Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shanghai Bike Polo

Last week, my English friend Yanis and I set out across Shanghai in search of a place to play a bit of pick-up polo.  I was fiending for a game, even a game of one on one, as I hadn't had a chance to play since leaving Australia.  So while Yanis had never even heard of bicycle polo before meeting me, much less played, he was still keen to have a go if we could find a place.  So he on his ladies cruiser with a front basket and rear luggage carrier and me on my Giant ATX cheap Chinese mountain bike, we set out in search of a smooth, flat surface.  

Heading north through the city, we reached the river before I realized I'd forgotten the ball.  Unimpressed with what we saw heading north, I suggested we head south from the hostel.  It turned out to be a great idea.  With the tower of Isengard in the distance (see the pointy spire rising upwards into the sky), we found the perfect, rounded, recessed surface; a place seemingly made for bicycle polo. 
The court, a public square (circle) in front of the Metropolitan Theatre, seemed an unlikely place to have a polo match.  It was too open, too public.  But as Yannis and I observed a half dozen skateboarders grinding the marble stairs we thought, all things considered, smashing a small rubber ball around and off the steps would be fairly harmless.   

Turns out we were right...sort of.  That day, as Yanis and I rode around playing one on one, the police and local security guards all passed us by.  None of them gave us a thought, much less a look.  The people who did give us a hard glance were mostly intrigued.  And so it was with great joy that I texted Tyler with the news that I'd found a fantastic, central spot to play some polo.

Tyler created a post detailing the space and calling for a session on the upcoming Sunday.   The stage was set for epic bike polo. 

And then the police showed up.  
Actually, it was the security guards who turned up first, blowing their whistles and speaking Shanghainese at me.   I didn't have to pretend I didn't understand.  But as more polo freaks turned up, polo freaks who could speak Shanghainese, it became clear that they wanted us gone.  
It wasn't necessary to speak Mandarin or Shanghainese to understand that this guy wanted my bike off the court.  Or maybe he just wanted to have a go at polo.  

It worked out quite well that the skateboarders stuck around until the police turned up.  I think it was their complicity in clearing the court that made it possible for us to stick around.  
So while skateboarding is not a crime, it turns out bike polo is less of a crime.  

At any rate, being the insolent non-conformists we are, us polo peeps didn't follow orders.  We instead stuck around until the 5-0 buzzed off.  Which meant we played some polo. 
Tyler has a full re-cap of the day, complete with a couple videos here.   In both videos you can watch as Rich, riding an orange fixed gear, takes me out.  Legal contact?  You decide.

Jue Hou also took some amazing photos of the day, the last two of the above set being a representative sample.   

One of the best parts of bicycle polo, in my opinion, is its ability to appeal to a variety of people.  When I turned up to polo in Melbourne, I saw a couple of older men--gray hairs, as it were (no offense, Pete!)--rolling around the court smashing the ball.  It was amazing to see older and younger people enjoying the game in a healthy spirit of competition.  When I arrived here in Shanghai, I was again pleased to see that one of the younger fellows, Nelson, had both his parent's turn up to the polo match.  Chris, Nelson's father, is pictured below.
Chris was fantastic at polo.  He rolled up to the polo match on his tricycle, which you can see on Tyler's blog, carrying the cones and assorted other polo equipment--along with his polo bike, of course.  He had such a nice style of play, bumping shoulders when necessary and shooting through gaps where possible, and he heckled me with relentless enthusiasm.  While bike polo is still primarily a sub-cultural realm dominated by bike messengers and bike freaks across the world, it's inspiring to see non-traditional bike people taking up the sport.  Here's to more diversity on the court! 

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