Archive for Stories

World’s Week: WHOOPIDIEE DOOO!

whbpc2014

Today begins the week of Worlds: where players from all over the polo kingdoms meet up to see who is the biggest of the big, the bravest of the brave, and who can know the sweet kiss of French Wine without losing all sensation in their limbs and deciding that they are too bohemian for such a mainstream sport as bike polo.

Me? Oh, I’ll be on a 5 year anniversary adventure from Sunday to Monday, so chances are I won’t even really get the chance to watch the action live. You’ll need to fill me in, Polopals.

If I have one hope, however, it’s that the Beavers get clobbered.  No, not because I dislike the Beavers (point in fact, they are some very sweet fellas), but only because they are one of the tippiest toppiest teams in the world, and I’m the kind of guy who likes rooting for underdogs. Honestly, I’m rooting for Rat Kings because they’re one of our Eastside teams in attendance, and because they have the most magnificent facial hair.

I am also excited, believe it or not, to see how the rules are handled in France. I know we’ve been having some fun and excitement over here, but I’m curious about how the Europeans have been handling the new rule set (and how the refs are going to differ between the U.S. and the E.U.

But, if I need to be honest with you cats–which I generally try to be–Worlds has always been a kind of…I don’t know…a sign that my favorite part of bike polo is coming up: fall/winter polo. With Worlds comes an end to the super-hot days of bike polo (at least the continuous super hot days) and the start of the fall days; my favorite days.

Fall means turducken (which I’ve only gone to once but love), it means pumpkin beer and games that are cool on the lungs and the courts. So while we’re all getting excited about Worlds and about watching  the glorious live-streaming of it, I’m getting excited about what comes after it.

No, no, not the bench tourney (thought that should be pretty fun, too), but the joy of not having to switch out the ball your playing with every game/being able to not sweat through your gloves as much.

BREAKING: Baristas, Bike Mechanics, Messengers DISAPPEARING

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(Lancaster, PA)
All over the United States, there are disappearances occurring. Coffee shop patrons are going without having their names spelled incorrectly on biodegradable cups, bicycle commuters are finding their favorite bike shops closed, and executives attempting to send dirty pictures to other executives have lost a means of delivering those delightful hand drawn images of butts.

In a press meeting with concerned parents everywhere (finding that their 30 something aged children were not asking any longer for monetary assistance), FBI agent Nicholas Slavorski indicated that there would be no investigation held.

“Listen,” he said from the window of his 2 story home, “your kids disappear all the time. They’re probably going to some man burning festival in the desert or taking part in a co-op somewhere. Get off of my damn lawn I just got it landscaped.”

For some this explanation is enough, but not for handcrafted-jewelry-collector Jennifer Bannis, who wants answers as to why her order for a set of bracelets made from toothbrushes hasn’t been fulfilled.
“I paid good American money for that jewelry, and now the seller has disappeared! How am I going to show that I’m hip?”

From New York to L.A., young, bike savvy people are flying the coop and not leaving anything more than empty beer cans and strange, cryptic messages made up of song lyrics and upside down question marks.

::This story is developing::

6 Ways To Troll The League Of Bike Polo Forums

troll

In all truth, the LoBP (ALL HAIL!) forums are kind of the greatest thing to come out of our sport. They provide all the inside entertainment that a polo player needs in order to have a great time while at work or away from the courts.

But what if you don’t have anything constructive to say (okay, you’re in good company, really)? What if your post gets lost or nobody xWhatevers it? Might I suggest adding a new level of entertainment?

1. Ask–as a person outside of the bike polo community–what your new mallet design should have. Make sure to emphasize that you’re new to bike polo but want to revolutionize how the sport is played. Also make sure that you show a few really horrible done-in-MS-Paint drawings of your proposed design, including a mounting system that doesn’t make sense and a material that hasn’t ever been used in the sport. Maybe glass or something.

2. Copy someone else’s comment in your response, and then don’t mention any of it. For instance, copy something like “The problem with 4 foot boards is that they are hard to pay for in a regional tournament” but make your comment only about how frustrating it is that the NAH balls only come in orange. Keep doing this until someone notices, then copy their noticing into your response and call  them a poser.

