Pad it up; a conjecture about how and when polo players wear pads

 Protection; most of us have it in our arsenal in one shape or another – be it gloves, pads, helmets or the random stem/top tube cover. It seems that the newer players tend to pad up more than the average veteran player. When I started playing I used simply a helmet, but then as I played more and more, and fell more and more, I got more pads.

My observation is that the newer polo player may or may not be a cyclist already, if they aren't, or if they are a cyclist that doesn't wear a helmet when they ride, its likely that for their first few months they won't even wear a helmet. Newer polo players are trying desperately to simply stay pointing in the direction of the action let alone manage to swing their mallet at a tiny rolling ball using a 2 – 2.5” striking surface. For a veteran player the newb is easy to move out of the way of as they are slower and less nimble and so the opportunities for newbs to get into scuffles are decreased. The need for pads isn't as apparent at this stage.

However, as your newb gains more control over their bike and mallet they find themselves in the action more and consequently are more likely to injure themselves. Newbs with a sports background will grasp onto where to be and not to be when going for the ball, but those without that knowledge of spacing and plays may find themselves colliding with other players, especially when looking down when trying to control the ball. At this stage the newb may invest on tome knee and shin protection and a helmet if they haven't already gotten one, and potentially gloves.

As a player finds themselves in the action more, their mallet and hands in the midst of moving metal, the chances for hand injuries increase. Some players may be using thin riding gloves, but chances are that after one too many mallets slide up their shaft and bash them in the fingers and knuckles they will switch over to padded gloves. I, and others I know, started out with hockey gloves and when I found them too bulky and inflexible moved on to lacrosse gloves. These days there other options, both polo specific and not...

At this point the player is likely pretty comfortable on their bike and has adequate ball and bike control. The amount that they injure themselves a week decreases and at this point they may shed some pads. Of all the protection that I mentioned above I would say that there are two that are the staple of the majority of players arsenal: gloves and a helmet. If you look at most players in your club you'll probably notice that if they are wearing some sort of protection, its a helmet and gloves and to go beyond that I would say that of those two items gloves are most often worn, as some folks chose not to protect their heads (something I do not condone or understand).

At this point we have a player who might have shed some weight padding wise but the pads tend to come back on when a player decides to go either front brake only or clipless. I went clipless before I went front brake only and I remember falling over left and right because where I used to take my foot off for balance, I now did a funny little wriggle before falling over in a pile of giggling metal and polo player. Going front brake wasn't as much of an issue, but I have seen some epic falls from folks not used to running just a front brake.

However, as the player becomes more used to their set-up, the more comfortable they become and they may choose to wear less padding, protect different areas, or wear different types of padding, or they may keep rocking what they got, or you may go the route of Machine and adopt a downhill mountain biking external shell. One thing is clear and its that what a player chooses to wear padding-wish is an individual and fluid choice.


An Open Letter to the Polo-verse

**DISCLAIMER: This article was written by a group of women across three continents who love this sport and are passionate to see it's evolution continue as a co-ed entity. This is not the view of any one person in particular, but many of us. This article has also been vetted by a number of people who chose to include either a statement or feedback and have endorsed its being posted.

Open Letter to the Polo-verse...

This letter comes in reaction to events that happened in the polo community this past week (the NAH video, the GQ article and an insightful reveal about filming the Adidas London Ladies ad). As well as things that have happened to us as women in the past – having to stand in a line at a tournament so the men can decide by applause who the Female MVP is; giving all female participants in a tournament a prize, not based on merit, but because we have vaginas; having to deal with comments about our bodies at the court “Hey! [insert name]! You have the best ass in [insert city]!”. These are but a few of the everyday obstacles we deal with as women in bike polo. This letter is written with the aim that we be proactive to avoid these mistakes, misfortunes and embarrassments in the future.

The conversations that have been occurring this week are too numerous to keep track of, and just about everyone has had an opportunity to have themselves heard. People have been hurt, felt ignored, and are angry because well-intentioned folks were too busy to see their mistakes; inexperienced with the media and misrepresented by and in the media. These events rocked our foundation and brought into question, for a lot of us, the changing future of this sport.

Let's lay it out. Last week we saw two examples of sexism: Sexism by omission and sexism by possession. Each are prevalent in our society. The NAH video and commentary is an example of omission and Brian Dillman's comment is an example of possession.


Dillman has been affected by society's values on women, and equally taken advantage of by the media.  First, that women need to look a certain way to be considered good or desirable, men and women are programmed, brainwashed, through mass media to be led to believe this (i.e., the idea that women should be judged on looks rather than on abilities) is so indoctrinated in us. We body shame, self objectify and assess our looks based on what we think is desirable in society. Here we have people we know and love, who consider themselves to be allies (or at the least in-the-know regarding gender issues) saying and doing hurtful things.  Secondly, this interview was represented in the media in a way that aligns with a fashion publication marketed to metrosexual men.  The irony here is that The Beavers are a reflection of the Adidas ad - both were used to promote a product.

