Looking into the crystal ball that is League of Bike Polo (ALL HAIL!) I see a few very exciting tournaments coming up in May:
First, the Boot Camp Training Weekend for Ladies Army 5 is happening May 4th-5th. This is interesting because of the swingers nature of team selection: everyone puts something familiar into a bowl—three items are drawn out and that’s your team for the first day! The second day is a pull-out bench format: coolers full of beer. Pull out a beer, and everyone who has that brand of delicious PBR is on your team. I gotta say, this sounds like something I could get into.
Next up is Bear Polo 4 out of Fort Meyers that same weekend (May 4th and 5th). This one is a bit more traditional with Swiss rounds the first day and double elim the second. There are literally no comments on the thread for this tournament so far, so I’m guessing the field is still wide open?
And then, on May 10th-12th, is Ladies Army 5. I’m excited by this one for a few reasons: 1, they have done so much promotion for it that I literally feel like it’s the super-FIFA-Olympics, and 2 because I will get to watch polo that weekend from the comfort of the polo war room. This is happening in Burnaby, Canada if you don’t know, and if you don’t know, now you know. Ya know?
The last one I want to talk about is the Knoxville Marble City Open, happening May 11th and 12th. This is the first tourney these folks have put on, and they are equal parts overly-emphatic about explaining rules on the tourney page as they are willing to take suggestions to make it better. There is something magical about going to a first-ever city tourney, and I really think if you’re in the area you should give it a go.
Check out these (and other exciting tourneys) over on the LoBP(ALL HAIL) tournament page.
Next, let’s peek on over at the boards and see what’s what in the world of grown men getting huffy at each other—actually, it’s very far from that in the one posting that I want to talk about over on LoBP. It seems the topic of player licensing came up again and the NAH (specifically, Eric from DC) made it a point to address the complaints and observations in a courteous, careful manner. I have to say that it’s one of the most productive and respectful conversations I’ve seen on the boards in a long time, and I’m excited as to what that says about possible outcomes and resolutions. Check it out here and add into the conversation as long as you a. keep it on topic and b. resist the swelling urge to be a complete jerk. You can be a little bit of a jerk, but don’t go full jerk. Not in public, anyway.
Yes, it’s time to talk about new equipment popping up around the polo-sphere!
Here we have Modifide’s shaft, which, according to Modifide’s Facebook page, was designed with the help of Northern Standard for lightness and the mounting system. I haven’t tried these shafts out so I can’t speak to them in any way, but there you go—I told you. It doesn’t look like they are up for sale yet (as of writing this), but by the looks of things they should be up soon.
Next, Fixcraft’s lifeline dual break pull (which seems to be off the site at the moment, but they still have a post on Facebook about it). This is a way of making many single brake levers into a dual lever. Right now they have a short pull available but will soon have a long pull as well. Seems like a cheap way to customize your polo rig on the fly.
And that’s really all I’ve seen around the interwebs this week—but I think they are enough for now, don’t you?
No, I don’t either. I want more. All the polo equipments.
Finally, I want to discuss what play has been like now that I’ve been using a shaped head (specifically, the Modifide ARC Mallet head). I can bring it all down to three things:
- Ball handling: seems better
- Shooting: not really different
- Hooking: more dangerous to me
Ball Handling: The ARC head’s shape allows me to cup the ball a little bit (without removing the chance for a defender to get it from me) which thereby allows me to look up more during play. I know that the ball is rolling to the center of my mallet because that’s the only place it has to go, and that allows me more predictability in play. That’s kind of great, and I enjoy it very much for that reason alone.
Shooting: I don’t know how the shape could help me shoot, so I don’t really want to bring that up as the reason, but I’m far more accurate with this mallet than I have been with others. It might be the larger flat surface of the shooting end. Regardless, I find myself able to make long-range shots more accurately, scoop more accurately to team-mates, and all around feel better about myself as a person.
