Interview with Chris Arena of Creamy Mallet Shafts and Heads, Part 1

NOTE: This is part 1 of a two part series. The next article will be my review of the product, which you can find by following this link.
A little while ago Chris Arena (creator of Creamy Mallet Shafts and Mallet Heads) contacted me about providing a review of his wares. After agreeing to do so, he was kind enough to send me a completely built mallet as well as a single Creamy pole. There -that’s your full disclosure for the day. 
There are plenty of very good products being made for polo these days, and the list keeps growing. So when a fella out of California contacted me asking if I’d give my two cents on his new mallet, I was happy to give my opinions.
While waiting like a giddy schoolgirl for the mallets to arrive, I asked Chris a few questions about his involvement in the sport (a huge qualifier for making equipment) and how he came to create a small business around it:
Tell me about your involvement with Bike Polo 
I got introduced to Bike Polo in Calgary, AB about two years ago, then moved back to Madison, WI to finish up my engineering degree and started playing
more. I got much more involved in tournament play once I moved to San Francisco.
When did you start making these mallets? Did it start with the idea of selling or just using for yourself/club?

It really started as just making the best mallet for myself, tinkering with techniques and materials. I wanted to make a mallet that I wouldn’t have to think about, that would be light, solid, and not come loose during a game. The amount of time I spent thinking about this turned into a minor obsession and led to developing a mathematical model of how shafts respond to bending and impact. Cutting steel for custom tooling is expensive, and I realized that if I wanted that perfect mallet in real life, I would have to think on a larger scale. As things progressed, I had a tremendous amount of support from San Francisco Bike Polo. Everyone has contributed in some way, either with testing, feedback, or their own skills and Arena Bike Polo would not be up and running without them.
What’s with the name?
It’s my nickname. For a while I was making mallet heads out of any material I could get my hands on. At some point, another SF player was working at a construction site and got a hold of some CPVC, which is used for drainage but is about the densest plastic you can get, and it happened to be a shade of light peach. Me and another guy made mallets out of it. He immediately got the nickname “Peaches” and I was “Creamy”. When I decided to finish the mallets in white, “Creamy Shafts” were born.
You have alot of language on your site about tensile strength/material specs – that’s because you’re an engineer, isn’t it?
The dialogue about mallets is often focused on the “feeling” of them, which is hard to quantify and even harder to use as a basis for improvement. This is not to downgrade the importance, because in the end you need a mallet that feels great. But by looking at how each dimension and each unit operation of the production affects that feeling, you can systematically improve each part then put them together for a fantastic end result. That is an engineering mindset and the way that I approach making a mallet.
What improvements have you made on the standard ski pole/wood screw/gas pipe system? What makes your mallet different than other polo company’s products?
Polo is an up-and-coming sport, so in terms of places to improve, a lot are going to be at the very basic level: the materials. High tensile aluminum alloys are rapidly becoming the new standard, and Creamy shafts are exclusively made of 7075-T6. Our shafts have seamless construction, meaning there is no weak along the pole from a cold rolling operation. There are also structural improvements to the geometry, including a longer taper to minimize stress where the taper transitions to the straight part of the mallet.

image from arena bike polo

Our heads have many improvements over what has been done traditionally. I predict that in a few years you will see every single person playing in tournaments using UHMW, because it’s spec sheet reads like a Christmas list for polo; great wear and impact resistance, low friction, low weight, machinability. We are using a slightly smaller diameter than other mallet heads, which makes it stronger and lighter than an equivalent length head of larger diameter.

The cap is the biggest improvement. By attaching the cap directly to the head using custom fasteners, you get the same performance at a fraction of the weight (and cost) of other machined caps. Also, because the caps are pre-installed, you don’t have to go through the trouble of finding the best screws or screw pattern. Machined caps that need to be screwed on weigh (at the least) 20g not including whatever screws you use. Our caps weigh in at around 15g WITH the fasteners. Also, after a brief breaking in period, the head develops a slight concavity (~1 mm) that really helps the ball lift off the ground. Since San Francisco has started using these I have seen many more shots going airborne.
Do you see your business expanding? More products (or different versions?)
I see this enterprise mainly as a way to keep funding research, evaluating new technologies and coming up with stronger, lighter, better performing equipment for polo. Also, polo is one of the most supporting, diverse, and fun communities in the world, and giving back to this sport is also a priority. As far as products, mallet heads and shafts are the core and there are plenty of ideas in the pipeline, so expect to see more innovation in the coming year.
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