3. Post a picture of a recumbent as your new polo bike.  Make sure to photoshop the NAH logo onto the flag.

4. Go into any rules discussion and demand that snortling be allowed. Do not explain what snortling is, but be adamant that the game will be ruined if it’s taken out of legal play.

5. Create a fake tournament 

6. Create two accounts and constantly argue with yourself about trivial points of the game. Type of rubber used in tires? Best kind of grip? The most appropriate shampoo for bike polo players to use? Ol’ Billybo and Charles R. Figglebottom just can’t seem to agree on anything, and will take up dozens of posts to make sure you know it.

 

Want to Grow Bike Polo? Forget Sponsors–Look to Schools.

schoolpolo

Image from the “Living the Dream” contest most recently held here at Lancasterpolo. 

Is Sponsorship the Only Way?

The bike polo Illuminati spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to decide if indeed bike polo is in the decline (I don’t think it is) and what we can do to reverse that trend if it proves to be accurate (which it’s not). Still, even if you’re only mildly involved in the game, chances are you have some sort of interest in where the sport is going and how that’s going to affect you down the line.

One of the refrains I hear more often than not is “wait until we get our first big sponsor.” And, no doubt, if Gatorade or Nike or Adidas wanted to throw a few thousand dollars at the NAH each year, we’d see some significant changes to how much support clubs got in order to host tourneys and build courts and whatever else. But throwing money at something isn’t always the best way to fix it. I know this as a fact, as I recently tried throwing my wallet at a leaking faucet and all I got was a wet wallet. (Thanks, Obama.)

But as true as that sounds–that getting a big chunk of dough will help our sport–I believe there is a more effective way to:

  • Gain a steady stream of new players for all clubs
  • Establish the sport as marketable/profitable
  • Create a community that is unified and vibrant

Look to the Gym Class

And it comes down to introducing grade-schools to the sport, and encouraging them, in turn, to introduce bike polo as a extra-curricular activity/gym class event.

Why is this a good idea? Well, let’s start with the basics: the more people we have getting involved in bike polo, the more likely it is that the sport will live beyond the first big wave we have going right now. People who learn to play a sport earlier in life are likely to develop a certain enjoyment from it, and typically continue to play that sport into college (or at least play it on the weekends with friends to stay in shape after college and what-not). Furthermore we’d be institutionalizing the game itself, making for a set way of learning the sport and having it be available to more people than just those who stumble into the game through luck.

This model (the school focus rather than sponsor focus) also gives bike polo equipment manufacturers something that they’re dying for: bulk orders. Imagine if a school–just one–needed to begin this sort of program up. They’d need to order dozens of complete mallets, dozens of various sized bikes (or at least bikes that could suit all body types–I remember how fun it was to be the only guy who needed the smallest golf club in gym class), and safety equipment to boot. Even if just a few companies were able to lock down those orders, the impact on their ability to research and develop more equipment (not to mention offer it up at a cheaper price) would be monumental. Read more

She’s Polo Hot

ladies-of-polo-150x150

This phrase, along with a handful of others, has come up along my travels in our sport. I’ve heard it, said it, and taken part in conversations circulating about the attractiveness of various female players and the qualities of that attractiveness when compared to the attractiveness of women as a whole (the implication being that female bike polo players are generally unattractive when compared to most women, hence polo hot suggests that a woman is hot for a bike polo player).

Today it’s sticking in my throat. Today it’s bothering the hell out of me.

Bike polo is pretty cool in that we have guys and gals playing side-by-side at tournaments and pickup. It’s nice that we are breaking down a wall (or more appropriately, trying like hell to build a wall to start with). I’ve had plenty of conversations with men and women about whether women have a place in high level play (women rarely make it to the highest levels of competition), and if women in the sport would be better served with their own league.

Those are two topics that I think I’ve covered in the past (links below), and not the subject here. This is about a particular mindset that male polo players seem to possess. I use seem here because there has yet to be a tournament I’ve gone to where the hotness of a female player hasn’t come up–either in a positive or negative manner (by this I mean someone shouting a quasi-sexual, positive heckle at a female player or saying to the nearby group that a particular woman was hot).  Read more

What Battle Royale Taught Me About Bike Polo

BR1

Battle Royale is a movie I saw just last year for the first time, and it’s something that I wished I had seen earlier (like, when I was a kid–so I could play “Battle Royale” with my teen friends.

