The way Elliot Faure figures, if the members of the Carolina Kayak Polo Club want a better referee, they should look for someone who's willing to read the rule book.
Until then, they'll have to settle for him - at least until his injured shoulder is healed and he's ready to play again.
That's how the men (and one woman) of the club operate: informally. The handful of active club members gather twice a week to play pickup games for several hours or until they tucker out.
And they appreciate each other's loyalty to their unusual sport.
Make no mistake, kayak polo can be pretty intense and competitive. Just listen to the clacking of paddles on paddles, or paddles on kayaks, or kayaks on kayaks during game time at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center uptown on Sunday afternoons and the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatic Center every Tuesday evening.
Rick Garcia, Faure's uncle, who also referees, was one of the original kayak polo players in the early '90s. Here's how he describes the group's origin:
"We thought we invented the game. We used to play on Lake Wylie. We used to play in canoes and everything else that would float. We used floating laundry baskets (for goals) and sponges for balls.
"We found out they had been playing in Europe since the 1950s, with rules. So we decided to go with the International Canoe Federation rules."
The club gets as close to the standard kayak polo rules as possible. The object of the game is for the five players per side to score in the opponent's goal - much like water polo, soccer or hockey.
International rules call for a 50- by 25-meter "pitch" (pool surface), but the aquatic center area they are allotted is 25 by 20 meters. Goals (1 by 11/2 meters) are suspended a couple of meters above the water, and players score by throwing the ball through the net, and usually past a paddle-wielding defender.
Players move the ball up and down the pitch mostly by passing to teammates. Holding the ball for more than 5 seconds, or carrying it in the kayak, are violations.
Proper defense includes disrupting passes with your paddle and/or using your hands to physically push a ball-possessing offensive player. Rules limit aggressive play.
One of the biggest assets for a kayak polo player is his ability to "roll," or regain his balance on the surface after he has been turned upside down in the water. Nonrollers usually get a free pass from the roughest play to avoid potential catastrophe.
The club's best roller, and player, is Chris Sewell, probably the only club member who was familiar with the sport before the '90s. He played it as a teen in England.
Sewell, 43, is a past club president and has played for the official U.S. team in international competitions. On a national level, the Carolina Kayak Polo Club has fared well, winning U.S. championships in the B division (second tier) in 2006 and 2008.
The Charlotte club has an eclectic group of members. Bill Weber, who is in his mid-60s, is on one end of the spectrum. Jack Trayner, 15, and Zac Roberts, 16, are two of the youngest players. Jack was introduced to the sport by his father, Mike, one of several Brits active in the club. Kim Parker, 25, is the only active female player.
Sewell said there about 10 hard-core members, but as many as 15 might show up on a typical day. The club plays indoors during the fall and winter months and will begin playing outdoors at McDowell Park in the spring.
If you're interested in giving the sport a try, CKPC is open to new members. Just show up, pay $5, and you can use the club's equipment.