(Photos © J. Maus)
Hard court bike polo is surging in Portland and the sport is maturing well beyond its roots. Local veterans like Ben Miller (known as “Ringer” to friends), who have been playing for nearly a decade say they’ve never seen so many fresh faces showing up to weekly game nights.
Hard court bike polo is a full contact, fast-paced sport — sort of a mix between the classic game of horse polo and hockey. It originated in Seattle, but in Portland it started about 10 years ago by bike messengers looking for more thrills after work (this year marks the 10th anniversary of polo’s inclusion in the annual messenger event, the West Side Invite).
“There are triple the number of people showing up now than we had last year… We’ve always been organized, but this year we need to step it up.”
— Drew Kinney, local bike polo promoter
The sport thrives in Portland parks, where teams of three compete on tennis courts on specially modified bikes and swinging mallets they’ve made themselves from a ski pole with a bit of PVC tubing at the end.
A few weeks ago I ventured over to Peninsula Park in North Portland, where games are played on Wednesday nights, to snap some photos and chat with a few of the players.
Drew Kinney eats, sleeps and breathes bike polo. He’s dedicated not just to playing, but to the sport itself. Kinney speaks like an ambassador of the Portland polo scene. “There are triple the number of people showing up now than we had last year… We’ve always been organized, but this year we need to step it.”
Local bike polo promoter Drew Kinney. He’d like to see bike polo continue to evolve and mature.
Meg Lee is one of three regional reps for the Cascadia Region.
Kinney wants the sport to become legitimate and officially sanctioned. He talks of finding big sponsors so he and others can devote more time and energy to it. “This is the love of my life, I want to get paid to do this.”
25-year old Kayla Traisman, who goes by “Slayla” on the court (it’s even written on her downtube), is one of Portland’s rising polo stars. She was named MVP at the first ever World Championships held in Philadelphia last year and Kinney boasts that she’s the “best lady in the world.”
The youngest of three girls, Traisman says her dad pushed her to be athletic. “My dad said, ‘I didn’t get a boy, so you’re going to be it’.” On the court, Traisman does more than hold her own against the guys, moving herself into position with quick bursts of speed. “You need a lot of adrenaline to play this game.”
And it turns out, if you want to play it at a high level, you also need some cash: Traisman is looking for sponsorships so her and her boyfriend (a skilled player himself), can travel to tournaments.
With a growing number of players and tournaments, Kinney wants the local scene to follow the lead of the nascent LeagueofBikePolo.com website. That site brings players together from all over the world by documenting locations of tournaments, clubs, and so on. Through the League of Bike Polo, an organizing body has formed, complete with regional representatives.
This weekend, Portland Bike Polo (a.k.a. Axles of Evil) will host the Oregon Bike Polo Championships. Over 100 competitors from around the world are expected to complete. The event is the first competition in the Cascadia Triple Crown which will also include tournaments in Seattle and Vancouver (BC) later in the season.
To see why bike polo is becoming so popular, catch some of the exciting action at Rose City Park (NE 62nd and Thompson) all this weekend. See PortlandBikePolo.com for more info. If you’d rather play instead of watch, roll over to the eastern side of Alberta Park (at corner of NE 22nd and Killingsworth) on Sunday afternoons.
For more photos from the action at Peninsula Park, watch the slideshow below:
actually, her name is “meg lee”, not “meg reed.” just fyi. thanks for the post! -k
thanks kenichi… i fixed it. — jonathan
If you want to come out and watch, the tournament will be going from about 10AM to 8PM on both Saturday and Sunday.
Hardcourt polo was started in Seattle and brought to Portland. Messengers and civilians alike in Portland did embrace the game here and we have had a fun rivalry since. Portland is home to the first organized polo tournament though, it was indeed the West Side Invite, I believe it was 2003. Played in that title game, the greatest hardcourt polo game ever played! 🙂
Sorry, I should have said “The first organized Hardcourt Polo Tournament was AT the West Side Invite in 2003”. The West Side Invite itself was around before polo tournaments. The West Side isn’t a polo tournament, it’s an event that happens to have a polo tournament on Memorial Day Monday. Thanks!!
A neat thing about polo is that it helps develop so many valuable bike riding skills. Learning to navigate around moving objects and, yes occasionally crash into them in a safe enviroment has kept me from being injured when cars have moved into my space.
Plus one of the best spectator games ever. Great job PDX Polo!
Last fall I saw some guys playing bike polo in Stockholm Sweden. I didn’t expect to see it all the way over there.
The people who play this sport at Alberta Park are ruining the park. I go to this park frequently and only see these folk get drunk at th and use the nearby bushes as lavatories all in front of children and families. Promotion of this is ridiculous. The city should turn this back into a tennis court. Bike polo in and of itself is great, however the behavior of these folks at Alberta park is a nuisance that shouldn’t be encouraged. They should be ashamed of themselves as representatives of the sport and of Portland’s bike community.
Martie you are so right they should be arrested.
Whatever Matt! Seattle was into coffee and beer before Portland also. Big deal. Starbucks? Red hook? Please!
Or maybe just realize that their cool hipster reluctance to follow any of the park’s rules really bothers other people in the community and makes cyclists look like a-holes to outsiders. Keep it up and you’ll see your precious court removed.
martie, why don’t you actually stop by next time you’re at the park and chat with us instead of using this comment forum to air your grievances?
@kenichi Yeah, I have. As a polo bike guy was pissing on the building next to the court, I asked him to next time use the public restroom that was located a few hundred feet away, to which he replied that it was too far away for him to go. “Even by bike?” I asked. And he said yes and went back to drinking his PBR.
