Polo may be the sport of kings but bike polo--not so much. The dozen or so bearded and tattooed young men who welcomed me enthusiastically to their regular pickup game at the Civic Plaza apartment complex were closer to those Tyler Durden described in Fight Club: "We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances."
In fact, the sport is somewhat anarchic as a whole. There's a league--sort of. And rules--sort of. But the Boise players have only a marginal interest in either. Especially not the one that says left-handed players aren't allowed.
In between rounds, the players lob cans of Pabst back and forth to one another and coarsely holler at anyone who dares to bicycle down Front Street that they should forget wherever they're headed and join the game.
But local players are hoping to change that.
John Schisel, creator of the Boise Bike Polo Facebook group and the closest thing to a leader the group has, felt previous efforts to establish a bike polo league were too exclusive.
"A big thing for me is getting new people to show up," said Schisel.
To do so, Schisel wants to put a face on the sport locally through outreach and higher-profile events. The biggest of those will be the region's first tournament, set for June 17-19.
It will be an open, or "throw-in," enrollment, as part of the inaugural Pedal For the People bike festival. Anyone can sign up, and teams will form on the spot for each round. Points a player scores travel with them through the tournament to determine the overall winner.
Another difference Schisel introduced from earlier Boise Bike Polo gatherings is that the game has moved from the grass of Camel's Back Park to a large concrete slab located in front of the Civic Plaza Apartments on Front Street. On a hard court, the game is faster and occasionally dangerous. Players zip around piloting a rubber ball with a bike polo mallet--a piece of PVC pipe bolted to the end of a ski pole--as skillfully as hockey players control the "puck," passing and tossing it back and forth between the wheels, and shooting past a goalie at 15 mph but not always looking where they're going. One player rode straight into the curb at full speed to make a save, flying like Superman over his handlebars into a double somersault on the grass.
"Four years of gymnastics," he shouted as he jumped back to his feet. He said it again after a similar tumble several minutes later but not as gleefully.
Besides raising the citywide visibility for their sport--something important not just to get new players but also to help the team find a new spot to play once the construction for Whole Foods claims the concrete slab they currently play on--they're hoping the tournament will boost Boise Bike Polo's status enough that the League of Bike Polo, the website listing teams and places to play worldwide that functions as a de facto governing body, will decide to place the Northwest regional championship in Boise next year.
"It's a lot more central location than having it in Seattle or Portland, Ore.," said Schisel. "They want us to host a couple of tournaments this year. If we do that, then they'll be more interested."
With a bevy of prizes donated from local bike shops and Boise Bicycle Project, Schisel is hoping the tournament will bring in competitors not just locally but from Salt Lake City, Seattle, Portland, Denver and maybe even northern California.
"I'd love for more but a dozen would make me happy," said Schisel. "That would be excellent."
The biggest challenge Boise Bike Polo faces is finding a suitable location, both for the tournament and for future regular games.
"We really need to find another place similar to what we have," said Schisel. "This is a regular event, so we need to have a spot that won't be reserved."
Schisel said it's also important for the spot to be centrally located. The team has tried to scrimmage at the Eagle Velodrome but players had difficulty making it there.
For the tournament, the team is looking into the Boise Armory and several other locations, but Schisel said any municipal property will require insurance and many also require rental fees the team doesn't yet have.
"The face of Boise Bike Polo isn't big enough to get sponsors to write a check yet," he said.
But the key word there for Schisel is "yet."
This tournament could be the thing that turns all that around.
And though Schisel feels the tournament will be good for the attention it brings to Boise Bike Polo and the local cycling community as a whole, that's not his only motivation.
"I'm mostly excited to see how we do when we get an influx of new players," he said.
Andrew Little, another player, agrees. "There's a lot of good strategy, and I'd like to see how we match up against other teams in the region," he said.