Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shuffle and cuss –polo at its finest

Grey locking horns with black
Photo Polo Camo
When I mention to buddies that I can’t make a ride due to a planned game of bicycle polo, many gawk back with a look of stuporous bewilderment. The word polo conjures images of Earl Grey swilling English toffs, whipping their steeds around manicured lawns while swinging their mallets with fearsome intent. On completion of the game they retire to their expansive country estates to be waited on by their manservant (likely called Jeeves).

The grimy reality of Christchurch hardcore hardcourt polo is far from this classist dream. People from all backgrounds, sexes and ages rise to the unique challenge of riding a bike whilst swinging furiously for a small orange ball. Desperate attempts to weave through the opposing team before shooting for the back of the net are rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and whoops of joy from spectators and team-mates alike.

The pinnacle of my polo experience came last weekend where I was fortunate enough to be drafted amongst the high-rolling green team for the O-Tautahi Shuffle tournament, led by Rick of St Andrews Hill. My usual polo weapon is a Charge Plug fixxie, which flags behind the specialist steeds that seasoned players chose to mount. Wheel covers to deflect wayward balls, flat pedals, wide slick tires and gearing that would draw the mocking laugher of staunch legged single speeders all feature. I was however fortunate enough to borrow Rick’s backup (a vintage ZK8000 Trek) which featured all of these, resplendent in a fetching salmon colourway.

Green discuss tactics
Photo Polo Camo
The format of the session differed from usual games, with a bench of players ready to blast onto court at a moments notice when a substitution was called. The rapidly switching format made for some dynamic games with subs proving invaluable for the inevitable skid to tire-explosion induced retirement. The tournament was spearheaded by polo pioneer Craig (aka Polo Camo), who is singlehandedly responsible for Christchurch’s polo revolution. His tireless passion for the game and organisational enthusiasm cannot be overstated.

With plenty of smack talk in the lead up to the first game (“black and grey aren’t actually colours”), the intensity was off the scale. Elbow to elbow, mallet to wheel and mallet to mallet contact in attempts to put opposing players off their game. There were surprisingly few (accidental) mallet to body incursions, and the lack of hilarious but destructive head first into mesh-fence stacks was a sure sign players were naught newbies.

Loosing our first game green rallied for the second, the result coming down to a nail biting final push, where no amount of adroit skidding or measured mallet work could close the gap. Black emerged as victors and took the trophy, but to coin a rugby cliché it truly was polo that won on the day.
Rain sprinkles failed to dampen player's enthusiasim
Photo Polo Camo
Hilarious injuries were abound, exemplarised by me lodging a fist between an opponents tire and brake stay. Plenty of people took tumbles to the asphalt but most were back up and laughing with grazes of joy rather than teary tantrums. The sheer challenge that polo poses for coordination (especially for someone as challenged with hand-eye as I am), can do nothing but wonders for bike handling and poise.

All this talk of aggressive contact might seem intimidating for the bystander or newbie, but rest assured the polo scene in Christchurch is as safe as a kevlar puncture strip. Empathy runs deep in the crew and they share an unspoken understanding not to rough up people if they aren’t into it.

However, if you are up are up for it, I can’t imagine a more unique thrill. Polo mixes the competitiveness and speed of Japanese Keirin racing with the theatre of WWF wrestling.
In summary, polo rocks.

Photo Polo Camo
Mountain Pedaler out…