Here are some examples of reactions to the GQ article:

  • The statement in GQ about the London Adidas ad isn't too far from what some of us, women included, would think: “damn, I wish I had a deal with Adidas”; or     
  • “There are more glamour shots than polo in this ad”; or
  • “This is advertising.” Adidas isn't trying to get more female polo players out there in the world, they are marketing to an up-and-coming niche market and trying to portray themselves as 'edgy' and 'in-the-know'.     

However, the fact that Dillman brings up the attractiveness of the women by saying “its funny cause they put the six most attractive girls in an ad together,” rather than saying something akin to “its funny because... they spend more time on shots of Jess' hair flowing than of her awesome bike handling”, is problematic, even though he may have been coming from a good place. Its a critique, but the framing is all wrong and indicative of a society of men that think that they have possession over women's bodies.

Nik Hamilton (one of the London polo players featured in the Adidas ad) recently described the experience and conceded that “...we let ourselves be duped in the vain hope that coverage at this level would be good for bike polo and inspire women to get involved.”  She recognizes that that isn’t want Adidas helped them do.


Regarding the NAH video; it is problematic because it is making the very concrete statement “This is Hardcourt [Bike Polo]” which is in actuality a falsity due to a crucial omission. The video and the narration omits a whole group of the bike polo community: women. The space that the video indirectly (by including video clips) offers women is of the spectator, the organizer, and the camerawoman. Although there are very brief moments where women were on the court, it was very difficult to recognize them unless you knew them personally.  For the most part, women are not portrayed as polo players, simply as support. Which is isn't far off, we do offer a lot of support; we run cameras, provide commentary, organize tournaments, make shirts, patch up split chins, and all that is nothing to scoff at. However, by not offering a space for women in the video as polo players the video promotes an idea that women do not compete against men, which in turn promotes the idea that women cannot compete against men, or that women chose not to compete against men, or (worst of all) that there is no space in polo for the female player. In order to truly say “This is Hardcourt” women should not only be portrayed in the film playing polo (and there are damn good examples of this out there), but there should be commentary which also lets the viewer know that the sport is co-ed.


Based on various knowledge and experience we have dealing with the media, there is a concern about the misrepresentation of bike polo, about controlling the message and the projection of the sport to the public.Issues of why major corporate sponsors might be less likely to donate to or sponsor a sport that is co-ed falls validates the underpinning sexism and thoughts on what men and women can and can't do together in our society. Do we really want to be changing our image to garner sponsorship? Sure it would be nice to have an event sponsored by a major company, but not at the risk of them telling us who we can and can't play with and against. If we accept sponsorship from someone who is going to 'create' an image of what mass media wants polo to be, especially based on a premise that polo is a 'white man's game' - who will we then attract to the sport?

We are part of a beautiful thing here. Not a single sport has embraced diversity the way hardcourt bike polo has. We are: men, women, children, grandchildren, parents, sisters, brothers, cousins. We span the realms of sexual orientation, nationality, religion and ethnic backgrounds.We have all saved every last dime to get to THAT tournament. We have offered up spare beds, couches, floor space and backyards to those we play against. We rush to help someone who needs a mechanic, a medic, a bike.We have an international dialogue that allows anyone to raise any issue at any time – and for everyone to have the opportunity to comment on it.

THIS is hardcourt bike polo.

How can we move forward more positively?How can we take this sport into the future and retain this inclusive spirit?How can we provide a supportive environment for anyone who wants to play polo?

The beauty of bike polo, and what we think so many people love about this sport, is its inclusiveness. No one is turned away. This is most unique across the sporting world. However, as anyone who's been playing polo for the past number of years has witnessed, this sport is changing at a rapid pace – one we are struggling to keep up with: new clubs popping up all over the world; new equipment; better equipment; team uniforms; new skills; a competitive structure; improved court quality; custom designed courts.

And yet we retain this unbelievable “Do It Together mentality” where everyone pitches in, what we have done with a 'game to pass the time' is astounding. And we are getting more serious, moving away from the beer drinking, mallet hacking, melee. We experience less drunk asshole manoeuvres. We see more accountability from club members to create a safe space and require accountability from club members for their statements and actions. The level of competitiveness and game play have increased. We have come a long way from our infantile days of costumes and drunken debauchery. We are in the 'growing pains stage' of development.However, if women don't feel safe in the community: why is that? What can we do to create a safer space while continuing to ensure that female players have a space in Hardcourt Bike Polo and it continues to be a co-ed sport? One strategy is education within clubs. East Van Bike Polo recently established a club structure and employs this strategy through the creation of a Conflict Mediator position. That person is tasked with, among other things, addressing the misogyny and sexism that exists within EVBP.

