By Anna Kemp
A couple of years ago, trying to write an article about bike polo met a lot of resistance from local players after a little public attention caused them to lose a regular game venue. Avoiding the spotlight, players mostly kept their sport off the city’s radar . . . until recently.
Balls in the City Bike Polo Tournament, June 11 and 12, is part of the Victoria International Cycling Festival and fully endorsed by the city. Belleville Street will be blocked off for the event which features 24 teams from six West Coast cities.
Hardcourt bike polo (distinct from the field-played bike polo originated in Europe in 1891) came out of the bike courier scene in Seattle in the 1990s, rapidly spreading across North America and over to Europe. The game involves two teams of three cyclists, chasing a street hockey ball with mallets fashioned from ski poles and plastic pipe. Games are typically either “pick up” (first team to score five goals) or timed (to 10, 12 or 15 minutes). While bike polo can be played on any bike, a lot of people use single-speed mountain bikes.
Henry Norris, an avid player and Balls in the City event coordinator, describes the game as highly technical.
“At times it’s extremely slow, and at times it’s fast and crashy. Polo is all about balance and ball control.”
Though originally played mostly by bike couriers, Norris says couriers are probably in the minority now.
“In Victoria, we have a wide range of players,” says Norris. “We’re inclusive and no one is ever turned away. Our youngest player is in his teens and the oldest in his 60s . . . basically we’re all bike people. You have got to like bikes to play polo.”
Though Balls in the City marks the first time Victoria bike polo has stepped into the mainstream, this is not the first tournament local players have hosted.
The Victoria bike polo scene has grown very organically, first introduced to Victoria five years ago by a couple who played the game in Ottawa. Rapidly, interest in the sport began to grow, as it has in cities across North America.
“The first couple tournaments were just between friends,” says Norris. “We would send emails to Seattle and Vancouver and host a one-day event on some tennis court or lacrosse box and then have a big party.
“Then more and more people started showing up and we extended our tournaments to two days to give everyone a chance to play.”
As local players began to improve, they started travelling and attending tournaments in other cities.
“We sent two or three teams to the North American Bike Polo Championships in Seattle in 2008 and it was a big change for us. We saw a lot of different styles and it pushed us to want to get better.”
However, Norris says, Victoria bike polo players are still an informal group.
“There is no league, no one pays dues, we don’t play at set times. We would like to get a dedicated polo court, then we would formalize and look into getting permits.”
Norris says he is thrilled to be involved with the Victoria International Cycling Festival. “It’s a big deal that they want us there and we are excited to throw a world-class tournament.” M