For those of you not initiated, Battle Royale is a Japanese film (previously a novel/a manga) aptly summarized by Wikipedia:

The film tells the story of Shuya Nanahara, a high-school student struggling with the death of his father, who is forced by the government to compete in a deadly game where the students must kill each other in order to win. The film aroused both domestic and international controversy and was either banned outright or deliberately excluded from distribution in several countries.

So, basically, it’s The Hunger Games before The Hunger Games came out. But it’s so much more than that, and furthermore it’s a learning opportunity for bike polo.

Buckle in, dear polokin. We’re in for some chop.

BR2There is Always Someone Better

in Battle Royale, there are several characters who just seem to get it. Despite being tricked/drugged into competing in the games, these lucky few are just outstanding when it comes to killing and/or tricking fellow classmates.

The lesson here is pretty clear: you’re going to encounter people in this sport who just seem to get it. It’s as if they were made to play bike polo (even though Bike Polo isn’t exactly a heritage game yet). They’ll be able to do things in days which took you months or years to learn. This just happens. It’s okay.

Mostly because in bike polo you aren’t summarily killed with a sickle by a young Japanese schoolgirl.

But really, what you need to focus on is your own skill set. So you’re not able to do a wheelie turn while scooping the ball past your front wheel and making an omelet. So what. you’ve got your own methods, and comparing yourself to someone who is seemingly made for the game won’t help anyone.

BR3

You’re Part of a Team…Mostly

Battle Royale is, strictly speaking, a “one against all” event. However, that doesn’t mean that these kids don’t team up for mutual survival (point in fact, that’s a huge part of the movie). Much to the same effect, bike polo is a game where people (3) join up to play against another 3 people.

But remember this: you’re on a team–but you’re ultimately the only person in charge of your own actions. It’s not productive to think of yourself as only one piece of the team’s puzzle. In actuality, you’re the only person who has a responsibility to yourself. As such you should rely on your team to work together, but not so much that you stop working as an individual, too.

BR4Strange Things Happen–Try Not To Panic

So there is this part where a character puts a hand grenade inside Toshinori’s mouth and throws it into Shogo’s hideout.

It’s probably one of my favorite parts because it’s just so ridiculous.

Look at that picture!
Anyway, lots of strange things happen in Battle Royale. Unexpected things that throw characters off enough that they aren’t able to respond in the smartest way. This happens in bike polo, too.

Sometimes the ball isn’t going to bounce the way you expect it to–or you’ll crash for no apparent reason. Sometimes an opponent will throw a head with a grenade in it’s mouth at you react in such a way that you are limited in your response.

Just take a deep breath. Don’t panic.

Some of the best players in the world are the ones who are able to respond to all situations evenly. Not necessarily powerfully or cleverly, but evenly. Don’t over-react, don’t give up. Just try to maintain.

 

There are other lessons to take away from this fine Japanese film, of course (namely, don’t trust anyone who seems like they really want to be your friend and never turn your back on someone who has a crossbow), but those are for another day.

The No Good, Rotten, Low-Down, Horrible Pickup Day

Alexander

Yesterday Wasn’t So Good.

We played pickup yesterday in the new-found hours of the late afternoon, and despite every expectation to the contrary I did not have a good time. Not a single play went the way I wanted it to, I couldn’t do anything I intended, and with each game I felt more and more like I just shouldn’t have even bothered.

In short, I was turning more and more into a grumpy gussy. It was horrible.

I think it came down to a few things: I was in a rush to get there and held up by traffic/a lack of gasoline, I jumped right into playing (where I normally get prepared mentally to be away from work and at polo (no, really, I do that)). I also think that I was expecting too much from the day, and was too attached to that idea to shake off disappointment when it didn’t happen.

So I Left.

And not in a super-pouty, I’m-taking-my-ball-and-going sort of way. Just before the last game (or at least close to it, I think), I packed up my bike and went home. As I drove Em, she went home, too (which I did/do feel bad about, but she seemed alright with it at the time).

