In late July of last year, Chandel visited Lancaster United and intimidated me so much that I did a “secret interview” (read: I took notes of how she played and shared it). Since that time I’ve gained a pair and recently asked Chandel to share her thoughts on her own illustrious past, her involvement with the NAH, and the roots of what makes bike polo a great sport:
When did you start playing polo, and with which club?
I started playing the fall of 2008 in Toronto, On Canada, really only played for a couple of months, then winter set in and we took a “break”; so I’d say a total of 3 solid years playing now under my belt.
You’ve played in a lot of places – how many clubs were you a steady member of?
I have been a steady member of 4 clubs total. First Toronto, then NYC for a year, then Philly Bike Polo for a year, and now I’m a member of the Austin Texas Bike Polo Social Club [ATXBPSC] and have been here for 6 months, but do see this as my home for the foreseeable future.
What differences do you notice between clubs? Culture? Seriousness? Etc.
Technically those four clubs fall into three separate regions. The northsides, then eastsides, and now the south central. They all play differently and have different perspectives about camaraderie and club support. The culture of bike polo in Toronto, at least when I started, was much more for fun. I actually started playing in an all-ladies group. One of the local couriers, Shane Murphy, was a player and really wanted ladies to start, so found a bunch of us that would at least try it. It really did have a lot of courier/messenger influence as players and it was much more a hang out and play fun, though we did take it seriously, I think it’s a lot more organized and conservative than it was when I started there.
The eastsides bike polo is very different. It was definitely a lot more serious than what I was used to. Playing in New York at “The Pit” is not only an amazing experience, but one that many bike polo players worldwide dream of doing. I was fortunate enough to be able to live and play in NYC for an entire year. I learned a lot about the NYC way of life and how to play better as a group there. The birthplace of the “new format” or “bench minor” style of play was just being developed when I was there and I don’t think I saw the same club support that they are displaying now. Having said that, some of my polo mentors came from that club and I still very much respect who they are and what they are doing. Paul Rauen would be on the top of that list. The style they play isn’t much different, but they are consistently breaking new ground in terms of equipment. Developing new brake lever styles, frames, handlebars, etc. A fun club to play with but I’d say my greatest “like” for the club is the chance to meet people from all over the world that would come to “the Pit” to play. Great way to see other styles and make new friends.
Philadelphia was much different. It’s very much a closed type of club. They welcomed me nonetheless as the only female player when I moved there, which I’m happy to say has changed and there are more females that play there now. I learned a lot and had some good laughs, but they are more internal than any club I’ve played with. For the most part their skill level is very high, but they travel far less than any other city I’ve played with, with the exception of a few individuals. They are a serious club and they take their opinions on how they play conservatively. A great weekly spot to play at, large smooth hockey court, I did learn a lot about bike control, speed, and ball control while there.
Austin Texas and the south central region are completely different. It’s called the Austin Texas Bike Polo SOCIAL Club for a reason. That’s not to say that we don’t take it seriously, but I immediately felt like it was a group of people that do support one another and do also hang out outside of pick up when possible. There is also a great divide in player skill level here, which is GREAT because we know we’re getting new people into the sport with us oldies [haha]. It’s a younger club but still with solid roots. The Texas clubs all actually play together on a regular basis. In the last 6 months I’ve been to and seen presence at our club by 6 different Texas clubs and that’s just for smaller fun tourney type things. The club itself has limited experience with the “new format” style of playing, but that’s changing in the next few months. There are serious people that play and there are those that play for fun here, so we actually have ‘designated’ nights to try to keep everyone happy. The Austin culture is different in that ‘everyone is welcome’! It’s refreshing and there are a good number of both genders present at pickup every time. The other bonus to the south is being able to play virtually all year long. =]
What’s your current bike/mallet/equipment setup?
I ride a 49″ Pake frame with matching fork. 700c wheels and rear brake for polo. 34-22 gearing ratio. Straight bars. Burro straps and removable front wheel cover. My mallets are created by my lovely husband, they’re all Fixcraft LT shafts with either black Canadian [staying with my roots] ABS and trying out the new uhmw heads with capped ends from Fixcraft, with old tubes for handle grip. I use volleyball knees pads and simple gloves from Home Depot. Bern helmet.
Anything in particular you noticed that has changed in the last 5 years in regards to bike polo equipment?
There are almost too many things to list! The biggest thing to note is company support. The actual development of new polo specific companies and their products have really transformed the potential for equipment to become more designed for bike polo only. The poles went from being thrifted ski poles [still highly used though!] to weighted options and mounting options and head materials. Caps and “cheater” mallet head sizes.
Polo bike frames are in the works all over the place. Wheel covers, printed custom or not, fabric and removable [Burro is awesome]. Dual brake levers. Having a load of peeps stop riding fixed and start riding freewheel. Going from 700c wheel sizes down to 26″. The tire widths increasing to what look like moon landing equipment. And one of the most significant in my book, the ball. The use of Franklin street hockey balls are the way out, and the new balls developed for the sport to maximize durability, weather conditions, and length of play during pick up and tournaments. Fixcraft, have to mention them, as a company has added a load of legitimacy to this sport and done so without the idea of profit as at the bottom line, but more so the recognition of players needs and wants, and doing just that. There are many other companies out there doing the same thing and it’s amazing to see.
