A New Kind Of Polo

When you think of a traditional game of polo, you might envision a group of regal gentlemen wearing equestrian helmets and tight, white knickers, galloping around on their horses and wielding high-quality wooden mallets. But a new kind of polo has come to town—and this ain’t your grandfather’s game.

On an empty tennis court in Norfolk’s Lakewood Park, a casual group of guys (plus one girl) meets twice a week to play a gritty game of bike polo. Unlike the original game of polo, which requires expensive equipment (including a horse), the necessities for bike polo are simple: a bicycle and some PVC pipe.

The group (who call itself Norfolk Bike Polo) has been unofficially playing for three years. Their ages range from 16 (they call that kid Young Blood) to 32, and the players vary from Navy guys to local chefs and general bike enthusiasts.

Bike polo has been popular in larger cities for several years and is now beginning to gain popularity in Hampton Roads. “Especially with the bike culture growing the way it is, we have more people interested in it now than ever before,” says Joe Kilgore, one of the players. Anyone (aside from young children) is welcome to play as long as they have a bike.

Kilgore recommends a bicycle that has brakes but not many gears—essentially, the simplest bike possible. Extra mallets are usually available, though it’s easy to make one. “We originally started making our own mallets from ski poles and PVC pipe,” Kilgore says. Now mallets specifically made for bike polo can be purchased online.

The rules of the game are similar to traditional polo. Two teams consisting of three players to a team use their mallets to maneuver the ball into the other team’s goal at opposite ends of the court, which is marked with two orange cones. Players’ feet must not touch the ground at any time during the game, and the only player-to-player contact that’s allowed is body-to-body, bike-to-bike or mallet-to-mallet.

Although it’s not a full contact sport, it can get rough. Liz Vredenburg, the solo girl on the team, has been knocked off her bicycle and has come into contact with the fence several times during a game.

Still, she considers the sport to be good exercise that takes balance and coordination as well as endurance. “You’re using so many muscles to stay on your bike, to get the bike going, to lean over your bike,” she says. “You’re getting a workout.”

Categories: Current Close-Up