2017-06-15 / Front Page

Bike Polo the New Game on the Court

By Brooke Constance White

A bike polo player participates in a match at Howland Park. All are invited to watch or play in the matches on Tuesdays and Fridays from 6-8 p.m. A bike polo player participates in a match at Howland Park. All are invited to watch or play in the matches on Tuesdays and Fridays from 6-8 p.m. The first time that Tyson Bottenus and his girlfriend, Liza Burkin, posted on social media earlier this spring about gathering folks together to play hardcourt bike polo, there was enough interest to play a full 3-on-3 match. Since then, the league, now called Newport Bike Polo, has picked up steam and has a core group of regulars playing at least once a week.

The idea for a bike polo league came about when the couple discovered the sport on a bicycle tour around New Zealand last year. They happened upon a World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship and watched some of the most skilled bike polo teams in the world compete for the title. They became interested in bringing the sport back home and decided to visit Boston Bike Polo organizers to see how they ran their league.

“Boston Bike Polo graciously donated old mallets and poles that one of their members had lying around his garage,” Bottenus said. “He donated a bunch of old ski poles that had six-inch sections of PVC pipe attached at one end. With this gear, all we needed was a good court to play on and willing people who had bikes to ride.”

With all the gear necessary to get the league going, all the couple needed was a court to play on. Someone on Facebook suggested Howland Park by Sweet Berry Farm, and after checking it out, the two decided the park’s street hockey court with two goals and a fenced-in perimeter was perfect.

Most bike polo matches are 3-on-3, and while there’s no set court positions for each bike, Bottenus said most players tend to have strengths and weaknesses. The matches are usually played for 15 minutes or until one team scores five goals.

According to Bottenus, the No. 1 rule is not to be obnoxious on the court. Rule No. 2 is that players can’t let their feet touch the ground. The third rule is that any contact has to be body-to-body, bike-to-bike and mallet-to-mallet. A player can’t put their mallet in another player’s wheel, for instance. If someone's foot touches the ground, they have to "dab" back in, which involves tapping the mallet against either side of the wall at halfcourt.

A match begins with the ball in the center of the court and a “joust” between a player on each team. Whoever pedals from the back end of their side of the court first has possession.

Bottenus said that a common misperception is that the game is violent.

“If people come to any one of our pickup games, they’ll see that it's not,” he said. “People, especially the folks who play on Aquidneck Island, are usually more involved in keeping possession of the ball and focusing on their bike-handling than they are on hurting other players.”

Although the hardcourt variation of the game is quite new, the sport has been played on grass since the late 1800s. But hardcourt bike polo has only been around since 1999 when it was started in Seattle by a group of bike messengers who had time to kill.

“The rules have been evolving and even now there's still disagreement between various clubs about what should and shouldn't be a rule,” Bottenus said. “I think one element of its appeal is that it is new and no one really knows where the sport is going to go. The fact that players from around the world have been able to organize regional, national and even world championships for the game is pretty remarkable.”

All are invited to Howland Park on Tuesdays and Fridays from 6 to 8 p.m. to either just watch or potentially participate. Bottenus’ only piece of advice for new players? Leave the $2,000 carbon fiber road bike at home and instead choose a clunker bike, because there could be contact with other players.

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