My name is Eric, I am 28 years old, and I have a problem.
I am addicted to bike polo.
Bike polo isn’t something new, but it may be something you have never heard of. Its origin is debated and it is rumored to have been started in early 19th-century Europe by stableboys. They could not afford the luxury of horses, so they created bike polo as a poor man’s alternative to horse polo. Bike polo remained confined to our neighbors overseas for over a century, and only emerged in the States during the early 1990s, most noticeably in Seattle, Wash., by bored, thrill-seeking bike messengers. Today it’s spread to over 150 cities in the United States alone.
Three years ago, before my addiction took hold, I had it all – a dead-end 9-to-5 job, few friends outside of my video-gaming sphere and an unlimited supply of bad ‘90s television shows streaming online. But on an otherwise painfully normal day, a roommate showed me an online video clip of bike polo, and I was immediately intrigued. Soon after, I found myself building bikes with local bike shop junkies and learning how to construct destructive mallets from old ski poles and plastic piping. I lost all focus at work, and instead of crunching numbers on Excel, I daydreamed of shoulder-checking people off their bikes. At home I said goodbye to my online friends, shut off my television and in my free time, indulged myself outside with actual people. I was hooked.
This past year alone I’ve gathered with other addicts from the Davis and Sacramento area up to four times a week for my polo fix. By volunteering at a local do-it-yourself bicycle repair shop, I learned how to repair my bike after it suffered much polo abuse, just so I can go out and abuse it further. After games, I would return home late at night, bloodied and drenched in sweat – some of which was not even my own. Our addiction led to broken clavicles, sprained wrists, exploded anterior cruciate ligaments and knocked-out teeth. But bike polo doesn’t just affect the addict – it affects those around us as well. In order to play we needed more players, and to get them we would often recruit students from colleges. We sold them on the promise of wholesome fun, then hooked them on the demolition-derby style of play. Man or woman, child or retiree, it didn’t matter – we were pushers and we needed help.
And we found it.
Through the North American Hardcourt organization and League of Bike Polo, players much like myself have found refuge. NAH is a committee of designated volunteers from across the nation who have stepped up with a list of socially acceptable polo behavior – or official rules. LOBP created a website that offers lists for both official and unofficial tournaments that fellow addicts are hosting. We now have a community of players who gather to talk polo, think polo and yes, play polo. You see, NAH and LOBP does not want us to quit polo – they want us to accept ourselves and embrace our addiction. With balanced play and new safety regulations, we learned about good sportsmanship – like saying “excuse me” after ramming a player into a wall. Through NAH and LOBP (and other organizations), players here in the States now have official organizations to stand behind, and to prove to the many tennis players who run us off their courts that we are not the underbelly of society, but rather functional members of the community who use polo recreationally.
But as good as NAH’s work is, we polo players still find the most support within the community of players ourselves. Ebbin Martin, aka Chops, a member of the Minneapolis, Minn., team is one of many helping to host NAH’s national championship on Aug. 16-18 in his hometown. Qualified teams from across the nation, 48 in total, will gather to battle for one of 20 spots in NAH’s World championship held in Florida in mid Oct. Martin talks about the support of his fellow polo players and why he and others dedicate countless hours and money to host an event as large as the nationals. "We’re a family," Martin says. "Polo is a grassroots sport that was built out of comradely and not competitiveness. No one here is getting paid to play. It’s all out of love for the game – you know, if it weren’t for the people (who play) I would say fuck polo.” Even though Martin appreciates the work and effort that NAH does, he stressed that polo is still a long way from becoming an approachable sport.
Sacramento’s own Capitol Bike Polo is all too aware of this. Having been kicked out of tennis courts and parking garages on several occasions, members of the CBP team made their case for the need of a multi-use athletic facility to Sacramento’s city council in December 2012. According to Mike “Tsunami” Mcatee, a core member of CPB, there has been no official word yet from the city of Sacramento on the multi-use court – but CPB is proceeding with plans to host their second annual Battle for California Tournament in Sacramento on Sept. 21-22, where players from as far as Anchorage, Alaska are confirmed to show. Today, CPB often travels to their “causeway cousins,” the Davis Cyclopaths, to get their bike polo fix.
Our addiction to bike polo can be exhausting – as is anything when obsession is involved. Competition can be fierce and tempers can flare but our mutual love for the sport demands respect for each other. It is why Minneapolis polo pays $1,000 to rent an arena for the nationals. It is why CPB will house travelling players who cannot afford hotels. Yes, we swing mallets at one another, but we do it out of love. We are not bad people – we just have a passion for a misunderstood sport. We are not the rowdy, heckling, beer-drinking group who slam into each other on bikes with outstretched mallets in our hands, as we have been made out to be – for the most part. We are students. We are your bank tellers. We are your maintenance workers and your business owners. We bag your groceries, serve your food and babysit your kids. We are your sisters and brothers, friends and family. We are worldwide. We are bike polo addicts and we are proud.