I’m all for the stiff upper lip and working through your own disappointments in a pickup day. In fact, you might be justified in saying that I basically ran away like an indignant child. But I don’t quite see it that way.

I was not enjoying myself, which is the primary reason I play bike polo (outside of perhaps a physical activity–writers generally don’t move if they don’t need to). Furthermore, I was concerned that my negative attitude would start affecting play for everyone else, which is a thousand times worse than just feeling grumpy. So I packed up a bit early, took a long shower, and went to bed. I felt much better, as I escaped something that was not bringing me happiness. It was swell. My dog fell asleep with her head on my belly and that made it even better. PUPPIES MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER!

Why Am I Telling You This?

Because I think there are plenty of bad situations/feelings that can be avoided if people are more cognizant of how they’re feeling and why. Polo is supposed to be fun–and if you’re not having fun, it’s time to take a second and figure out why. Is it something you can work through? Is it just a particular match or is it the whole day of pickup? Would you do less harm by staying or by leaving?

Most times, people get grumpy for reasons that are outside of their control, but how they react (and what kind of environment they make for others) is within their control.

I for one am happy I went home early. Sometimes the best polo is not playing (and thereby keeping it a positive in your life).

The Cold War: Veteran Players vs. The New Wave

cold war

More Importantly, Who Will Win?

It’s just subtle enough that you might not even notice it, but bike polo is locked in a cold war of sorts.

On one side are the forces that we come to associate with bike polo’s history: clad in mix and match sports equipment, armed with home-made mallets and normally treating bike polo tourneys as social events as much as a sporting event. These are the people who, without question, made bike polo as big and as fun of a sport as it is today. They are the folks who struggled to find a place to play, were often run off by officials and the police, and simply didn’t give up on the game. They are world-forged in the sport, and are oftentimes the people who can identify almost every other veteran player from every other club.

propogandaOn the other side is the second wave of bike polo players: these are folks who look more like they are playing a sport. They have equipment specific to bike polo, they are more likely to wear padding and face cages, and are likewise more likely to avoid drinking heavily until after they’ve played, if at all during the day. They play the sport for the sake of achievement, and are consistently thinking of bike polo as something for everyone (rather than something “for us.”) Because of this, they might also not be as solid on their feet as the veteran players, but what they lack in skill they more than make up for in tenacity and willingness to learn.

But before I dive into this cold war, a caveat: I’m making sweeping generalizations and categorizing all polo players into two groups, which really is impossible to do. Just allow me this editorial hyperbole for the sake of writing coherently, okay?

What Caused the Divide?

When it comes down to it, bike polo has always been a sport for others. It’s creation story is surrounded by people who didn’t quite fit into the sports crowd, nor did they fit into the non-sports crowd. It brings together misfits, really, and that’s part of the draw of it.

quietHowever, all things that are made for a particular group eventually bleed out into the world at large (that is, if they are ever worth a damn), and that’s precisely what happened to bike polo. What we have now is a mix of people who are emotionally invested in keeping bike polo the way it is (that is, not making it too mainstream), and people who are emotionally invested in making bike polo into more than it is (or, more appropriately, into something that gets sponsors and write-ups in sports columns).

The war itself is played out most clearly in any online forum or discussion where veterans call out movements towards regulation (ANY new ruleset), new equipment, or new requirements. It might just be a simple “fuck this” or longer explanation of how we’re making the sport too rigid to play, but it’s all there to be seen. The other side can be identified by how they overstretch to discuss relationships with potential sponsors, how they’re willing to drop thousands of dollars on having the “best” equipment, and how little they regard people who are still using non-polo specific equipment. They build online communities and sustain them, or they actively engage in defending new developments in the sport.

Tear Down That Wall

BERLIN-WALL-pan_641537a-29jw5nyI don’t think there isn’t room for both groups in the future of bike polo (veterans might say “what future” here, but let’s just use our imaginarium caps). Any activity needs people who protect the heritage of the sport as much as people who press forward blindly into what could be.

