Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why Play Bike Polo?

I have a confession: I am a polo junkie. Ever since I started playing, I was struck with how addicting the game was. I was so hooked, when games stopped materializing behind the peddler, I started trying to get together my own games. More and more, I began to look forward to that one Sunday a week, sometimes waiting in vacant parking lots for hours before I could muster up enough people to play. Even now, when I get to play twice a week for three-plus hours straight, I still haven't gotten tired of it. If anything, I feel more obsessed. Thus, the question becomes, why? Why am I still so obsessed after roughly two years? What is it about polo that keeps me coming back? In short, why play polo?

I've been asked this question before by a couple of reporters, but without thinking about it, I could only say that I'm a bit of a bike freak, and it's not far off. I think the reason I started playing polo in the first place has as much to do with a love of bicycles in general as anything else. There are quite a few other factors, but I don't think I would have even found bicycle polo without wanting to be a part of cycling as a whole. So to say that polo players are all, in general, a bunch of bike freaks is pretty accurate, but I don't think it fully explains why I've stuck with it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the sheer novelty of the sport. It's new and different, and thus draws attention. I imagine the situation is pretty much the same at the outset of any sport, especially one that requires such a large accoutrement. Seeing people riding around with wheel covers, batting around a street hockey ball with very home-made looking mallets is bound to inspire a few gawkers.

In fact, this assortment of equipment is one more reason polo becomes so hard-wired into our systems. First, the home-made-ness of pretty much all polo-specific equipment lends itself to the whole DIY ethos. Because you've made your own equipment, you become more attached to it. It's hard not to be proud of a well-designed, sturdy mallet or a customized wheel cover. This also becomes a method for expressing one's individuality. First, your specific equipment can be a statement of who you are within polo, while the equipment in general comes to help define you in the everyday context. People see you with this crazy assortment of Little Rascals style items, and it becomes a part of your identity, to them if not to yourself. There are so few people that play polo right now that they can't help but think if you as the bike-polo-guy.

Some people are drawn into the sport BECAUSE of this. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a mainstream sport (…yet). While it might be easier to get games together and have a nice place to play if it were, some people like it because it exists well off of most people's radar. Polo becomes one more way to express how you're different than most people. I know I bemoan how few people bike in Memphis, but I can't help but like being thought of as a little crazy. In a (very small) way, polo is almost a revolutionary act. I don't pretend that playing bike polo will save the world, but it's probably doing more for the world as a whole than, say, NASCAR. If nothing else, polo can be a kind of symbol. People have, in effect, stormed the Bastille and taken "The Sport of Kings", be-horsed it, and returned it to the masses. Hell, the bicycle itself is such a revolutionary icon, it'd be hard for polo NOT to be seen that way, if you think about it.

That's not to say that you can't enjoy bicycle polo without being a crusty, punky, train-hopping anarchist. In general, polo is just FUN. In that aspect, it's not that different from any sport. You have a ball; you have a team; you have a goal. Get the ball in the goal. It's simple! As such, it shares a lot of positive aspects with other sports. It's great exercise, it makes you competitive, it's a great outlet for letting out some testosterone without going postal, it helps with hand-eye coordination, teaches teamwork etc etc etc. But if this is all you're looking for, you can pretty much play any sport. And I, for one, was definitely not showing up two times a week for football or basketball or even soccer, which I used to be pretty enthusiastic about when I was a kid. Sure, there are some mechanical aspects to polo that few other sports share: it's more about balance, coordination and control than strength or even speed. But I personally don't think these differences are what make me crazy for it. It HAS to be the intangibles.

Finally, there's one more thing about polo that I can't say for almost anything else. I'm getting in pretty close to the ground floor. It's pretty exhilarating to be part of something new, something pretty big. While I think I could be content just to be part of a movement, because the sport is still so new, I have the opportunity to compete with some of the best in the world. While some have been playing for a few years more than me, I'm not so far behind that catching up is impossible. Of course, I may get back from the regional tournament in Little Rock and have to change my assessment, but right now it really feels like anything is possible.

All in all, I think I'm into polo because every aspect of the sport is pretty much exactly tailored to me. It just ties together a bunch of the things I love: bikes, crafting stuff, revolution and fun. Its just, right place, right time. And judging from the growth I'm seeing, I have to assume it's the same across the country.

Polo: It's the new zeitgeist.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A coupla tips:

Tip the First:
When playing polo, thou shalt lower thine seat. Ye shall be a better goalie, verily.

Tip the Second:
Thou shalt not look at the comments section of the Commercial Appeal, excepting those tymes when thou wanteth to bloweth a blood vessel.

PS - Vote yes on the (entirely unscientific and meaningless) poll.

Friday, February 11, 2011


About a week ago I decided I wanted some dedicated polo gloves. I'd been using some downhill gloves that Kermit had given me, but the palm had finally started to wear through. Not to say that they weren't good gloves, just a bit thrashed at this point. So I started looking around, seeing what was out there, and came across some street hocky gloves at fixcraft, and I thought hell, long as I'm paying for shipping I'll get a new pole, too. Nothing wrong with my eighth inch one, but it's always been a bit heavier than others I've used - plus, having a nice back-up (as opposed to the golf-clubbers I have now) is probably a good idea for the inevitable shattering of my current mallet. I was also thinking about trying out Milwaukee Bicycle Company's pole, but seeing as how I know someone who already loves their fixcraft pole, and the fact that it's just a hair lighter per inch, AND that the gloves were a tad cheaper, I decided to wait until next time to try out MKE's offering.

So, today my shaft and gloves came in, and I hit the jaaaackpoooooot. Observe:


Fixcraft really hooked it up! Lotsa sweet stickers, some spoke cards, sweet junk food pins (nachos, chips, pizza, burger!) AND a T-shirt! Made me feel all gooey inside! You can really tell that they're in it just for the love of polo. Can't wait to get out there and try it all out.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Polo Takes Over

If it seems like I haven't had much to say recently, I can only blame polo.

Andy, Anthony and myself got into the South Central Bike Polo Championship. All of the out-of-region spots filled up literally in under a minute. I'm really excited we got in, especially since our in-region tournament is like 600 miles away. The MIDWEST tournament is closer than that!

My confidence level varies. I really would like to finish top 12 (down from top 8) and feel relatively confident we can do it, but if I think about it or read the league of bike polo forums too much, I get a little shakier. Thus, all I wanna do is practice practice practice, but get thwarted by work and weather.

Our only experience with polo people outside Memphis has been pretty limited up to now. There's been Stefan from Denmark, the Little Rock folks and recently some people came through from Missouri. While we did really well in LR in a Bench Minor, it was kinda biased in my opinion. All the Memphis peeps were pretty into polo - had to be, to travel. Whereas LR was pretty much anyone that felt like coming out that day. Stefan was unquestionably good. Accurate shots, aggressive play. I wouldn't say he outclassed us, but he definitely pushed us. And Missouri, while perhaps not as good as us overall, had their strengths - definitely the best goalie I've played against. I feel pretty good about my skill level, but just can't get comfortable because I really have no idea what we're up against.

In short, my polo 'tude has changed. When I first started playing in Memphis, I was mostly just interested in making it happen. Now that the scene has solidified a little bit (though I'm still ALWAYS tryin' to get new people) and the polo-verse looms ahead, I kinda wanna do well. I mean, I always wanted to win, but that was second to playing in general. Now that I'm going to a tournament, it's like I've consciously decided to aim for something else. I won't be devastated if we don't do well, but I do feel like we have something to prove. It's a bit crazy how something I do for fun has turned into something I kinda stress about.