Hooking: Gene made this very apparent to me yesterday during pickup: when someone hooks you, you’re hooked for good. The man pretty much hooked my mallet and then rode around me until he decided to let me go. The shape acts as a wedge to another person’s mallet, and that means you’ve really got to work to get free (good if you are trying to stop a play, bad if you’re trying to make one). I suspect this will change as I get used to people trying to hook my mallet, but yesterday it scared me. Scared me real good.
And that’s your update for now. Thanks for reading, and keep the rubber side down.
Let’s start this column with a look at some of the upcoming tourneys in April, shall we?
On the West Coast and out of San Francisco comes the SF Survivor Bench Weekend (April 6th and 7th) . Featuring everything you’d expect out of San Fran (Friday pickup, a poker party, potluck BBQ, knife fights) along with prizes and otherwise interesting hilarity. If you’re in the area it’s a good way to get into the groove of the season, no doubt.
Next on the ol’ agenda, we have Bike Polo Spring Break (BPSB) out of Lexington, KY (Also April 6th and 7th). If the poster is any indication of what to expect, people can expect rainbows and pixilated mohawked gentlemen trying to pick up pixilated women at the beach, and dolphins riding jetskis. However, if you know anything about Lexington Bike Polo, you’ll know that they put on one heck of a shindig and it’s definitely worth your time and effort to be there.
Another hot number comes the April 13th weekend: Battle For The Midwest 2, which features (now get this) a $40 dollar fee per player, which includes beer all weekend, 3 meals Saturday, and at least 2 meals on Sunday. That’s what I’m talking about, Midwest! As of me writing this, there is space for 1 more team, and I’d suggest pulling at least 7 of your buddies together to go to this one – if nothing else just to see if you can make your money back in beer alone. I know you can, Baby Cake. This is another bench format tourney as well. Lots of sponsors, probably lot of awesome.
And that VERY SAME WEEKEND (April 13th) we have the Eastside Regional Qualifier out of Boston. The Eastside Regional Qualifier holds a special place in my heart, and while I haven’t been able to form up a team for it (I only write about bike polo well enough, I don’t play it so well enough), I might just make an appearance up there to document the happenings. The fee is sixty bucks registration plus 10 bucks to the NAH for their contingency fund (which you can read about here). So that’s a seventy spot for your team to head up to Hockey Town and get your game on. Boston brings the heat when it comes to an event like this (God knows the weather typically doesn’t, am I right?), so you’ll be in good hands.
And that’s my upcoming tourney wrap up (yes Southwest Regional Qualifier, I see you there – next time).
So now that you know what tourneys are upcoming and have a reason to start packing for all points, let’s talk about what bike polo as a whole has been discussing, and from a quick glance at the LoBP (ALL HAIL) forum, it looks like the most recent conversation is on mallet hooking the goalie to force a footdown or a roll-out. As most people in the forum thread accurately point out, this is a perfectly legal move and a very effective one at that. However, the gem of this thread comes from a very important clarification that many bike polo players fail to grasp: the difference between a hack (or slash) and a hook.
A hack or slash is when there is a forceful movement of your mallet against your opponents in (generally) a downward or sideways motion. A hook is when you make contact with the opponents mallet first, and then lift or push away. This is obviously a simplified explanation, but it’s an effective one, I find. If you roll up to another player and swordfight with them, you’re doing it wrong.
One of the most discussed forums I’ve seen is one dealing with moving picks and interference rules. I’ll leave you to get the little details, but it comes down to this: how should moving picks be handled in bike polo of the future, and should there be penalties for offensive and defensive interference.
I was having a hard time understanding most of what was said (surprising, no?), until Kev of Toronto posted this video and noted that around 16:55 there is a great example of “off-ball body checking” that should be made illegal for fairer play (or at least for less violent play). I watched the video and saw how and argument could be made for offensive picks being not so great. But from that point on the conversation spins into somewhat veiled personal attacks, quotes to simply dissect semantics, and other adventures in saying the same thing over and over again.
You know, typical board stuff.
