San Francisco's Bike Polo League Finds a Home at Dolores Park

When the northern edge of Dolores Park reopened in June, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department unveiled a brand-new multi-use court. Unlike the park's other areas for sports, this one isn't equipped with a tennis net or a basketball hoop, and there are no permanent markings on its blue asphalt surface.

But there are plenty of bicycle-width skid marks, left behind by the San Francisco Bike Polo League.

The group can be found playing on the court most nights, as many as four nights a week, furiously circling around in pursuit of a red rubber ball.

Bike polo has a fuzzy history — according to the League of Bike Polo, it dates back to 1890s Ireland — but its current incarnation first popped up in Seattle at the end of the 20th century.  It has since grown into an international sport, with tournaments in Germany, Portugal and Ukraine this year.

San Francisco's bike polo league has found a new home at Dolores Park.
San Francisco's Bike Polo League has found a new home at Dolores Park. (Susan Cohen/KQED)

The game is very similar to its equine-based counterpart, but uses bikes instead of horses. During a match, teams of three try to score against each other during a designated period. The players embody the do-it-yourself spirit of the game, from their makeshift mallets down to a homemade portable scoreboard invented by a local league member.

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There are bike polo leagues in San Francisco, Oakland and across the Bay Area.  In fact, Northern California is home to some of the sport's highest-ranked athletes. The Beavers, a local three-man team, are North American champs three years running and took home the world title in 2013.

The San Francisco league was founded in 2004 and soon made its home on one of Dolores Park's tennis courts. But players were eventually ticketed for "playing an unauthorized sport without a permit," according to league president Steve "the Machine" Wilson, and relocated to a basketball court at nearby Jose Coronado Playground.

In 2010, the city began hosting public workshops and meetings on improving Dolores Park, and the local bike polo scene was a vocal part of the process. Their efforts helped lead to the creation of the new multi-use court. At 7,200 square feet, it's more than twice the size of a standard tennis court, and the polo ball bounces easily off its curbed wall.

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“It’s really awesome that they were really responsive to it," player Sam Bell said of the parks and recreation department. "And it’s really nice to feel like we have a home somewhere in the city."

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