We hope that the bike polo community can self reflect and acknowledge the current dissonance between the DIY philosophy that informed hardcourt's genesis and the present day mainstream consumer culture that has taken hold. Gaining exposure through sexual objectification, being elitist, exclusive, and money/sponsor driven is the way the culture is going. Do we move forward by inviting companies to dictate bike polo's image, direction, future?How do we keep our values as a micro-community (in relation to global population) while engaging with sponsors?What do we need to do now to move forward? That's the conversation we are writing this letter to initiate.Cranksgiving, 2014

Race Report

Another month another post. I probably should have written this up earlier, but hey, I've been busy.

The week before this last Thanksgiving Santa Cruz Bike Polo organized a race to benefit a local non-profit The Familia Center. We received overwhelming support from local business Clutch Couriers and without their financial support as well as letting us use their name in garnering support from many LBS and companies big in the cycling community we wouldn't have been able to offer racers such sweet swag and a rockin' after party.

And it was a huge success! This was my first time hosting a race, but I had help from club rep and Clutch employee Brandon, who is a seasoned pro. Brandon used his ties to Clutch Couriers to sweet talk Freight Bags, Hold Fast Straps, Ibis, Santa Cruz Cycles, State Bicycle Co., Timbuk2, Velocity, Maverick Mailing, Bike Station, Epicenter, Family Cycling Center, Pacific Avenue Cycles, Spokesman, and local restaurant Surfrider into sponsoring us in various ways. I used my paper writing skills from my social sciences degree to help me write awesome letters to local grocery stores as well as larger chain stores to get gift certificates and support. My art school dropout skills also came into play for making the flier for the race. The tag-team style worked out really well and we managed to get everything done without any last minute stress-out parties.

Originally I had thought to ask members from the club to help out with check points, however we decided to go with a different format and I think I can say that is THE EASIEST RACE FORMAT TO ORGANIZE. It literally took two people, and probably could be handled just as easily with one person. We gave each team of racers a manifest with a checklist of items to get and a checklist of stores to visit. What items they got where was up to them. So essentially Brandon and I just had to ride over to the finish line/after party location and wait for people to finish. That was it. Oh and check over everyone's receipts to make sure they got all the items.

The items on the list were given to us by The Familia Center as food items that they needed specifically and the list of stores were chosen mostly for distance. We wanted riders to be biking all over Santa Cruz, not just heading to the closest grocery store and buying all the items on the check list.

We ended raising a little under $1000 dollars in food and food gift certificates and gift certificates to clothing and book stores (for teens during the holidays). The race was SO successful that we think we are going to hold this type of race again, but during the summer and with a different non-profit in mind for donating to. We are thinking the homeless shelter, in part because we hope that they won't be as particular about which food items they want and (personally) because the homeless population in Santa Cruz is heavily stigmatized and any little bit helps.

The reasoning behind the race was to get the SCBP club's name out there as a group which gives back to the community. To this point I wish we had had a bit more publicity, however, I hope that by turning this race into an annual event that people will soon know who we are and not think we're just a bunch of low-lifes biking in circles.

If your business would like to support this event in the future please go to the “contact us” page and fire off an email letting us know who you and/or your business are and how you'd like to help.

Don't Be A Dick To The Newbs

We *Need* More People In This Sport, C'Mon People!

At the risk of sounding like some bleeding heart I just want to write about a recent experience I had at a tournament. First off, it was a friendly. It was Fresno's Jack the Dish tourney that they throw every year. It was super fun, but, no refs, 18" high boards (prefect for breaking ribs and necks) and a bench protruding into the court behind one of the goals. Oh and leaves which threatened to eat your ball anytime it rolled along the bottom of the sagging chainlink fence. Get the picture? It was a tournament to get the polo family together, play some polo, get pissy on the court and hug it out off the court,eat home made carne asada tacos, pies, and hoagies, then pile as many people as possible into one hotel room and drink beer and eat pizza. The friendliest of friendlies. 

The youngest guy on the court was about 15, give or take a few years. He got placed on a team with two guys from one of the stronger clubs. And he stayed in goal the whole time. Its not like the kid was an amazing goalie either. In fact, he barely moved to block the ball when he was in goal. He just sat there... for the He was essentially a body on the court. When the game was over, he got off his bike, walked over to where his family was, and threw his mallet and bike down...even though his team won. Maybe he was beating himself up for letting a few in? Or maybe he was pissed that he sat in goal for the entirety of the game I watched.

