January 16, 2015
Boredom and ingenuity are often at the heart of the most rapidly growing trends in the modern age. If you think about it, everything — from skateboarding to soccer, board games to punk rock — began with the right combination of circumstances. And, the more popular something becomes, the higher probability a counter-culture is fermenting as well. Such is the history of my weird hobby: hard-court bike polo.
It’s exactly what it sounds like: Some friends on bikes ride around on a concrete surface, with mallets and a wide range of attitudes, trying to hit a ball through a pair of goal posts. What started as an uncoordinated waste of time for cyclists in Seattle at the turn of the century has grown into a fanatical amateur sport all over the world.
I started playing the Midwest version of the sport back in 2011, in my hometown in Minnesota. To make a long story short, I rode an awful bike and was very bad at riding it. These days I call the Twin Cities club my home and I’m a slightly better player. In the past four years, this sport has taken me all over the Midwest, from Milwaukee to Columbus, Lexington to Columbia, and last year I traveled to Miami for the World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship. Next winter, I’ll be heading to New Zealand — which is wild to think about, considering none of these players get paid to play, but are willing to spend their hard-earned dollars to compete against one another across the globe. The amazing humans involved in this sport never fail to humble me with their endless generosity and commitment to one another.
The quick-and-dirty explanation of the game: There are three players to a team. The sport is proudly co-ed and will likely always be. Players begin with the ball in the middle of the court and from the time the whistle is blown, they have 15 minutes to score 5 goals. Whoever does this, or has the most points at the buzzer, wins the game. If your feet touch the ground, you are out of the play until you ride to half court and tap your mallet on the side to get back in. Full contact is allowed, with safety considerations, and it plays more like hockey on bikes than it does polo on horses.
In addition to my travel as a player, I’m involved at the highest levels of organization for the competitive side of bike polo. I organized my first tournament in 2012, and quickly found my place as a referee, tournament organizer and rule-writer in the years gone by. Minneapolis has been host of the North American Championship two years running. We provided the highest quality courts, organization and live broadcasting the sport has ever seen. This weekend, instead of watching that surprisingly popular game of football everyone has been talking about, I’ll be flying to Kansas to help coordinate and referee the first professional bike polo tournament. Needless to say, I’d rather be playing in it, but I’m still very excited to be involved.
With a great deal of planning and a bit of luck, this little game could soon be seen on broadcast television alongside skateboarding and snowboarding, or carve out its own unique market of viewers. The passion is there, and the onus is on the community to dedicate the time and energy to increasing the visibility of the sport and the participation in their own communities.
Regardless of how you spend your free time, it’s undeniably good to have unique and unusual passions. Whether it’s singing goth a cappella or reading fantasy novels, make it a point to find yourself a weird hobby.
As an added bonus, here is an informational/highlight video I helped produce two years ago: http://mrdovideo.com/2014/01/hardcourt/