Tuesday, February 26, 2013

North American Hardcourt - it is what YOU make it!

I love this little ditty from Hipster Hockey.  It underscores a sentiment that is pervasive in all society- not just bike polo.  When there's a job to be done, even if everyone recognizes what needs to be done, no one wants to be the one to do it.  It was true when i was young and my mum told us kids the house needed cleaned, and it's painfully true when you read the newspapers and hear whatever it is our federal government is not doing today.  But i speak of our fair sport.  Specifically that- as this new season starts and the NAH election approaches- it's more important than ever to underscore that volunteers are the heart of this sport.

Organizing tourneys is hard work.  It take times, money, connections, volunteers, promotion, and of course the dreaded court construction.  But aren't they fun as hell once they get going?!?  You wanna play in an awesome tourney- then YOU are gonna have to help make it happen.  While 100% of players enjoy playing a tourney, much fewer are willing to put in the work to make them happen. That's not a criticism, just a reality.  In my opinion the people involved in bike polo are more helpful, friendly, and hard working than any other athletic group i've ever been involved with.  It's rooted in the DIY ethic that has built this sport from the ground up.  

But it's not as simple as throwing a tourney anymore.

Organizing at the regional level is even harder.  You have to coordinate clubs, schedules, weather, players, rules, refs, and an ever increasing number of duties.  One person, or even two or three, cannot possibly do it all.  And when you start talking about national and international organization??  Forgetaboutit!  It's not just a few messengers hitting a ball around with croquet mallets anymore- there are hundreds of clubs, thousands of players, and each year the number of tourneys and skill of players increases at an exponential rate.  It takes more than just a few good men (and women) to make things happen.  That's where North American Hardcourt comes in.  Initially it was just a small group that coordinated dates, but as the sport has grown, so has the need for greater organization.  It needs volunteers to grow and thrive, and it will only be as good as those who are willing to step up and help.  Are YOU willing to make a difference?

How?  Be a rep for your club, join a committee, run for regional representative , or hell, at least keep those who do hold a position honest and active.  That doesn't just mean bitching on the internet (yes i realize the irony of saying that while i'm bitching on the internet) but actually having real life discussions about the issues facing polo and finding ways to solve them.  For instance- reffing is a big issue facing our sport.  Right now they're just glorified time keepers, but if we want polo to be about skill (and not just aggression) we need refs have real teeth.  And for that to happen we're gonna need people with resolve to step up and say "i'll do it".  Don't whine about a cheap shot if you yourself are unwilling to help call a game or two.  I'm not saying we all need to trade in our mallets for whistles, but occasionally focusing on something other than play! play! play! will benefit us all.  The same is true for NAH- you don't like the direction it's going?  Then get on board and help steer the ship another direction.  You see problems that need solutions?  Then be the one who takes on that task.  Even if you like the way things are going, don't you want to assure they keep improving?

I realize not everyone takes polo as seriously as i do.  That's ok.  For many polo is just a way to get some exercise and blow of steam a couple times a week.  That will always be a part of polo and never change.  But competitive polo- that highly skilled, rough and tumble, trophy-raising, tear-jerking, globe-trotting, awe-inspiring sport that we know and love- it needs YOU to make it happen.  Not that guy next to you, not that one slayer who's lead you follow, not that one guy in your club who spends too much time on the internet- YOU.


Monday, February 25, 2013

One season's worth of cleat wear

Not the best shots but you can see how extreme the difference is..  Just got my new Time ATAC pedals and new cleats in the mail this week and i had almost forgotten what they were supposed to look.  At this point those bottom edges are so sharp they double as a razor!  Playing clipped in is awesome, but boy does brass wear fast.  This isn't even a full year's worth of riding, just about 7 months of hard polo-only use.  Luckily the recessed plate on my DZR's helps keep them fresh a bit longer, but i'm already thinking about buying a backup set to switch to about halfway through the season.

And by the way- clipped in?  clipless?  I've always hated the confusing terminology surrounding this tech.  Apparently clips refers to what i've always called cages, but apparently cages are the platform housing of the pedal?  Fuck it, i don't really care that much.  All i know is that being attached to my pedals is definitely preferable to not.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Bench Minor 4 draft selections!

Damn saturday night was fun!  Even with the rise in livestreams there's still something awesome (aka nerdy) about pouring over a spreadsheet all night.  More than once i scared the shit out of my cat by jumping to my feet and cheering at what was merely a name appearing on a screen.  Fun times, fun times.  Anyway, let's break this down a bit.

I've already seen some chatter on LoBP about how these are "the same old faces".  Well damn right they are!  It's been said and alluded to many times before so i'll say it again- this is bike polo's version of the All-Star game.  Of course the same great players are still great.  Add in the fact that it's in Los Angeles so travel concerns slant the pool of potential players towards the west coast.  That's all reasonable and expected.  And of course Seattle dominates the picks- their club really is that deep.  I will say i'm a bit surprised that only one female was selected (Erica will definitely bring the ruckus) but it's worth noting that Maija and Birdie weren't signed up.

The top six picks did not surprise anyone.  Whenever the discussion of "who's the best player in the world" comes up, all those names are mentioned.  Though instantly friendships and regional alliances take precedent- Pistolero took Joker, Cody took Julian, Ngaihon took Alexsis- then the teams were built from there.  Pistolero's team draws heavily from the SouthWest while Ngaihon's team is mostly Canadian's and east coasters.  Crandall assembled his Portland team before filling out the bench with slayers from all across the board.  Then Schultz apparently decided to just draft all of Seattle!  I also like that Kremin turned the All-Star game into a truly international affair by not only drafting the only European, but two Japanese players are well!  That's pretty awesome and i'll definitely be interested in how they all mesh.

And after a great year last year all three of the "Jagwolves" all went really high in the draft.  Same with Nick Kruse going #11 overall.  Proof that people are taking notice.  Hell i just made a post about Kruse and Joey winning DP5 with overall draft pick #1 Brian Dillman.  Though i was a bit surprised to not see Greg Valentine or Tall George pop up on the list, but i guess there are only so many slots to go around.  And why didn't Charlie Hill sign up??  Still it looks like this year is gonna be epic as always- i'm just hoping they livestream it so i can enjoy it from the comfort of my own home just like i did this draft!

Congrats to all the players and good luck to all the GM's!


Familiar faces win Desert Invite 5

Kruse, Dillman, and Halverson win the first major of the year!  Final results here at Podium.  Note that AJ/Jason/Mike took second, proof that those kids are still getting better and better! (hell at NA's they put my team down like a sick dog at the vet)  I'm really hoping some footage of the final match pops up somewhere...

I meant to post this last week but as you can see from the lack thereof i've been pretty busy.  Now's the time to get your life in order cause the onslaught of tournaments is about to begin.  I'm still trying to collect all the new gear i'm gonna use for 2013, and it kinda sucks at the moment cause both Fixcraft and Northern Standard are out of the poles that i like.. oh well i might just have to try more new things.  I'll tell you what i won't be investing in though- any of those Eighth Inch products like the ones the boys above are holding.

Nice shoes though ;)


Thursday, February 14, 2013

First signs of spring!

I eagerly await the chance to take this photo each year.  When these little ladies start popping up in my yard that means spring is right around the corner-- and polo season follows close behind!  Can't wait to break out my short shorts and start traveling again...


Friday, February 8, 2013

5am mallet census at the Lock-In


So here's what i did- around 5am at the Lock-In when i was starting to feel a little loopy and needed a distraction i decided to count up all the mallets and shafts that were waiting in the rack.  The queue wasn't at full as it was at the height of play- round 5pm the previous day- but it was a still a nice little snapshot of midwestern polo preferences.  Is this a scientific survey?  Nope.  Does this represent all of North America?  Hell no.  But in this place, at this time, these were the preferences of these people.  So take it worth a grain of salt, but i do think it pointed out a few interesting things.

Skip right to the data if you want:  5am mallet census google doc

The first thing i looked at was shafts.  The more established companies (MKE, Fixcraft) clearly have the head start over the newer ones like Creamy.  And though Milwaukee made the first legit polo shaft, Fixcraft was the first to offer multiple styles of poles.  The data shows a slight preference for the LT over the XT, but the real winner is Fixcraft since by offering more options they can claim a larger share of the market.  Or maybe it's just cause St.Louis is really close to Lawrence, Kansas.  Northern Standard had a good showing but still slightly less than i expected.  I'd say a good 50% of the mallets here in Bloomington use Northern Standards, but they've been out of stock for a while (and still will be for some time) so maybe that's what's hurting their numbers.  Yes i know they have the new Brutus shaft out now, but it's 30% heavier and being ultralight was what i loved so much about their original shaft.. oh well.  And of course the good old skipoles were still the choice of many, though what's most telling about this chart is that polo specific shafts have totally eclipsed ski poles.  I remember back when the MKE shafts came out a lot of people scoffed at the cost and said they'd continue to use thrift store finds.. well maybe those people still do, but a vast majority of players nowadays clearly prefer a new product.

Here's another "look at how much we've changed" figure.  At the first lock-in nearly all mallets were made of HDPE.  Lucky was selling his capped mallets backed then but even they were a minority share of the mallets being used.  From 2010 to 2011 was when things really started to change.  I remember going to an event in Lexington where suddenly everyone had a "space mallet" made of oversized UHMW.  People were scooping and airmailing like crazy and McMaster-Carr was probably rolling in the dough.  But over the past couple years we've seen more and more companies producing heads, and the durability of UHMW is clearly preferred over the classic HDPE.  Sure UHMW was around back then, but it wasn't nearly as ubiquitous as the gas pipe we would all "find" laying around construction sites.  Every once in a while we'd find a legit source but with easily purchasable products from so many companies, who needs to go through the hassle?  HDPE will never disappear completely- it has a permanent place in polo as being cheap and easy to find- but i do think we'll continue to see less and less of it as the years go on.

Finally we look at heads.  While ski poles only capture 17% of the market homemade heads are still going strong.  Keep in mind when you look at the data that's both HDPE heads combined with UHMW uncapped heads.  An uncapped, swiss-cheesed HDPE head is about as classic as its comes and was of course well represented, and i'd content that the uncapped, oversize, ultra density head has become a midwestern staple.  It's easy to scoop and pull balls off the wall, it's lightweight, and it's easy to put lift on the ball when you want to pop a shot up.  Fixcraft is again at the top of the market when it comes to heads, but the preference is really telling- players at the Lock-In preferred the 2500 over the 2375 by a margin of 18-1!  I own and like my 2375, but i'd admit i like the 2500 even more.  It was far and away the most popular head that Lock-In.  I'd venture to say it's because unlike MILK or MKE heads with their thin walls the 2500 is the same thickness throughout, making it much easier to drill holes in it (which almost everyone does).  It's versatile and still allows for that bit of DIY modification that most players end up going for.

I was also surprised at how well the Milwaukee heads were represented.  You'd think with all these fancy new options out that the older options might get pushed aside.. while that's true of the St.Cago heads (there was only one) the Milwaukee classic head was still the choice of many.  I've also heard that they're coming out with a newer, even better version of their head this year so i'd look at their market share to keep increasing.  Market share.  Jeez that sounds weird to say in relation to polo.  I'll bet you none of these companies are really turning a profit by offering polo products.  Maybe they are- I hope they are- but our sport is still young so the margins are probably slim.  But with polo's exponential growth i'm sure that'll change.

I'm starting to ramble, so i'll cut to the chase a point out just a couple more things.  Creamy is finally making a dent in the midwest, Eighth Inch polo products are preferred by no one, and even as i did this census i was being introduced to new products that have just hit the market (Magic green heads, Fixcraft RT shafts).  The future is bright and i look forward to seeing where this crazy sport goes next!


Edit:  Just for illustrate how far we've come in just two years (from Lock-In II to Lock-in IV) look at the mallets in this photo i took a few years ago... note all the black and orange HDPE and ski poles.. there's only 4 heads of UHMW out of nearly 80 mallets.. and only 4 MKE polo shafts.  Now go back and look at those numbers at the top. Crazy!

Pinata video from the Lock-In!

Not sure how i missed this one but damn i love it!

Ya know, every time i sit back and think about the lock-in (any year, pick a year) i can't help but smile at how much fun it is. As this new season begins there's already more tournaments than anyone could possibly attend, so it becomes an issue of choosing which ones you have the time and money to attend.  Would i like to go to everything, sure, but that's not possible.  Polo will grow and change, but the good events- the quality ones with real staying power like the Jenny Cup or the Lock-In- those are the ones will always be on my calender til the day i die... which if i keep going to St.Louis will probably be sooner rather than later!


Friday, February 1, 2013

Coming soon - the Ultimate Mallet Review!

I've been wanting to do this for a long time, especially since the recent explosion of new heads on the market.  There's still a few packages in the mail of the newest models (coming from Montreal and Germany) and of course there's a few brands that simply didn't make the cut, but hear you me this will be the most complete (and judgmental) review you've ever seen.  No glad-handing here.  I've actually purchased every one of these (and more) because i don't wanna be beholden to anyone.  It's easy to take a free product and say 'yeah it's pretty cool' but that's not what we're gonna do here. 

Of course it'll also be a discussion about where we've been and where we're going.  As you can see above we're definitely trending towards single-capped, CNC'd ready to go heads, but it wasn't always that way.  All the way back in 2009 (which is like two decades in polo years) there was only one guy making capped mallets and i'm betting even he couldn't predict where we'd be here in 2013...

..so just for fun i'll be including this untouched, early model Lucky head (cue: it's not lucky it's st.cago) that's been sitting on my teammate Evan's shelf since Midwests in 2009.  Partially as a benchmark for the newer models and partially cause it's now a piece of history.  I'm hoping this review will be useful for not just newbs wondering where to start but even veteran players who don't wanna waste their money.  So if there's anything you think i should include or questions you want me to answer, feel free to hit me up at polovelobloomington@gmail.com and let me know!