When I jokingly told Matt and Ryno that they were bad teammates, someone from their club butted in and said "Well that's how you learn. You learn by watching. That's how I learned." To which I retorted that maybe if people had let him play more when he was starting out that he would be a better player. ZING! Anyway, enough ego stroking, seriously, sitting in goal watching other people play polo isn't going to teach you anything about polo other than how to balance in goal. This is old news, I'm not saying anything new and exciting here. Crusher's  Women, Stop Putting Yourself In Goal addresses this topic (though I find his title problematic), the Women Hardcourt Bike Polo group on the Effbook talks about this, LOBP threads talk about letting the newbs play up. But why is it so hard to  get into certain people's heads? 

Where did the idea that by hanging back and watching people pass you'll somehow be able to pass spot on to your teammates? Why do people continue to think that if you watch people get positioning that you'll somehow learn out to read, set, and disrupt plays by osmosis? My thinking is that its the people for whom the sport came super naturally that may be the most at fault. They don't realize that while for them it was easy to know where to be on the court, or how to rip lazerbeams, or how to scoop a ball; for others its a matter of happy accidents, lots of pick-up, and a lot of mistakes. 

As most of us know, the learning curve isn't always fun, but for the few where the sport came so naturally, it was always fun and so they can't grasp how the rest of us feel. If we as polo players continue to stick someone in goal, decide to actively ignore any potential strengths that they may have, so that you can advance one spot further, make one more goal, sure you may be having fun, but chances are that the newb in goal isn't going to be having any. When you stick a newb in goal you do a disservice to the longevity of our sport. Its our newer, younger players which are going to continue to play this sport and bring it to where all of us want it to be. And I'm sorry "Well that's how I learned" isn't going to cut it if we want to get it there.

Ladies Army 5

Here is a little blurb about Ladies Army 5 written at the risk of getting motion sickness from the to-and-fro of my coach seat on a train heading south.

The organization of the LA5 and Co-Ed tournaments this month was pretty inspiring. Granted, this was my first rodeo (first 2-day tournament with swiss rounds the first day and a double elimination bracket the following day) but Lisa, Shannon and the others involved did an awesome job of finding a rad location with a killer view, finding folks places to stay, providing out-of-towners with resources to find our way around town and to the food/beer store, getting the stream team on board as well as a flock of refs, and getting a butt-load of sponsors so that I think everyone who came walked away with at least one piece of swag (including the dudes...).

This was my first competitive tournament. My previous four tournaments being the Santa Cruz ShitFest, Again, Fresno's Fresh Meat Friendly, the Eastside Thaw hosted by DC, the SF Survivor tournament and I guess five if you count the Pre-LA5 Bootcamp that Portland hosted... I found that the vibe at LA5 was similar to these friendlies as it was incredibly positive, fun and encouraging, which makes sense since I believe that the original idea behind Ladies Army was to have a tournament that promoted women within the sport and encouraged women to start playing. I don't think I've ever seen so many people being starfished, tackled, cheered on, dancing, singing, laughing, and hugging at a tournament. It. Was. Awesome.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean that the matches were just fun-and-games. Hands down, the best and most intense games in bike polo that I have ever seen – in person or on the intertoobz – were at LA5. As a relatively new player to the sport, I was definitely taking notes on offensive and defensive placement, passing, shooting, and plays, oh man the plays. I have heard and read discussions about the future of women in bike polo and for the group that wants the sport to continue to be integrated Ladies Army is a venue to show the men of bike polo that women are their peers when it comes to the level of play and commitment to the sport.

The last point that I want to hit on is something that I found incredibly refreshing when I got to Vancouver – the variety of women that play bike polo. Santa Cruz is a small club and we have only one women other than myself that comes out regularly and we both fit the stereotype for a woman who plays a contact sport with men and I sometimes worry that our outward appearance would discourage other females from giving the sport a chance. Ladies Army is a showcase of the different personalities and body types of the women in bike polo and they were all killing it. It was refreshing to see that not all women who play bike polo are tomboys, of athletic build, and outspoken; it was rad to see full-figured and women of small stature throwing their weight around, tearing around the court and taking rippers at an open goal from half court, it was also rad to see women slipping into dresses and applying make-up in the restroom at the tournament after they were done playing. There were teams that would gather after their game to talk about strategy and improvements and women who would practice non-stop between games and there were women that pulled shots from bottles and jumped from group to group between their games. There were loud hecklers and those who gave quiet congratulations. If there was ever a women who thought that she didn't fit the bill for a bike polo player, I would sit her down in front of the computer and show her the myriad of awesome women that I encountered in Canada.

To boil it down, Ladies Army was The Best Polo Experience that I have had to-date, and I am going next year.