Bike polo may not be for the faint-hearted, but age and gender are definitely no barriers, or so says Ollie Wykeham who spoke with me about the sport recently. In fact he reckons there are players in their 50s and there’s even a player in the US as old as 87. As to gender, he said one of the best international players he has competed against is a woman called Birdie and teams often have mixed membership.
See photo gallery below.
You may have seen Ollie, Max, Leon, Maddy and others playing at Musgrave Park tennis court on Sunday afternoons. If you haven’t, do try to get along. The players I spoke with all described the sport as addictive and just watching them has convinced me. I am not a person who lives with regrets, but learning about this sport that has left me wishing I were younger and fitter.
The sport requires real skill and nerve, but the rules are simple. Ollie said the main rule when he started was “don’t be a dick”. The game consists of two teams of three players competing to be the first to score five goals. When a player touches the ground they are temporarily out of play. Hip and shoulder body contact is fine, within limits. As to spills and thrills, Ollie said there are a few, but added dismissively that the maximum damage he has sustained, was a broken finger.
Bike Polo originated in Ireland in the early 1900’s but in its current form is quite young having emerged around 16 years ago from the ranks of bicycle couriers in Seattle who started playing in down times at work. It is now played across North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia: after all as Ollie said, all you need is a bike and a stick. Certainly a stark contrast to the very exclusive and expensive pony polo.
While equipment is generally cheap and accessible it is becoming more specialised, and there is an emerging cottage industry surrounding the sport in Brisbane. Ollie for example now manufactures polo mallets. He likens the stage of development of the sport to the early days of skate boarding.
Local tournaments seem to be largely organised on Facebook. A recent interstate event titled “No Sleep Till Brisbane” held on the weekend of 12 & 13 July, attracted 11 teams from Perth, Sydney and Melbourne, and five from Brisbane: 16 teams in all. Two Brisbane teams, Majestic and Extra Gear, competed for a berth in the final, but in the end the Sydney-Perth combination “JSIM” overwhelmed the local team Extra Gear (Tom, Max and Ollie) for the title. Extra Gear is sponsored by local West End bike shop “Gear”. Commercial sponsorships for bike polo are likely to increase as the sport expands.
The Brisbane players hire courts at Milton State School on Mondays and Wednesdays and, with the assistance of Gabba Ward Councillor Helen Abrahams, have been using the disused tennis court at Musgrave Park on Sundays afternoons. However, these sites are no longer meeting the needs of the growing sport, and players are looking for a permanent home with lights. Cr Abrahams says bike polo is a real sport with skilled and enterprising players and they deserve a permanent venue, although she say it may be difficult to find a venue in the inner city. In the meantime Cr Abrahams is happy for the players to continue to use Musgrave Park while it remains available.
Next up on the Brisbane players agenda are the world championships which will be held in Montpellier in France from 28 to 31 August. The top seven teams from the recent “No Sleep Till Brisbane” tournament will be attending, including three teams from Brisbane. This is the 6th world championship and this year games will be live streamed on bikepolo.tv with results published on hardcourtpodium.com
My thanks to Ollie, Max Newstead, Madeline Elise, Leon Cameron and others for sharing their love of bike polo with me; they can count me as a convert, at least as a spectator.
Click here to hear a recent broadcoast on 612 ABC Brisbane.