In an inner Melbourne suburb, a passionate group of men and women get together every Sunday to do something that many of us know very little about. The sport of hardcourt bike polo may be unknown, but given its growing popularity it seems we may be hearing a lot more of it in the future.
To the unfamiliar, it may seem like a silly way to spend the afternoon. But don’t tell bike polo enthusiasts that. In September this year, the bike polo community will eagerly be watching the 2011 World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship in Seattle.
The continued development of the sport means that every world championship is becoming a more serious endeavour with major sponsors, prizes and an overall increase in competitiveness.
Many members of the Melbourne bike polo community will be heading off to Seattle to compete in the championships.
The weekly Sunday games in Melbourne started in 2007, says Damon Rao, who was overseas at the time where he saw bike polo in full swing in Canada and the USA.
‘It slowly started up in every Australian city, Melbourne was the first cab off the rank but all the others started pretty soon after that,’ Rao says. ‘We have been playing every week since.’
The sport essentially resembles hockey on bikes. The players roll around and try to use their mallet to hit the ball into the goal. Like any professional sport there are offensive and defensive strategies on the court and all sorts of game plans being used to try and get a win.
The rules followed by the teams in Melbourne are quite simple and still developing.
‘The emphasis for our bike polo is on minimal rules and at the moment we are up to about two pages of rules but some people think that is to many,’ Rao says.
The rules used for the world championships are those set out in the National American Hardcourt rule set however the same basic principles apply to the games in Melbourne: there are only teams of three, your feet are not allowed to touch the ground, and contact is limited to shoulder to shoulder and incidental contact.
While many Melbournians get out on the weekend to play their chosen sport – which is usually confined to football, netball or cricket – Rao points out that bike polo has a distinctly different feel to it. Whereas in many of the local sports you turn up and play for an hour or two with people you may not even know, bike polo is quite the opposite.
‘Here you play for five or six hours, you know everyone and then you go out and have dinner afterwards,’ Rao says. ‘It’s a much tighter and smaller community.’
The sport’s advancement is obvious just through watching the games being played, according to Robert Moss, another committed member of the bike polo community. And he says that it has evolved so much over the past three years.
‘There weren’t the plays, the moves and the setups that we have today,’ Moss says. ‘It’s very fast, it’s very team oriented and there is a lot of communication between the players.’
Even though the game has become faster and more skilled, it shouldn’t deter new players from heading to the court nearest them and giving it a go, as the group is very open to new players coming and seeing what it is all about.
‘You just need to be able to stay on a bike and bring one that is comfortable to ride,’ Moss says.
To help with the transition of new players the group has organised monthly new player days on the first of every month. On these days the game is slowed down with only one experienced player on each team.
‘We just slowly roll around, ease into it and give each other plenty of room to make sure there are no accidents,’ Moss says.
Bike polo may seem unique and quirky to a lot of people but in reality it is a sport like any other. Its growing popularity proves that it will only become less peculiar and more mainstream as time rolls by.
And given Australians love for sport, there is no doubt we will embrace it.
Matthew Dixon and Liana Neri are final-year Bachelor of Journalism students at La Trobe University and are both part of upstart’s editorial team. You can follow them on Twitter: @matthewdixon23 and @liana_neri.