PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Sports

Fort Myers Bike Polo Holds Tournament for Toys for Tots

game_play_2.jpg
Tara Calligan
/

On elementary school tennis courts a game with roots dating back to the 1800s is being played, but these participants are on bikes instead of horses. They’ve also ditched the wooden mallets for more durable polyurethane.

Fort Myers Bike Polo started in 2009.This is their annual Secret Santa tournament. Donated toys are their entry fee.

“It’s neat to give back to the community with this fun time,” said David Hutchinson, who has been playing bike polo with Fort Myers for about six years. He said the premise of the game is fairly simple. First team to 5 wins. 

“It’s three-on-three,” said Hutchinson. “There’s a ball, you have your mallets, and there’s two goals, so it’s similar to hockey but on bicycles and on hard surfaces, not ice.”

Bikes.jpg
Credit Tara Calligan

There are also no fixed positions. Players seamlessly alternate from goalie to defense, keeping their eyes fixed on the orange ball being smacked from one side of the tennis court to the other.

There are a few major rules: Contact is restricted to mallet to mallet, bike to bike and body to body.  The ball must be shot into the goal using blunt-side of the mallet, and don’t “dab”, a term used to describe a player whose feet touch the ground. 

A player who dabs must ride center-court and touch their mallet to pre-designated poles, or in this case chain-link fence, as a form of penalty. Hutchinson said the evolution of bike polo has been drastic.

 “It started out just no one took it super seriously and it’s evolved into a competitive sport,” said Hutchinson.

Modern bike polo emerged in the early 2000s created by urban bike messengers in their spare time. The game has quickly evolved into a co-ed, fast-paced and competitive sport played in more than 300 cities and about 57 countries.

Fort Myers is kind of known for being kind of a fun tournament kind of city,” said Charles Brown. “There are a lot of strict rules, but we’re not worrying too much about that.”

Except Brown is worried about safety. He came with his bike polo club from Gainesville. He’s one of few players wearing a full face mask. It’s a light-weight red and black mask originally made for hurling- an Irish game resembling field hockey.  The name of his bike taxi company, “I’d Ride That,” is written on the back. He’s also sporting elbow pads, hip pads and knee pads. His mallet and wheel cover are decorated in Charlie Brown’s signature yellow with black zig-zag design. 

charles_brown_going_for_the_ball.jpg
Credit Tara Calligan

  “It makes a cool sound too, when you’re coming up it’s like, ‘whhoomm…’ I kinda dig it,” said Brown.   

Brown said the wheel cover catches wind a bit more and can help block the ball, or someone’s limbs, from getting through the spokes. He said the bikes and protective gear are all about personal preference. A close call motivated Brown to guard his grill.

“I was wearing a regular helmet, and the mallet hit the very front of my helmet, just centimeters from my face, and that could have been my nose and that would’ve been a really bad day,” said Brown.

Brown said some players still make their gear in the ‘do it yourself’ spirit of years past, like crafting mallets from ski poles and PVC, but companies now create gear, bikes and mallets specifically for bike polo.

“The DIY is cool, but having it be super light-weight and strong and last is also really cool,” said Brown.

Danny Wood, a player from Tallahassee, said the game has definitely changed since he started riding in 2004.

“The game is becoming a standardized sport, which is pretty exciting,” said Wood. “It’s a less physical game, there’s still a little bit of people running into each other, but it doesn’t happen in every game like it used to. Every team is co-ed, which is really cool. There’s also all women’s tournaments, which are even cooler.”

KCJSzwedzinski has been riding with the Jacksonville club for three years. Her teammates during the tournament are from Gainesville and Pensacola. She said being a female player in bike polo is nothing to be intimidated about.

“I ask women a lot of the times when do you feel the most beautiful?” said Szwedzinski. “My answer is when I’m covered in bike grease and dirt and when I’m on my polo bike, even if I’m playing terribly, I feel the most beautiful. I have fun, I’m smiling and laughing with friends.”

Players.jpg
Credit Tara Calligan

Szwedzinski said bike polo of years past was an exclusive community, and not very open to new riders. Clubs today are now inclusive and encourage new members of all skill levels. She hopes the future of bike polo remains welcoming.  

A team dubbed “Teama Colada,” comprised of riders from Kentucky and Tennessee, won the Fort Myers tournament, which collected 50 gifts for Toys for Tots.