By David Schout
Described as a mix between the horseback version of the sport and ice hockey, bike polo’s entrance into Melbourne’s sporting fabric is a fascinating tale of how an organically developed sport made its way around the world.
Developed in Seattle, America in the 1990s by a group of couriers on their work break, the hardcourt version of the game has been played in Melbourne since 2007.
And unlike the swankier version of polo played on the Mornington Peninsula, bike polo is for everyone.
The sport, as Melbourne Hardcourt Bike Polo president David Corrin explained to CBD News, is both simple in its basic rules, and nuanced in its skill execution.
Played on a 40- x 20-metre court, mixed teams of three ride on modified bikes (typically single-speeds with short, flat handlebars) with a home-made mallet in hand (made of ski poles and plastic pipe), trying to hit a street hockey ball into the 1m x 6m goals.
The ball must be struck with the end of the mallet, while rebalancing with your foot (called a “dab”) incurs a time penalty whereby the player can’t resume play until they ride to the halfway line to restart.
David said that, like all good local sport, it mixed healthy competition with inclusivity and social interaction.
“It’s certainly a sport for everyone. I’d say we’re one of the more inclusive sports gender and skill wise. We do our best to accommodate everyone,” he said.
While those walking past games at Flagstaff Gardens may look on slightly perplexed, David said it was a sport people could pick up quickly.
“The learning curve is actually quite steep. Where you start depends on your competence on bicycles, your hand-eye coordination, knowledge of team play, and placement on the court. If you have any one of those foundational skills, you can improve quite quickly.”
“It can be challenging, but most people have one, if not more of those skills.”
And contrary to perception, the sport is actually quite safe.
“There are collisions, like in many sports,” David explained.
“But we try and downplay that as a feature of the sport because, in fact, they’re quite rare and over-represented in the media.”
While bike polo was developed in the 19th century on grassed playing surfaces (a version still played today) the comparatively new hardcourt game has risen sharply in popularity since the turn of the century.
David was first encouraged to try his hand at bike polo back in 2013, when a friend’s urging eventually won him over.
A strong cyclist who had played several ball sports, he said he had warmed to it quickly.
“I had a friend who played, and he was staying with me,” he explained.
“I’ve been a cyclist since I was first conscious, more or less, and I’d also played field hockey and unicycle hockey. I actually wasn’t that keen at the time, because I had other hobbies but that soon changed.”
David’s experience on mountain bikes and with numerous ball sports meant he had, in his own words, “the perfect pedigree” to play bike polo.
In retrospect, the close affinity he developed with the sport was unsurprising.
What was surprising, however, was that within three months of playing for the first time, David was playing in a World Championship event.
Just last month, he travelled to Argentina for another international event, where he was set to play with and against other bike polo players from Europe and North America.
Like most sports, game styles and tactics were geographically dependent.
“The biggest difference is between Europe and North America, and Australia is a bit of a bastard child of both,” David said with a laugh.
“I tend to be more influenced from Seattle. It’s a heavy passing game, and very offensive. In Europe it’s more defensive with more mallet interference. But their style is also competitively quite successful.”
David’s passion for the game led to him not only becoming president of the Melbourne club, but also delving into business around the sport.
His business Lightfoot Polo sells hardcourt bike polo frames and equipment.
Those interested in joining the club (including information about new player nights) or going along to watch a game in action, visit melbournebikepolo.org.
For more information about local sporting clubs in the CBD and Docklands, visit The Hub at 80 Harbour Esplanade, Docklands.