Bike polo gains ground in L.A.

By Abby Sewell
Saturday, February 5, 2011; 1:49 PM

LOS ANGELES - Alex Dash still remembers the September day in 2007 when he discovered his new love. He had just seen a cyclist crash his odd-looking bicycle with one handlebar.

It turned out that the cyclist, who had modified his bike to allow him to swing a mallet with greater ease, was a polo player.

Bike polo, that is.

Dash, an avid cyclist, was intrigued. He was into road bikes, mountain bikes, fixed gears and any other type of bike he could find, but he had never heard of bike polo.

The scrappy urban sport - a derivative of the traditional equestrian game - was gaining popularity in cities across the country, including New York, Chicago, Seattle and Portland. But it had yet to take hold in Los Angeles.

Through an Internet search, Dash learned about a small group of players who competed on Saturdays on a tennis court at Los Angeles High School. When he mounted his old fixed-gear bicycle, wielding a beat-up wooden mallet, it was a moment of revelation.

"I was like, 'I'm born to do this,' " said Dash, or Joker, as the 29-year-old photographer is known on the court.

To play the game, teams of three chase a street hockey ball across the court wielding long-handled mallets fashioned from ski poles and plastic piping. Most place colorful plastic covers on their wheels to keep balls and mallets from getting tangled in the spokes.

The scene alternates between grace and mayhem as riders weave and dodge around one another and occasionally crash. Many players sport scars from on-court mishaps. Some don helmets, knee pads, goggles and lacrosse gloves.

Like Dash, all have their polo names, including Lil' Sarah, Nola and Too $hort.

The camaraderie of the insular community is part of what draws players like Amanda "Jinxy" Wainscott to the game. The 26-year-old graphic designer from Fontana, Calif., drives two hours from work in Riverside to play in Los Angeles.

"It's been a long time since I felt included in a group like this," Wainscott said. "I was such a sad, sad story of a loner, and then I got into the bikes."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company