By Bryan Gregory Sanders, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Since the early 2000s the sport of organized Bike Polo or Hardcourt Bike Polo has spread to more than 300 cities worldwide and since 2009 has been played in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Now, coming on August 19th, the Rio Bike Polo club will host the inaugural Rio Bike Polo Open, and see top teams in Brazil competing for prizes and pride.
Bike Polo’s origins, on grass, are rumored to have started in India where a pile of bikes near a polo field were used by Indian servants and stable boys to play polo on the side lines with cut-down mallets while the wealthy British horse owners played on the field.
British soldiers then brought it back home and it spread to Scotland, Ireland, and France as well, with documented bursts of popularity here and there since. In 1908 the sport had become so popular, that the sport was demonstrated to London Olympic judges.
The most recent incarnation of the sport began, however, with a group of bicycle couriers in 1999 Seattle, Washington (U.S.), who had a lot of downtime in between work, and pieced together a game that was part polo and part street hockey – all on a bicycle.
With a set of rules to keep it fun, challenging, and competitive in small spaces like parking lots, basketball and tennis courts – the sport took off spreading across city centers across the U.S., UK, and then the world over. In large urban centers like New York City, Minneapolis, and London, bike polo has become more and more organized where set rules, leagues, and global tournaments have quickly pushed the sport.
Players use any bicycle with hand made D.I.Y. (do it yourself) mallets made from cut down ski poles and electrical pipe, and often (not mandatory) use spoke protecting disc covers, gloves, and helmets with protective face-masks.
South American Bike Polo has organized too, where just last October in Santiago, Chile, the top São Paulo team The Underdogs placed second, losing narrowly in sudden death, in a tournament that saw sixteen teams from across Latin America.
At July’s sporting event Virada Esportiva in São Paulo, with thirteen teams from Southern Brazil, one of Rio’s top teams Caveras (Skulls) faced favorites The Underdogs and lost taking home a second place of their own.
Pedro Padilha from Caveras explains, “it [comes from] a serious passion for bikes, [a] need to create a cycling identity, and to start something here in Rio – and it’s a lot of fun,” as reason why he and five friends got involved with the sport last September.
Much like their bikes, The Rio Bike Polo players are a diverse crowd, often those that work with bikes, design, art, and usually ride bikes for leisure, sport or even commuting. No matter what they do outside of polo one thing is sure they love playing and love to ride their bikes.
In addition to the August event in Rio, on October 6th and 7th in Buenos Aires an anticipated twenty teams, five from Brazil, will compete to see who will be this year’s South American champion team.
Pick up games can be played on the Lagoa on the tennis court in front of Clube Monte Libano Tuesday and Thursday nights at 9PM, and Sunday’s starting late afternoon. Be sure to bring bikes and helmets (knee pads-optional), and it is open to all, with no fees or horses required.