water and they’ll be annihilated.”
Colon-Perez got his instructor certification with DEF over a year ago, after Don and Prime contacted him about using his gym,OC Athletix in San Clemente, CA to train some of their athletes. “I loved their crawl, walk, run approach,” he told me in an interview. “The things that they are doing are challenging, and I loved that challenge. It can be intimidating, but it’s so much fun. And at the end of the day it’s cool knowing you met that challenge. You trained for that.”
But you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete or a Marine Raider to play on the Underwater Torpedo League or to train with Deep End Fitness. “The one thing I tell people, right off the bat, is just come on in,” Colon-Perez said. “Just come get your feet wet. Try it first.”
And it doesn’t all take place in the water. DEF has training programs for both in and out of the water. They offerStrength and Conditioning programs,Off the Street programs, and have a mental training workbook in the works.
Deep End Fitness and Underwater Torpedo League currently have 46 certified instructors, primarily operating and training in Southern California in seven pools from Los Angeles to San Diego, and Miami. They’ve recently spread to Hawaii and Las Vegas, and have New York and and Australia coming up next.
True to form, that drive to succeed that Prime and Don had in the Marine Corps has transferred to Underwater Torpedo League. The two have been in talks to have Underwater Torpedo League as a demonstration sport at the Olympics in 2024.
“It’s gonna be a great time,” said Colon-Perez. “A great time.”