Davis Bike Polo expands, players find sense of community in club
As one of the largest bike towns in the nation, Davis is no stranger to bike-related activities, including the up-and-coming sport of bike polo.
The game of polo is similar to hockey in that the ball is passed around by a piece of equipment instead of hands with the objective of scoring a goal on the opposite end of the court. In modern bike polo, played on a hard surface court, the players use mallets to hit the ball while riding bicycles rather than horses.
“The club […] is really welcoming of people at all levels,” said Edward Henn, Davis Bike Polo club member. “I love bikes and I love riding bikes […] but [I had] no polo experience. [The members] are really encouraging.”
Davis Bike Polo was established in 2011, but according to Jennifer Kutzleb, club representative and UC Davis Department of Sociology doctoral student, the grass version of the sport has been in practice since the 1800s. At that time, the game was much more similar to horse polo.
“It was kind of like a poor man’s polo, [for] people who couldn’t afford horses,” Kutzleb said. “We [still] sit atop something, but other than that we don’t share that much in common with horse polo.”
The modern hardcourt version of the sport originated in Seattle, Wash., in the early 2000s. The idea arose from bike messengers who spent their time in between deliveries playing early renditions of the game.
Davis Bike Polo meets three times a week in West Manor Park, located in West Davis. Players of all ages, genders and experiences are welcome at the polo hardcourt, which resembles a tennis court.
“The first time I heard about [the club] was on Picnic Day,” Henn said. “I saw [the club] in Downtown Davis; they did an exhibition. It just looked like a whole lot of fun.”
Bike polo requires strength as well as technique: players maneuver both their bikes and their mallets to score goals.
“I really like that it’s very technical,” said Tricia Wong, member of Davis Bike Polo. “I spent a large part of the last year just trying to get better. It’s not one of those sports that you can just learn really quick.”
Davis Bike Polo prides itself on its inclusivity, since the sport is globally dominated by men. Once a month, as a way of recognizing other genders in the sport, the club hosts Women Trans Femme (WTF) nights where individuals who identify as such get to socialize and play the game.
“I feel like I’ve gained so much self-confidence,” Kutzleb said. “I spend a lot of time working on academic[s]. It was just so much fun to be athletic. [The sport] has been really cool for [my] self-development.”
The club is part of a continental organization called the North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Association, which is made up of clubs from all over the United States and Canada. This year, Davis Bike Polo hosted the 8th annual North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship in Folsom, Calif., with two qualifying Davis teams, one of which finished in eighth out of 36.
“It was a really proud moment for us,” Kutzleb said. “The guys who [finished eigth] started the club together way back in the day.”
The sport of bike polo, however, is not restricted to just North America. Players travel all over the world to compete, from Europe to Canada to Mexico.
“I’ve traveled so much because of [bike] polo — I’ve been to Europe four times in the last two years,” Kutzleb said. “That’s one of the best parts about [the game], it breaks down […] barriers. You get there, and you have something in common with people.”
For people who want to try out the sport, Davis Bike Polo lends out loaner bikes and mallets. New players are then assimilated into the sport with drills and coaching from more experienced players. Players also wear helmets and pads as safety precautions.
“It’s really hard to ride a bike in a small space […] you feel like you’re going to crash and freak out,” Wong said. “[When I first started] I would get stuck in the corners a lot […] but I’ve definitely gotten better.”
The club includes a range of participants, from 12-year-olds, to graduate students, to older adults.
“I’ve definitely gained a lot more friends,” Wong said. “Davis is kind of tiny, [and] I grew up in big cities. [Bike polo] is really nice because it’s a fun activity to do in Davis.”
Since the bike polo community in Davis is small, the players get to know each other well. The experienced players are generous in their advice and support towards newer players.
“It’s been an easy thing for me to get involved in and […] get more skilled at just because of the encouragement of the people that are doing it,” Henn said. “The feeling of camaraderie [is strong.]”
Despite their different levels of experience, Henn, Wong and Kutzleb all agree that the bike polo community has positively impacted their lives.
“It’s been such a good experience,” Kutzleb said. “When I first started the sport I could barely ride a bike. Now I can do stuff on a bike I never imagined [I could].”
Written by: Allyson Tsuji – firstname.lastname@example.org