(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: