noho ‘ana polo,” urges the Honolulu Polo Club: “Celebrate the polo
lifestyle.” Polo is one of the world’s fastest sports, a contest of
horsemanship, strategy and raw nerve. Fans say watching it is an
what is the polo lifestyle? Does it involve being wealthy and getting all
dressed up for a sporting event?
in Hawaii, says Allen Hoe, president and co-founder of Honolulu Polo Club.
“For us, the polo lifestyle is the relationship of horse and sport and
player,” he says, “And more of a cowboy spirit or paniolo spirit,
versus the champagne, etc., etc.”
if you’re going to a Sunday match at the club’s Waimanalo field, champagne
and a fancy hat are not out of place. Whether you’re attired for a
rodeo or royalty (most people dress casually), picnicking is part
of the experience. Spectators tailgate along the field’s edge or climb
into the shaded comfort of the bleachers. Regulars who are akamai arrive
early enough to claim a table.
d.j. Colbert and her friends, dressing up for Sunday afternoon polo is a
cherished tradition. Colbert was wearing a broad-brimmed red hat with her
white suit and matching pumps at a recent match. “I love to come out
here,” she said. “I mean, look, you get to put a great hat on, and
there’s great food. It’s an outdoor sport. It’s the perfect thing
for a Sunday.”
club is looking for a permanent announcer, but in the meantime the players
take turns in the announcer’s booth. Besides calling the plays, the
announcer urges the crowd to patronize the concession stand (all proceeds
go to Therapeutic Horsemanship of Hawaii Inc.). Bob Miller, a director and
co-founder of the club, sprinkles his commentary with jokes, Oscar Wilde
quotes and even a scolding for an overly rambunctious player.
a friendly co-existence with Honolulu Polo Club is its counterpart on the
North Shore, the Hawaii Polo Club. As the club with more commercial
sponsorship, Hawaii Polo Club is able to present half-time entertainment
such as horse races, rugby matches and skydiving exhibitions. “We call
it a social event, a sporting event and a day in the country,” says
Michael Dailey, the club’s president. Concessions and music are also
featured at the Hawaii Polo Club field, located oceanside at Mokuleia.
and Dailey both describe the Honolulu Polo Club as the more laid-back of
the two. Dailey sums it up this way: “I think the Honolulu Polo Club is
more of a player’s club. It’s a little more relaxed and it’s a great
place for new players to get started.”
is a rough-and-tumble game, yet many people associate it with upper-class
refinement. The danger comes with riding 1,000-lb. animals at full tilt
while swinging mallets at a ball the size of an orange. The aura of money
has to do with the ponies (actually full-size thoroughbred horses).
“It’s very expensive – not so much in terms of money, but just in
terms of time,” says Hoe. “It takes so much time in care and
management of the horses.”
rules of play are simple. There are four players on a team, each assigned
a specific position and wearing a numbered jersey. Play proceeds in four
7-minute periods called chukkers. Because the horses run at high speed for
most of the game, riders change to a different horse for each chukker.
Generally there are no rider substitutions during a match. One set of
rules governs polo, so men and women compete on equal footing.
object of the game is to score as many goals as possible. The central
concept is the ball’s trajectory as it moves down the field toward the
goal. The imaginary line that extends forward and backward from the ball
sets up a right-of-way in favor of the players who are traveling in or
parallel to the line. With each hit, the line of the ball changes.
Crossing the line is an infraction, but there are various legal ways to
gain control of the ball; a player may use his mallet to hook the
opponent’s mallet while swinging for a hit, for example, or horse and
rider can lean into the side of the opponent to ruin the shot. Penalties
are based on the severity of the foul, with a free hit given to the team
originated in Asia more than 2,000 years ago. The word “polo” came
from the Tibetan word “pulu,” meaning “ball.” It probably
developed in Persia (modern Iran), the first country to domesticate horses
and use them in warfare. Games on
horseback were used to train cavalry soldiers; a polo match could
be a deadly endeavor, sometimes involving hundreds of players who hit
objects as varied as balls, small goats or decapitated human heads.
the Persian army conquered other lands, officers continued to play in
countries it occupied. The game became an opportunity for members of the
ruling classes to show off their athleticism and equestrian skills.
Versions of polo sprang up and spread across the continent. By the Middle
Ages, it was played widely throughout Asia. When the British conquered
India, their soldiers adapted and standardized the game and took it back
to Europe, where it became a social pastime for the wealthy classes.
British officers introduced polo in Hawaii as far back as the 1880s. And
the paniolos helped keep it alive.
interesting thing is early on, Parker Ranch, when they started getting
really serious about their cattle business, they made a great investment
in terms of their horse breeding programs,” Hoe says. “Thoroughbreds
were proven horses in terms of stamina, speed and agility.” Ranch hands
played polo on a regular basis. “It was something natural that cowboys
would do in addition to the western type of rodeo sports.”
caught on, and by the early 1920s,
Hoe says, “Hawaii with the big five families had developed quite an
international reputation in terms of polo.”
the visitors who played polo on Oahu were Will Rogers and Gen. George S.
Patton. Patton played frequently when he was stationed at Schofield
Barracks prior to World War II. Years later, in 1974, Britain’s Prince
Charles stopped in Hawaii and played local players on the field at
Mokuleia. Some of the players are still active today, including Dailey and
Honolulu Polo Club’s Mike Ebinger. The prince was on a navy cruiser at
the time, recalls Dailey. “So he got a break, came in, stayed at my
dad’s hotel and just relaxed here in Hawaii for a few days and had a
weekend of polo,” he says.
year, the Hawaii Polo Club celebrates 40 years of operation at Mokuleia.
Before that, Oahu polo was played in Kapiolani Park, where the Hawaii Polo
and Racing Association had begun in the late 19th century.
Waimanalo field, home to the Honolulu Polo Club since 1986, was a
watermelon field and later a garbage dump before the club began leasing it
from the state.
And naturally, there will be a hat contest.