Bike Polo in Hawaii

Bike polo is gearing up in Honolulu.


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These polo players aren't horsing around.

Photo:Olivier Koning

House of Pain is blaring over the radio as about a dozen appropriately disheveled, mostly twentysomething guys loll around the volleyball court drinking PBR and Old Milwaukee. It’s the weekly Honolulu Bike Polo game, and, while it’s not exactly regimented—they play as many games as they can squeeze in between conversations about bikes, music, bikes and more bikes—it is a rollicking good time. “Bike polo is a fun way to compete on bikes without doing races,” says Garrett Rawlins, the unofficial ringleader of the group and author of the Honolulu Bike Polo blog.

Richard J. Mecredy, an Irish cyclist, created bicycle polo in the late 19th century as an affordable alternative to standard polo. Originally played on grass fields, the sport was popular throughout Great Britain in the early 1900s, even becoming a demonstration sport in the 1908 Olympics in London. But World War I put the brakes on the growing game, and bike polo didn’t regain popularity until recently, when it re-emerged in Seattle as a hard-court sport. “We’ve adapted to our urban environment,” says Rawlins.

The rules are fairly simple. Play begins with two teams of three players each, lined up behind their respective goal lines, the ball positioned at center court. To score, players must use the narrow end of their mallets to hit the ball across the goal line. If a player’s foot at any time touches the ground, he or she must tapout by riding to mid-court and tapping the designated spot with his mallet (in this case, two metal poles on opposite sides of the court). The first team to score five points wins. Oh, and trash talking is allowed.

On any given week, they’ll have about eight to 12 regulars, though they’ve had as many as 26 people show up to play. Most of the players have little to no prior experience with the sport, and there are usually a few newbies each Sunday. “We welcome anybody who wants to try,” says Rawlins. “We try to play less aggressively with newcomers.”

Still, games are almost always riddled with damaged bike parts (bent tires and chains, broken spokes), crashes, pile-ups, bruises and bloody gashes. Mark Tapungot, who, at 52 years of age, is the most senior player, took to wearing shin guards after his first game, in which his shin was so badly cut, it left a large, gnarly scar. “You can expect to get played how you play,” says Rawlins. For more information, check out hnlbikepolo.blogspot.com.


Photos: David Croxford

Equipment

A few customizations will make it easier to dominate in polo. A note to the wise: Leave your $5,000 bike at home. Most of the Honolulu Bike Polo players ride dumpster-dive bikes for a reason.

Drivetrain: Generally, players ride bikes with a small chain ring in front and a larger gear in back, which makes for quicker bursts of speed.

Handlebars: Shorter to prevent mallets from hitting them when players swing.

The mallet: These are usually D.I.Y. projects with shafts made of ABS tubing or old ski poles.

Wheel covers: Usually made of recycled corrugated cardboard (political signs, fast-food billboards, whatever they can find) fastened with zip ties.

 

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