Los Angeles Holds International Bike Polo Tournament, June 1st & 2nd
This weekend, June 1st and 2nd, Los Angeles Bike Polo is hosting an International Tournament: Bench Minor IV. When I heard about this, I snagged a chance to meet fellow LA bike polo player and Organizer of the event, Alex Dash, aka JOKER as he is known in the Poloverse!
In September of 2007, Alex was hanging outside of the bike co-op, Bicycle Kitchen when he noticed a guy riding a bike with exactly half of the handle bars cutoff which were hooked to a front brake that when the guy yanked on the brake to stop, “he jack-knifed, ass-over-tea-kettle, total front flip and landed on his back. I ran over to help him up, he was okay. I asked him what kind of bike he was riding. Why did he have those plastic shields over his wheels? Why did he cut off the handle bars? What is this? And he told me it was his bike for bike polo. So, I went home and googled it up and found the original labikepolo.org website and got in touch with those guys and wound up playing a week later over at Los Angeles High School.
“I remember scoring a few goals, but I clearly remember losing ever single game.”
A Bit of History:
“When we started bike polo in LA we were playing grass rules on hardcourt, a hybrid, which is how they were playing in the midwest at the time. The guy who actually started polo was from the midwest, from Madison, WI. Madison, at the time, was a powerhouse in the midwest. They soon sent one of their best players out here to start it up, Matt Vidal.
“Matt Vidal is the one who started the website. He was the one who would show up every week when no one would show up. He’s the one who would send out emails and go on midnightridazz.com and lafixed.com and he would make mallets and make sure there were enough mallets for a dozen people to play, he would bring beer, he would make polo happen. He’s the reason why I play polo today. He taught me everything I ever learned about starting a club from scratch and helping a club grow. We owe Matt Vidal a lot, he’s now in England teaching at King’s College.”
“I knew I was hooked from my first day. Even before my first game. It was Matt and I for a half hour before everyone else showed up. We rode together, side by side just passing the ball around. I had been playing hockey all my life, pretty much since the fourth grade when my parents would let me and I’ve always loved the sport. When I first started playing polo I knew that was my calling, my reason for living was to play bike polo.”
How to Play Bike Polo:
“Pretty straight forward: three a side, you have to have a bike, a mallet and the main rule of polo is to never put your foot on the ground. If your foot touches the ground, you’re out and you have to ride to half court along the wall, tap the wall at the “tap out” spot before you can resume play. Beyond that, in order to make a goal count with your mallet, you have to shoot it off the end of the mallet much like a crochet shot, you can’t hit it with the broad side like a hockey stick.
“Light contact, you can only go bike to bike, body to body and mallet to mallet. And there is also an unofficial rule which is: Don’t be a dick. It’s not in the rule book but it’s a common rule that a lot of clubs will say cause it’s just a bunch of people showing up like a disfunctional family every week – we try to keep it clean. Scoring is first to five points unless there’s a lot of players, where we’ll time games to 15 minutes. However, in Los Angeles, we don’t allow ties, we’ll let you finish the game.”
The Club in the Valley:
“The club came about out of necessity not opportunity. It started when we were playing at LA High, there was this separate group, The Bicycle Kitchen crew that was playing on Monday nights and our emails got crossed one day and we found out they were playing. Me and another guy showed up (I had only been playing for a couple of months) and we housed them. They were real cool about it, we were good sportsmen about it, but we were clearly playing way, way better than they had ever played. And that was a triumph because we had no idea, we had no frame of reference. They welcomed us and we kind of took over their game and then they stopped playing, you can draw your own conclusions, but we kept that night as a polo night. And then a few months after that, they started playing at the original LA Brakeless place, Woodbine Park, on Motor and that became the LA Center of bike polo.
“As we came to outgrow that park, we migrated over to Mar Vista Park. Around that time, the Bicycle Kitchen game that was happening in East Hollywood was phasing out. The westside game was having trouble getting new people and their numbers were declining even as they were getting kicked out of Mar Vista.
“The westside had some of the best players in the city. Dave from LA Brakeless and Tim Hammer and George and Ephram. And here I am trying to latch onto that westside crew, but when they started hitting walls at Mar Vista Park, I decided that – it was my birthday, in June 08 when I held a ride: meet at 8, ride at 9 and we’re gonna play polo, just shooting the ball around while we’re waiting for people to show up, I’ll bring the mallets and then we’ll go for a bike ride around the valley. Well, we started playing at 8 and when I looked at my watch it was half passed ten. Some people left cause we weren’t riding. But the people that were left still play polo to this day.”
“A few months later, the Koreatown game died off and the westside died off. It was pretty much all valley. Now, our club has moved over to Highland Park in northeast LA where they love us!
Alex’s Tournament Resume:
“I have been going to tournaments since 2008, even when I might not have been ready, I still went, still played well, got good results. But basically, what we have weekly is called “Pick-Up” where you just show up, put your mallet in the fence, we organize them six mounts at a time, that’s a complete game: three on three and then we throw them in randomly and keep doing that all night long until we get tired and go home or the lights shutoff.
“Tournaments are totally voluntarily, but they are also a party, too. People go to them to compete, but we also go to them cause we love seeing the other clubs and hanging out with people we already know and see only a few times a year. And yet, even though we only see them a few times year, it feels like we’re all really close friends.”