Let’s finish off with something near and dear to all polo player’s hearts: new stuff round up.
Arena Bike Polo has come out with some shiny new bike polo shafts and mallet heads, and I must say that I’m a fan of both. The shaft just looks great and feels light in the hand while still maintaining strength, and the Alchemy head is basically the economy (don’t take that as slight in any way) version of the M.I.L.K. head out of Geneva. It’s peppy, well-constructed, and currently one of my go-to mallets. I haven’t done a full review of it on Lancaster Polo yet, but I will very soon. You can check out their fine products right here.
Next we have a newer entry into the bike polo equipment game, this being Modifide. The piece of equipment in particular is the ARC mallet head, made of Canadian UHMW and built with the curves previously unseen in the sport. I played with one for a day so far, and I am impressed with how the shape controls the ball. The price is high here in the states (40 bucks or so with shipping included), but I guess that’s the price you pay for engineering and…stuff… Check out their Facebook page for more on the ARC. I have a full “first day” review of this mallet head on lancasterpolo.com right now, if you’re so inclined.
Finally we have Northern Standard coming out with a suspiciously similar-to-the-ARC mallet head and a new shaft to go along with it (which has the same basic shape as their honeycomb mallet a little while back). I can’t speak much to either the shaft or the head as I haven’t tried them out, but if past performance is any indication of future projects, I think we’ll have some fine additions to put your wallet toward. Most notably is the end of the mallet shaft: Four-toothed for your mallet head’s pleasure, though that doesn’t seem to be on the site quite yet. The price is $28 Canadian dollars, which is something close to $28 American dollars as of this writing. Add $10 dollars shipping to that and you’re looking at about the same price point as the Modifide. Here is the NS website for you to gander wares.
So that’s the polo update from your humble columnist. I hope the beginning of your season is going well, and I look forward to seeing you crazy polokins at the tourneys!
For those of us who do not actively engage in reviewing the boards on League of Bike Polo (ALL HAIL!), there was recently a topic and interesting conversation about creating more legitimacy around refs (if you like, you can read through it right here).
Forum posts and conversations about getting refs into a better position for bike polo officiating isn’t uncommon. In fact, I’m willing to say that this conversation is one that comes up right alongside the best mounting system for mallet heads, mocking people who are still playing on fixed gear bikes, and whether scoop shots should be legal. But unlike all of those other conversations, I think this one is actually, well, important.
Ok, ok. I really enjoy people who get worked up about the legality of scoop shots. People act like a dog with rabies on that one, and it’s high-larious.
At the core of the conversation on LoBP (ALL HAIL!) is the recognition that refs don’t have enough clout to demand respect, are under-appreciated by the NAH, and need to be given special privilege in order to really help officiate the sport and move it in a way that is less focused on group consensus and much more so on cut and dry, good officiating. There are a few ways to go about determining how much of that argument is true, and how to go about making those things happen if they are indeed the path forward.
First, let’s talk about clout. I think it’s a fair thing to say that nobody wants to listen to someone who has no idea what they are doing (look at congress (har har har topical humor)). The problem with how refs are chosen currently at a bike polo tournament is that they aren’t necessarily qualified in any way. The conversation goes like this:
Panicked organizer: Hey you there – you ever read the NAH ruleset?
Drunk, only-playing-for-2-weeks-guy: The one that says something about clubs?
Panicked organizer: Perfect! Go to court three – here’s a whistle!
This works just fine if you see the ref as someone who just kinda keeps time and initiates the game, but it’s not good for much else. The problem we’re bumping into today is that players are used to that mode of recruiting refs, and because of it they aren’t willing to listen to the ref no matter how well they blow their whistle.
NOTE: not always, and I want to stop here to note that there are some awesome, dedicated people who are willing to and have been refs for tourneys. But this isn’t the standard. There. Now I feel like I’ll cut down on some haterade you’ve been brewing up for me. At least a little.
So the first step, as I see it, is making sure that the refs who are overseeing games are qualified to do so. This qualification can be anything from a little ol’ test given them before they are permitted to ref to a full blown certification. Either way, there has to be a level of expectation that the ref knows a standard amount of rules, and that no-matter who the ref is, they will be able to recall and implement that standard set of rules.
Next, let’s talk about the NAH/ref relationship. Speaking in generalities—as I am known to do—the ref and the NAH should be thick as thieves. However, the NAH has been kinda quiet on the front of getting refs the stuff they need to be true refs of the sport. It would be great to see a training program, some monetary support (so we could have refs that travel to event to ref, not to play and also ref), or even just some sort of recognition for being a ref. This is probably the most ambiguous requirement I have, but I think it’s a big one: the NAH is recognized as a governing body of the sport, and transferring some of that recognition to the refs (who are the governing body within a tourney itself) is pretty damned important, in my book.
Finally, special privilege. Refs really don’t get anything for being a ref right now, and that makes it hard to recruit people into being a ref over, let’s say, just playing in the tourneys they go to. I don’t have a super clear answer on how to address this, but I have a few ideas. For one thing—and I’ve mentioned it before—refs should be paid. Either with cash money or with travel compensation/free stay/free meals. It’s not easy to ref.
It’s not easy to ref.
It’s not easy to ref.
Got it? It’s hard. It takes a lot of energy. Thankless energy, I should add. So compensation should be addressed if you want to get refs who are both up for and excited to be the single point of enforced rules in a tourney. Furthermore, refs must be given full control over the game they are overseeing, and that control should be paramount to the control of the hosting group. What I mean is this: if a player blatantly commits a foul, argues with the ref, and then becomes vengeful (basically a danger on the court), the ref should have the right, with the blessing of the organizers, to throw that player out of the tourney. This helps assure that the ref has some legitimate power in the games they are reffing, they are recognized as an official, and players don’t try to argue or ignore what they have to say. This will only work, however, if the ref is as professional as we can make them. It takes something respectable to give respect.
If I use my imagination, I can see a time not so far from now where refs are brought in to officiate tourneys solely. They aren’t players who don’t have a game to play and they aren’t newbs from the hosting club who don’t have a team to play on. They are people who are vetted and certified from an organizing body, who know the rules and the grey areas that they need to make judgment calls in – they are able to deal with angry players and confusing calls, and able to handle that responsibility all day alongside other “professional” refs who are capable of conferring with them on calls and plays.
So why shouldn’t we aim for that?
The next one was a brand new ski pole with a brand new gas pipe mallet head, and it was the greatest mallet I ever owned.
The next one was a Fixcraft LT with a St. Cago head and baseball bat grip – it was the best mallet I ever owned.
And so on, and so on.
What I found is this (and, perhaps, not surprisingly so): people fall in love with their bike polo equipment. This makes sense in a very “this is my rifle this is my gun” sort of way, and it’s only natural that the equipment you use in the sport you love is likewise loved.
But while all this love is in the air, it’s easy to ignore the little frustrations. So your polo bike has a few spokes that are tied around other ones – the nipples in the rim are more like an announcement of your presence than an annoyance, right? So what if your mallet shaft looks like a macaroni noodle and the mallet head has been worn down to a nub? They’ve never let you down before!
But maybe they are letting you down. Little by little, they’re starting to underperform. Being able to recognize the natural wear and tear of your equipment is perhaps the most underdeveloped and important element of doing well in our sport. Lemme explain:
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Behold Crush Polo, a new online column from Matt Kabik, editor of Lancaster Polo. Expect news, events, polo opinion, and player/manufacturer interviews to appear here throughout the year. For our first installment we have an editorial piece — Why Isn’t Bike Polo on TV?
I know none of you hipsters own TVs, but let’s just play around in theory here.
Bike polo has proven to be a healthy, growing, and popular sport with those who encounter it. In fact, it’s grown at such a steady rate that even my own club in little ol’ awesome Lancaster has a strong headcount on most nights for pickup.
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