If national headlines are awash with stories of viscously obese teens unable to lumber off their couches, none of this is evident poolside at the three high schools and one university where water polo is played in Santa Barbara. There you see growing legions of leanly muscled young men and women playing with a skill and intensity that borders on frightening. In the water, it’s a battle for survival that would make Darwin wince, as players seek to drown each other in a manner that comports with rules and regulations handed down in the late 19th century by a Scotsman named William Wilson.
In other words, it’s totally insane. And that may explain the sport’s surging popularity.
At the collegiate level, water polo is alive and kicking at UCSB. It’s also probably scratching, pulling, and yanking on Speedos. UCSB’s team ranks in the top 10, though Division I standings tend to fluctuate with all the volatility of the stock market. With Coach Wolf Wigo at the helm — himself an Olympic legend — UCSB is now winning recruiting wars it used to lose. And, to be sure, its fans are very much in the stands.
Six members of the men’s water polo team are hometown drafts: Kevin Cappon, Kenny Constantinides, Brendan McElroy, Shane Hauschild, Derek Shoemaker, and Chase Racich. One of them, Constantinides, took a particularly circuitous path to the Gaucho team. Here is his story.