Alex’s Team Polo Resume:
“My team, we have had some big wins, we’ve had some hard losses, too. I would say we’ve had a little of both. I’ve been playing with “Pistolero” for years. For LA, we are the number one team. Pistolero, myself and pretty much whoever else we pick. For a long time it was our friend “Too Short” and we called our team: Valleros, Spanish for valley boy. We won a lot of stuff together: DPI (The Desert Polo Invite) – three times, we won the Frisco Ball Watchers Ball, we won that twice, we’ve – i don’t know, my resume is really long. We also took fourth at North American Championships two year’s ago. And even though it was only fourth, it felt like a win.
“In 2009, we held the second tournament that LA has ever hosted which had 32 teams, a bunch of teams from Seattle, Vancouver and LA. My team got second and a day or two afterwards we felt like we won the tournament because in 2009, we were pretty new and for us to best all the other teams, it felt like a win and we were all really stoked on that. So, if we fast forward to a few months ago, we lost a tournament, got second, in Fresno, that sucked. We wanted to win that one! But we lost to a very good San Francisco Team.”
Favorite Place to Play Polo:
“That’s a tough one cause I don’t want to alienate any of my peeps, but I will say, I have always really liked Vancouver. East Van Bike Polo, they were the team, they came to our first tournament and schooled everybody and they came to the second tournament and they schooled even more people and won both of them. We really like their style. When we first saw East Van, I mean, there were other teams, we saw Seattle, we saw Portland, but Vancouver was the one team we wanted to emulate. I still try to play like them to this day. I really like Seattle, too. They are a huge club, friendly and whenever I’m on the road, I want to hangout with them the most. I mean, there’s tons of clubs out there, but those two I really like a lot.”
Alex’s Polo Crush:
“I think everyone in the game has a Polo Crush. He’s retired now, but Pieter Blokker, back in the day, he was on the OG East Van Team and he went to the World Championships, two trips to the finals and he won a lot of tournaments back in his day. When he first came to LA, I wanted to play exactly the way he played. He played on a mountain bike, I played on a mountain bike. He was really tall and rangy and that’s how I am, really tall and rangy. It was just the way he played the sport. He approached it a lot like hockey. He was probably the most travelled tournament player in his day. I wanted to be just like him and went to a ton of cities, a ton of tournaments, back in 2009 through 2011, those were some heavy traveled years. Cause he travelled a lot and I thought, if he travelled a lot, I got to travel a lot to get better in the same way. He was very influential for me. A year or two ago, he stopped playing polo. There’s people playing right now that don’t even know who he is, but he was definitely my first polo crush. Now I have too many to list!”
Favorite Polo Moments:
“There’s a been a couple of wins. I think when we won the Desert Polo Invite in 2013. We owned that Tournament. We won it the first year, we won it the second time year. The third year they held it, a bunch of teams from Seattle came down because it was always held in February when the weather sucks up north, so they came down for a little polo vacation and they brought all these heavy hitting teams and they had some really good players, people that are currently polo crushes of mine for sure! And, Valleros, the Los Angeles Team – We beat’em – the oldest LA team. First time we beat a heavy hitting team from out of town. That’s when people began thinking, LA can hang with the big cities. Valleros just won a tournament up in Frisco back in September – first time they ever beat Vancouver in a final. I was very high on that for a month afterwards!
“And the most recent moment where I felt super elated because of polo was getting drafted in the first round for the Los Angeles’ Bike Polo Tournament: Bench Minor IV.”
LA’s Bike Polo Tournament, Bench Minor:
The fourth iteration of the tournament which is held in a different city each year is coming to Los Angeles. This is a new format of bike polo which started on the east coast called ‘Bench Format,’ where you have more than three people on a team, up to nine people, but you play three at a time. Instead of playing first team to five points, you play two 25 minute halves. Six teams of nine players each are in the tournament. Six captains are chosen and the teams’ members are chosen school yard style, kind of like Fantasy Sports Teams. And with two players flying in from Japan, one from England, Canada, all coming out to compete, teams from all over the United States, this is not to be missed!
Event to be held at Recreation Park, located at 401 Sheldon Street in El Segundo from 10am to 8pm.
Alex Dash will be playing in the tournament, but he is also the Organizer. With a lot of help from fellow LA polo players like Krista Carlson amongst others, come on out and enjoy a day of play. Don’t forget to chomp down on Donnie Pepper’s famous grilled cheese!
Evolution of the Game:
“When i first started playing, we had pieces of a stairway bannister chopped into six inch strips, nailed to these wooden dowels and that’s what we used for mallets. Then, I was the first person in LA to use a ski pole because I found pictures on Wikipedia. Soon, everyone switched to ski poles, some were using bamboo. Now, polo has gotten to the point where they are so specialized, that instead of going to the thrift store and using a ski pole, we actual have companies that make purpose built bike polo specific parts. You can buy a mallet kit online and assemble it yourself just like any other real sport. Companies now make bike polo specific bikes with the best geometry, parts. It’s a real sport now. When I first started playing, I never saw that coming.”
“In 2011, when I went to Bench Minor in Chicago, it was the most hardcore tournament I had ever been to. And because everyone who was chosen, they are considered the best of the best, they were ‘drafted,’ it became the most physical, most intense tournament I had ever been a part of and I had been to the North American Championships and I’ve been to the World Championships, but I was totally unprepared for how crazy it was going to be. Everyone was trying to show who was the big boss, out do each other. It was a pretty wild tournament.” Alex laughs, adding, “I expect nothing less this time around!”
Interested in Playing:
Come out to Rookie Night, Tuesdays at 7pm. Pickup games in LA are on Wednesday 7pm-12am, Friday 7pm-12am, and Sunday 3pm-9pm in Highland Park at 4530 Mosher Avenue, south side of the 110 Freeway, just east of Avenue 43. All our games are in the Montecito Heights Rec Center.
Some good websites to check out: