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.


  1. I've always gone for non-traditional sports: skateboarding, snowboarding, etc. In those sports if I do something sweet I'm pretty muh the only one that notices it. Bike polo, however is the first non-traditional team sport I've played. Camaraderie is def a factor. I think I can attribute part of that to the on-court vocalization of people like Anthony Siracusa.

  2. http://urbanvelo.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/nahbs_2011_39.jpg


    Disc rotor covers, ingenius.

  3. it's good stuff nice writing

  4. I've thought some of these same sentiments Brett as I am sure you know. I think my original reason for getting into bike polo was because someday I dreamed of playing "horse" polo, but now I'm not even sure I'd enjoy playing polo on a horse at this point, it seems somewhat trite. Instead, I took up an offer to try out bike polo for a day, and I haven't turned back, and I hope I never will. I enjoy all the aspects you mentioned, and in some ways I'm still sort of glad that certain bike polo freaks hold dear such an aesthetically pleasing sport, pastime, hobby, and lifestyle... Yet most of us are not exactly sure why we love it so much. As I was sitting outside of a bar the other day with a polo player, he said with an stern gleam in his eye, it saves lives. I was intoxicated, but I'm believe he was referring to polo at the time :).

  5. Great essay. Well put. I feel a lot of the same things you do about bike polo.

    What do you think of polo now after the Little Rock tourney? Love it more don't, ya?

  6. Thanks Sveden.

    After LR, I feel pretty much the same with one big benefit: the pressure has been lifted. It was pretty much my first exposure to polo as a whole and I felt (mostly wrongly) like I had something to prove. Not to say that I proved anything, because we got whooped pretty bad, but yeah, now I just wanna get out there to be out there, and less to muscle my way to the top.

    Of course, that desire is still there, it's just tempered with reality.

  7. The first tournament one attends brings about exponential growth in skill. At least thats been my experience and the experience of most I've talked to.

    Good players learn from those ass-whoopings. At least I try! :)