Meanwhile, Zach Blackburn cuts an S-curve around his opponents, weaving and poking the ball under his frame and around his front wheel. He pushes it to the left side to guard it from would-be thieves on his right, and maneuvers himself sideways to the right to position himself on the other side of the rolling sphere. He raises his arm in preparation for a swing, but a Richmond player closes in fast and stretches out his arm and mallet ahead of him, giving the ball a quick push east and away from Zach and the goal zone.
Players and their bikes tangle in excited efforts to overtake one another in sharp sweeping turns, sometimes dislodging a foot or two, or an entire body away from the bike and onto the pavement.
People strolling through the park stop to watch. Many take pictures of the scrimmage; most inquire as to what exactly it is they are witnessing.
“Are they not allowed to put their feet down?” No, they are not. A “dab” takes a player out of play until they tap back in at one of the unmarked designated tap-out points: one each at the center of the east and west walls bordering the court.
Nick guides the ball with a series of subtle twists of his wrist, keeping it close to his bike and narrowly out of reach of his New York opponents. He skirts in a tight zig-zag until he finds himself alone, facing the southern goal while most of the players are still turned north toward. He has an open shot—maybe it’s nerves, or maybe miscalculation—but the ball goes just a bit too wide, hitting the goal post, which is really just a traffic cone, and bounces away. Moments later he is crossing mallets with New York’s Chris Roberts as he attempts to regain possession of the stray ball. Roberts is one of North America’s best in the sport; having claimed the top of the podium at the North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championships in 2010. Swat, tap, tap, clack—they engage in a momentary battle and smiles emerge on their faces amidst this moment of aggression.
“Thirty seconds!” shouts the designated timekeeper, signaling the end of the second 20-minute half. Roberts rushes up to the north end, his large frame and long limbs dominating the landscape, and sends the ball careening well left of the goal. A Richmond player catches the ball from a ricochet off the back wall. He sends a long pass up between the bikes in motion, players scramble into position to capitalize on these final moments. The ball is lost in the sea of mottled shade, spinning spokes, the revolution of pedals and the calculated rise and fall of mallets. In an instant that passes faster than a head can turn, the ball is propelled past the goaltender, nailing in a final goal for Richmond.
The game is over. New York is victorious. They shall head home this evening laden with a single prize: bragging rights. In the meantime, the teams converge in the center of the court, trading jokes and sweaty hugs. Another day of “great fucking polo” has been had.