Amid the vast quantities of Pabst, the hipsters, the tattoos, the piercings, the beligerent spectators, frequent whiffs of marijuana and the tricked-out fixies, the guys who make hardcourt bike polo their sport fought Sunday for a championship that means more than the party atmosphere might suggest.
“It means we’re the best team in North America right now, and that means the world to me,” said Erik Kremin, one of the Beaver Boys from the Milwaukee Bike Polo Club and the 2012 North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Champions.
Kremin, Brian Dillman and Joe Burge, beat the Guardians, from Seattle, Wash., three goals to one in the penultimate match, after losing the prelude 5-4. The Guardians, the defending NAH champions, lost earlier in the day, fought through the losers bracket and came just one win short of defending their title.
The winners hugged and celebrated at center court, much as if they had won a stage of the Tour de France or a match in Wimbledon.
“It’s awesome,” Burge said. “Words can’t really describe it right now…to bring the NAH championship here and to win it on our home court, it’s incredible.”
Both teams are likely to compete in the World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championships in Geneva, Switzerland, Aug. 14 to 18, and the Beaver Boys will be pedaling to duplicate the world championship victory they won in 2010.
To consider bike polo in terms of a World Championship, or even a North American Championship may seem a stretch, given the spectacle outside the boards that surrounded the retroffited tennis court in Washington Park. Still in it infancy – the NAH was founded in 2010 – the sport remains the domain of bike messengers, students, bike shop mechanics and Pabst drinkers, with tattoos to rival the NBA.
On the court, however, the skill level and the commitment impresses. Check out the action in video form here.
Three players on each team pedal single-speed bikes and wield mallets to stroke, nudge, poke or smack a a plastic ball into the goal. Shoulder blocks, forearm shivers and full-on crashes lend a hockey element to the dirty version of the equestrian sport. Chain rings, pedals, wheels, shins and knees collide repeatedly in the action along the boards. The ability to sprint, stop and stay upright in the frenzy is more than remarkable.
“I can’t explain how exhausting it is,” said Eric Crandall, a member of the Portland United, a team that fell to the Guardians in a semi-final. “It’s a constant anaerobic activity.”
Orginally from northern Wisconsin, Crandall paints custom bikes for a living in Portland, and works to elevate his sport.
“We are, we honestly are professional, competitive bike polo players,” Crandall said. “We take it way too seriously. We want to be the best in the country.”
Both he and Kremin noted the improvement in the game over the last couple years: more players taking it more seriously, practicing together, strategizing, buying newer equipment built specifically for the sport.
“You would have never seen games like this three years ago,” Kremin said.
You’ll find more photos in this gallery at OnMilwaukee.com.