Portland needs at least two dedicated bike polo complexes right away, and perhaps five (one in each quadrant) is a good medium-term goal. Each complex needs at least two polo courts.
Martie, thanks for your comments and unique point of view, one of the things we are working on in Portland polo is using the bathrooms at the park when they are open, did you know that for the whole winter the bathrooms are closed at Alberta park? where do they expect us to go? I feel that this only naturally brings about the bad habit of peeing in the bushes till the spring, and unfortunately can take some time and peer pressure to rectify. We hope that you and the many other great community members will understand a little, after all so many of our four legged friends are constantly micturateing in that lovely park as well and no one seems to be blowing the whistle on them. I digress for I am rambling again. In the future I hope that the bond of common respect and good will that we have tried to foster with the community will be felt and heard by the masses as our sport and its numbers grow. thank you for your time
Just wanted to let yalls know that some friends of mine in Santiago, Chile started playing bike polo (called ciclo pal’in) about a year ago with some other students at La Universidad de Chile. There are probably about 7 guys and at least 2 ladies who are regulars.
They just sent me this blog post- they got written up in El Mercurio, a national newspaper based in Santiago! Ballin! It is in Spanish, but it basically just talks about what the sport is and why they play. They talk about how they play regularly every week, and even when they go on vacation they try to find spaces they can play in, haha. My favorite quote is “Sometimes we stay playing until 12 or 1 in the morning. It is really entertaining because it tests your bicycle skills.” Anyways, it sounds better in Spanish. Check it outtt::
I just wanted to say that the people who play polo are really nice and welcoming. I came out last year and played a few games, I couldn’t keep playing due to other commitments, but had a great time anyway. I recommend people not be intimidated by this sport, while it looks like chaos at first with a few basic moves and competent bike control it can be picked up to a fun level quickly.
Martie, these guys are genuinely nice, I am sure you can encourage them to tone it down a little. I myself am guilty of drinking a few PBRs. What would be great is if the bathrooms could be open year round during “open park hours”
i wanted to add that polo folks are some of the nicest i know. they are family oriented and great friends. I’m sure if some tennis players (who they do share the court with)were out at night and needed to wee they would pee in the bushes as well after all who can hold it for hours on end? the bathrooms there are often locked and when they aren’t they are quite disgusting.
Someone else from the hood who says keep it up, we don’t all agree with Martie.
Geez there are so many dog owners around here…and no one cares where they whizz.
besides it’s excellent for plants. Really. Go pee on your garden.
OH! I forgot though! If you want to use this free nitrogen source for your yard, you Do need to dilute: 1-10 to keep it from burning your plants. I am sure PBR does this adequately well. And you can also pee on your compost pile.
And for those of ya fellas that do PiP discretion IS appreciated. 😉
File this under FYI, DIY, Dirty Hippie, What about the Children and Get Off my Lawn.
Why aren’t park restroom open all year anyways? Lack of park use? vandalism? Seems rather uncivilized we don’t have more public restrooms one can actually USE all year. Especially in parks where young kids are often still learning the ways of knowing when to go and when it’s too late.
Play on Bike Polo!
Seriously Jonathan, hardcourt polo started in Seattle, would you mind editing that part of the article?
case… thanks for your input but nowhere in the article do i say that polo started in Portland.. I write that it originated in Portland in xxxx.. meaning that that is the date it originated in portland, not originated overall in the entire planet.
but i understand that might not be clear so i will think about editing it. thanks.
That tennis court looks great now with all those skid marks on it – Also way to drink beer in a public park, real nice.
Did a bit of googling and it’s pretty obvious that hardcourt bike polo wasn’t invented in Seattle, but rather, was played in Ireland, among other places, as early as the 1920s or 30s.
I was speaking of Hardcourt Polo with the rules used in the polo that’s “grown up in Portland (and beyond)”. Circling out or paying some sort of penalty for ‘dabbing’ is, as far as my research goes, a modern invention. The physicality of modern Hardcourt exceeds most other styles with the exception of possible pick-up games in the past. I guess almost nothing with a modern derivative is ‘invented’ but this game is largely different from the similar games in the past. It’s all totally debatable though. 🙂
Thanks for the fix Jonathan, the language just sounded a little more definite. Maybe it doesn’t matter though, with all of the history and all. 🙂
Good thinking Chris. That abandoned piece of asphalt that we keep clean of debris and who’s fences were falling in until we fixed them should not be used for anything…ever.
And the polo players… sheesh… we cuss a lot and don’t call our mothers enough either as well. Sinners!! The whole lot of them.
enough about polo can we get back to the benefits of planing more nitrogen fixers in public parks?
This reminds me of my favorite quote I read in the bathroom of the Church of the Bicycle Jesus (which also started in Seattle): “…a culture so obscenely wealthy they defaecate into clean water”
While a few people may not like the presence of bicycle polo in the park the Friends of Alberta Park have been very supportive. I’d like to put in a shout out to their group. I’ve gone to the park a couple of times to help them clean up litter on Sunday mornings and I really think they have done a great job of recognizing and promoting good clean uses of the park like bike polo which have helped to push the drug use out. They also make great hot cocoa.
We keep that court very clean which allows it to have other uses throughout the week. The needles from those pine trees don’t remove themselves. Use of Alberta Park was something that was negotiated over a period of time, and it has worked out really well over the years because the Alberta court does not end up with conflict with tennis players. The city has many tennis courts, but this is the only fenced multi-use court of this size that I am aware of. I hope that at some point Parks and Rec has the funding for things like a cover for the multi-use court that we play on, lighting, and yes bathrooms that aren’t locked when you need them.