I started playing bike polo at the same time as I started racing bikes. Last Autumn was apparently the perfect cosmic conjunction by which Nik would learn very quickly how to fall off a bike really well. I did a few races in the cyclocross scene last year but I didn’t race half as much as I played bike polo. The essentials are the same, ride bikes, fall off, spectators cheers when you get back on. The differences are key however. Whilst in racing you drink sports drinks and have energy bars as a recovery food, in polo, you have a beer and a snickers. In racing, training in the winter is an evening on the turbo (in the basement of Look Mum if you are Matt) whilst bike polo training involves sweeping a court of leaves for 45mins then playing for 4 hours in the rain sustaining various injuries from ‘sweet skids’ that went a bit wrong thanks to the icey patch in the corner. In racing, to compete in the european championships you have to be awesome for a while before that whereas in polo, you just need to bring a tent and a good attitude. Most people I know that play polo will joke that we all play it because we are rubbish at everything else. This is an absolute falsehood, we are really really good at falling off our bikes, hitting balls with sticks and going really really fast for 100metres.
The above picture is from the early days of the London Ladies Hardcourt Bike Polo Club (we like to keep it simple). It started out as an idea from Adrienne (far left) who thought if we started a ladies night the girls would get better together more quickly and that it might make more girls play too. I was really hesitant at first because I was an idiot but then I went along and had a wicked time. It really helped me get better and Adrienne was right, one night we had 20 girls show up. Just after this Erin showed up from Australia and asked me if I wanted to be on a team with her. Since then we have travelled all over the UK and Europe for tournaments together sealing a serious polo loving bond of awesomeness that we are going to ride all the way to the Ladies Army, an all girl tournament held in North America now on its’ fourth year. This tournament and the increasing numbers and level of play in London as a result was the inspiration for Hells’ Belles, the ladies majority tournament that we all put on together in October this year. It was a massive success in that it really bonded the European ladies polo scene together and with a few North American teams in attendance made us all eagre to up the level some more.
The above is our team for the tournament, me, Erin and Jo. They were amazing to play with all weekend and knew how to hold it together even after 5 days of drinking had finally ruined me. They were a pleasure to play with and while I saw other teams argue or try to place the blame on one another they constantly moved toward seeing the positives in one another and praising all our good moves. Like racing, it’s not always about winning, it’s about how you play it. In a team sometimes a good play is worth 5 goals.
This years cross is a massive learning curve for me. I still don’t quite get what Jo meant when she said, “kill it from the start and die slowly,” but I appreciate she knows what she is talking about. I am a slow learner. What I am really looking forward to though is having the cross team together at a race and supporting each other which has been ruined by injury disasters so far. The first time I raced with Jo she took every opertunity to encourage me (she is the only person I have come across who during a race will have time for a chat) and has done nothing but since. I am not sure what the value of team tactics could be in a cross race but I expect random positive heckling of one another might be a valid beginning.