Remember when I said that some of the best bike polo players in the world live in San Francisco and know how to fly with bikes for cheap-to-free? I wasn't lying.
San Francisco is home to the reigning North American Champions of Hardcourt Bike Polo, and on Aug. 16 in Roseville, MN, San Francisco's team the Beaver Boys, beat out the rest of the continent for the second time and qualified for the World Championship in Fort Lauderdale in October.
The North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championships, or NAHBPC for short, was hosted by the Minneapolis club. North American Hardcourt
is probably a lot more organized that most people imagine. There's an up-to-date rule set and an elected governing body. To play in the continental championship you have to qualify at a smaller regional tournament or enter through a lottery. It's all pretty involved.
Much of this has been made possible by the League of Bike Bike Polo
. This website, created by Kevin Walsh of Toronto, enabled polo players around the world to connect, discuss gear, organize tournaments, and more. It's part social network, part forum, part clearing house of polo information. Walsh said,
"When we launched [in 2008], there were 12 clubs listed. Today, there are close to 500 in over 50 countries." He continued, "I created League of Bike Polo (LOBP) to scratch my own itch. In 2008, we were using MySpace and the personal blog of one polo player to find polo players and tournaments in other cities, fight about the rules, and trash talk. LOBP was designed to make all that easier. The spread of bike polo around the world was inevitable, but perhaps LOBP helped it spread a bit faster."
High level polo is a far cry from a crew of scraggly dudes on track bikes running into each other at 4 mph. There's very specialized equipment, including custom fabricated mallets, polo specific frame, and even sponsorships. The best players do stuff with balls and bikes that seem to defy physics. Play is high speed, sometimes elegant, sometimes brutal, but usually exciting. See the highlight reel from the tournament for some examples:
North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championships 2013 from SOON Media Group on Vimeo.
The Beaver Boys, which includes Brian Dillman, Eric Kremin, and Joey Halvorson, beat out 47 other teams with names like Spaceweed, Thunder Buddies, Ghost Wolves, and only lost once, in the first final of the double elimination Swiss rounds tournament. If that sounds both serious and ridiculous it's because it is.
One big change distinguished this tournament from many in the past: no beer at the court. There was, however, a VFW with specials across the street. If you've ever tried to buy beer in Minneapolis you know how valuable this information is.
I managed to get a hold of Kremin, a San Francisco resident and recent Milwaukee transplant, who talked a little bit about what it's like to be North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Champion:
: How is the Bay Area bike polo scene compared to other places you've played?
: The polo scene in the Bay Area is ever growing and is about to have a new court in Dolores Park. People play about three-to-four days a week in the city and every week we have players from Oakland coming to the city to play. SF bike polo is also becoming a destination for players to come from all over the world. This summer we've had players from Australia, Japan, and the UK. Not to mention some of the best players in North America.
: What is polo to you? Why do you play?
: I've meet so many amazing people and seen so many amazing things because of it. Polo has taken me around the world, I've seen people get married and have children due to playing polo. The community is great. I've flown across the world met with someone for the first time and they hand me the keys to their apartment.
: What does it take to be a world-class player?
: I'm constantly practicing and traveling to tournaments. That's what keeps us on top. Staying relevant keeping up with all the new tricks. The sport is developing so rapidly that it doesn't take long to fall behind.
: How has polo and the competition changed over the years you've been playing?
: Polo is ever growing. Every year I say, "Ah, there won't be any new good teams," and every year I eat my words. I probably recognized half of the teams at NA's this year and every team was good. Polo in San Francisco is going to pop. Once the court is built in Dolores Park we will have more exposure than we've ever had before. I imagine our club doubling in size.
For those of you interested in rubbing shoulders on the polo court with the North American champions, head to Jose Coronado Park at 21st and Shotwell streets on Wednesday night for their newbie night. There's also a game in Mosswood Park in Oakland on Sunday nights for those of you on this side of the bay. S.F. Bike Polo and Oakland Bike Polo can both be found on https://leagueofbikepolo.com/clubs