The truth of it is, I think all polo players have some aspects of both wanting to keep this sport all to themselves and also share it with the whole world in any way possible. Most also lean more one direction than the other. The way to avoid either

  • Losing the foundations of our sport to over regulation and increasing costs
  • Allowing our sport to become stagnant and shrinking

is to recognize the reason and not the manner that people communicate. Sure, Johnny Old-Head just said your new model for a prototype wheel cover is lame and you don’t know what you’re talking about, but it might just be because he’s scared of watching the sport fundamentally change. In the same vein, Susan New-Idea may have just called you out for refusing to recognize the new ruleset, but really it’s because she doesn’t want to see injury befall you or anyone else who’s playing.

Between the veteran players and the new wave, there’s little more to do than try to seek balance. Sure, that might come off as a Russo-inspired phrase, but really it’s the best advice I can give (and anytime I can bring in a Russo-esque thought, I will. Because Russo is a favorite).

Bike Polo in the Media

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Just ran across an article featured on Stack.com about hardcourt bike polo, written by John Bobel. It’s a listicle, to be sure, but it’s not a terribly inaccurate one (save for the section about rules–if the newest ruleset has taught us anything, it’s that there aren’t a simple set of rules to play).

This is, however, yet another display of how bike polo is moving it’s way into the mainstream media inch by inch. I’m thankful for Mr. Bobel’s take on the sport and for getting it out in front of more folks.

Read the article here: http://www.stack.com/2014/03/26/hartcourt-bike-polo/ 

AAAAnd then there’s an article on BBC America that discusses “10 British Things About Jackson, MS,” which also features (small as the write up is) bike polo: http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2014/03/10-british-things-jackson-ms/.

So what does this mean for you and me?

Well, nothing really. Especially for you. You’ll keep playing the sport, I suspect, whether or not it’s covered in the media in a more general way. However, it might be the next stage in the development of our little sport: a wider consciousness of it that might just bring in a few more people to play. If anything, you may notice more film crews or reporters here and there at tourneys, perhaps a few more newbie players who didn’t hear about it from a friend, but rather from an article they stumbled across online.

As for me and the esteemed Association of Bike Polo Journalists, this might be something different. As more news agencies and websites look to reach out into Bike Polo, they might turn to us to help them. Or, alternately, they might push us out of relevancy. I’d like to think that only I will push myself out of relevancy, but whatever.

So, really, I guess I’m just sharing the little bit of pride and excitement that comes from bike polo getting press. I look forward to a day when it happens so often that it’s no longer exciting.

2014 Eastside Thaw: A Reporter’s Diary, Day 2

2014-03-09 10.39.06

When I wake up, it’s to the gentle sounds of my phone’s impression of wildlife. From the point I lift my hand up to switch it off, my body is screaming in pain.

My fingers are swollen, my wrists won’t bend, my elbows feel like they’ve been shattered and my shoulders aren’t even pretending to be functional.

My neck is strained, by back aches, and my spine is a’screaming.

My legs are pretty alright, though.

So it’s in this state that I wake up the rest of those staying in the room: Kyle by shaking his shoulder, Horse by Kyle’s exclamations, and Yeager’s already up just by virtue of the noise everyone else makes. Then it’s a round robin of people trying to stretch and realizing their bodies aren’t quite into it, and then staring blankly at the wall or phones or anything and wondering if maybe not playing for 2 months makes the first tourney a bit hard to get through.

The answer, dear reader, is yes.

squidbagBut we trudge to breakfast where I begin to gather the extent of the uselessness of my hands. I can’t quite manipulate the fork or knife, and sitting up straight is difficult. Still, I eat the mysterious yellow sponges and meat circles and head back upstairs to dress for the day.

The 1 minute bike ride from the back of the hotel to my car hurts in ways that I will never be able to express.

The second day is a bench tourney, wherein about 9 players are joined by a captain who chose them. While I had my doubts as to how Alexis perceived my performance the day before, it seems I did well enough to get picked up into his team.

“I think you and I have a good feel for each other now,” he says to me, “so we’ll have a little advantage in there.”

I think about telling him my ailments, but Ben Z. is within earshot and I don’t want him to give me his judgement face.  Read more