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An introduction to the Calgary bike polo scene.

By Willis Hoff

Since he graduated high school, my brother Thom has pursued the unique. 

   Photo:    Getting ready to play some bike polo at Alberta College of Art and Design while soaking in the views of downtown Calgary.

Photo: Getting ready to play some bike polo at Alberta College of Art and Design while soaking in the views of downtown Calgary.

I’m not certain what caused this trend, but it seems that most signs point to his degree from the University of Victoria. It was in Victoria that he began obsessing over bicycles. He worked as a volunteer at the university bike shop, he biked everywhere and he began to dream up bike tours with his friends.

A couple of these trips took them well over the United States border and almost to Mexico. This love for bikes has shaped his last couple years.

I’m not exactly sure when Thom discovered bike polo, but I don’t think he has stopped since he played his first game. The reason I can’t remember when he started is because I didn’t take him seriously at first. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would play bike polo, let alone form a community around it.

It seemed too obscure and too difficult to actually gain skill at.

   Photo   : Bike polo in Inglewood, Locals Only poster (W.Hoff)    Credit   : Alyssa Kelle

Photo: Bike polo in Inglewood, Locals Only poster (W.Hoff) Credit: Alyssa Kelle

Weaving through the honking traffic,
sit-dancing to songs in our heads and hooting our way through Inglewood. 

When Thom moved back to Calgary and found the bike polo community here, I got the invitation to come out and play. I came up with some pretty good excuses to side step his offers, but the day finally came when those excuses ran out. I was cornered and had no choice but to see what bike polo, and the people who played it, had to offer.

We met Thom’s friend in a back alley, unloaded our bikes and mallets and took to the streets of downtown Calgary. Weaving through the honking traffic, sit-dancing to songs in our heads and hooting our way through Inglewood, this Calgary fringe bike scene was already growing on me. 

By the time we made it to the Inglewood Community Centre, I was already sweaty and a bit out of breath – but excited. We rolled up to the outdoor rink and found at least six guys pedalling around, many of them smoking cigarettes, and smashing an orange ball-hockey ball around with their mallets.

We were greeted with hoots and I was introduced to the crew.

I grew up riding bikes – mountain bikes to be exact. We would build jumps and ladder courses through the trees of my friend’s back yard. Growing up in rural Millarville, Alta., I thought that mountain biking was the only form of biking worth my time. Where were we going to ride a single-speed commuter? Turner Valley? That was a decent 20 kilometers away. And what was there to do in Turner Valley?

   Photo   : Bike polo in Inglewood    Credit   : Willis Hoff

Photo: Bike polo in Inglewood Credit: Willis Hoff

Anytime we saw road bikers come through from Calgary they seemed so foreign. I still don’t understand why anyone would ride a bike down a highway in spandex – but each to his own, as they say. I’m not judging.

The transition to the polo court wasn’t a bad one. My biking history paid off. I could make my way around the game fairly well but had a hard time handling the ball. That was one thing I had missed out on as a kid. I never learned to skate and therefore never learned to play hockey.

I’m not saying bike polo plays like hockey, but there are certain similarities. I offer this background to say my first game wasn’t very impressive. I felt pretty intimidated by some of the guys who had obviously been playing for quite some time.

I left the court to watch the next game – feeling the hit my pride had just taken.

But that’s when I discovered the real bike-polo community. Someone cracked me a beer. I lit a smoke and just started talking to some of the guys on the bench. No one was judging my performance. No one thought I had let them down out there. Everyone was just happy to see a new face.

Since that first game, I’ve been out to the Inglewood Community Centre outdoor rink several times. Thom continues to push the invitations my way, and I continue to come up with excuses. But when I do get out, I’m welcomed with some hoots – and occasionally they pass the ball to me.