Is there anything you wished you knew when first starting out in polo? Any tips or skills?
No. I think every player needs to start where they start and just try different things out. Ask questions, get advice, watch people playing, and TRAVEL to see other areas and other skills from those areas. Maybe I started fortunately, because I was already an avid cyclist and knew enough about my bike to get that going properly. I’d say that would be my first piece of advice to beginners though: try out different polo bikes at pick-up or tournaments and see what you feel comfortable on. Invest a little bit and your game will evolve more rapidly.
What are some common mistakes you see players make in tournaments? What are good things to keep in mind when playing?
Pumped egos, self-doubt, and blame-game are common mistakes when feeling the pressures of a tournament. If you can keep these in check and just calmly review the games, either with your team or just for yourself, afterwards you’ll be better off in the long run. It doesn’t help anyone to “take over” in games and play the game like you’re the only one capable, this puts your teammates at a disadvantage and makes them feel less like a team. Even if you make an error, forced or unforced, move on from it. It happens, TO EVERYONE, and you can’t start doubting yourself in games or in tournaments or you’ll drag yourself under mentally. Do not blame your teammates. This is so negative and really terrible team moral. Talk with your team and just point out some things if needed.
Other things, SUNSCREEN AND WATER. Stay hydrated and don’t foolishly get a bad burn because you didn’t think about it. You’ll feel it the next day, and Sunday is the day that you have to shine, be ready for it.
Stay clean. Good sportsmanship is built into the rules for bike polo, and the hearts of players. First rule, don’t be a dick. So, be adults about it, talk, and move on.
And most importantly: HAVE FUN! That’s what the sport was made for, and you should be having fun, win or lose.
You’re a mover & Shaker in NAH. Could you describe your role and what you get out of being involved?
The organization of hardcourt bike polo in North America, and really worldwide, has taken an extreme shift in the last two years with the development of NAH, the North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Association. All of bike polo increased in player attendance, skill level, and competition so the community felt it was time to organize and create the NAH. Within the NAH there are various committees created to develop new ideas and paths we can take as a sport and as a group.
All of the members of the organizing body are volunteers and give time over to help develop the sport for the future. I am currently the Chairperson for the Tournaments Committee, as well as an auxiliary board member, oversee-er of technology development/tournament integration, and planning enthusiast. As someone that has consistently volunteered at and organized multiple tournaments I stepped into the role with open arms. I have a team of player volunteers that assist me in hashing out new ideas and bringing them forward to the community to view.
This role also includes ensuring that any club wanting to throw a tournament event has a supporting group they can turn to for any advice or with any questions they may have in their organizing process and during the event. We all meet regularly, and many of the committees overlap in their talks so as to stay on the same page moving forward.
For me personally, I can’t help but be involved somehow and my nature is to organize and plan, so I volunteered. I’m very much committed to the growth of this sport and how it shifts for future players. I started playing because of the community and it’s uniqueness, openness, and diversity. I want to be a part of the development of it to make sure that integral parts of what make hardcourt bike polo so amazing are not lost, but rather incorporated and done so with integrity and the greater good in mind. Hearing what the greater good wants can be a daunting task sometimes, as I mentioned the differences before between only 4 clubs, think about that with 400. But it needs to be done and I’m happy to be a part of it.
Ultimately, I watch my stepson play bike polo with us at pick up and want to ensure that when he’s playing years from now it’s within a sport that demonstrates professionalism, organization, and community.
I will say that the community of hardcourt bike polo needs tournaments that are outside of the realm of the NAH tour. It is what we are founded on and they NEED to continue being organized or we run the risk of being too serious and competitive, losing sight of the roots of polo. The fun of bike polo should never be lost, and having tournaments that address this are essential to welcoming new players and the continued growth of the sport.
Where do you see polo in the next few years?
This is a really tough one for me. Currently we are in such as state of flux with weighing options and coming up with new structural ideas that I can’t really define where I see it going.
There are a number of ways to take the progression of this sport, considering both the 3v3 format and the bench-style format. I see polo growing more and more in every city, and I see a need for a mitigated control system in place that can help understand the levels of all players, where they would fit in the community and in competition.
I see youth groups and younger culture growth within the expansion of bike polo. I see sponsorship on levels we’ve not yet breached. I see the polo calendar tightening and world-wide consultations on tournament qualification processes being defined. I see company expansions and/or creations continuing. Equipment evolving and changing for polo only. And I still see the welcoming, heartfelt, and humanly bonded community of players as the strength and backbone of it all.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think I’ve said more than enough, but I would like to thank you for the opportunity to do this interview. I very much respect the Lancaster United Polo Club and am honored to have been asked by you for an interview.