Personal Best: Bike polo a great combo for Winter

By: David Liepman
Special to The Examiner
February 21, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — Raised in the Midwest, Joel Winter’s athletic outlets as a kid were playing hockey on frozen ponds in the winter and riding his bike the rest of the year.

A San Francisco resident since 2004, Winter recalls spotting a blurb on bike polo in a 2005 San Francisco Bicycle Coalition newsletter. Combining his two favorite childhood outdoor pursuits, it was a no-brainer for Winter to give bike polo a whirl.

“At the very worst, I’ll get in a good bike ride,” he surmised. “I jumped in and started playing, and it’s been a habit since day one.”

His first two years of bike polo, Winter played on grass, highlighted by a tournament in Dublin, Ireland in 2007.

Since Dublin, though, it’s been all about bike polo on pavement. A tournament in May of 2007 on the Golden Gate Park Panhandle, the North American Cycle Courier Championship, was Winter’s first taste of the hard-court game.

“The sport has skyrocketed in the past three years around the world,” the 38-year old resident of The City’s Castro district said. “It’s been a time of really strong growth for hard-court bike polo.”

When Winter isn’t playing with a group of 20 dedicated players at Jose Coronado Playground in the Mission district, he may be in his garage constructing polo mallets from ski poles and pieces of plastic pipe. Or, he may be meeting with San Francisco Rec and Park in an effort to identify more multiuse courts in San Francisco.

With only three players per side, all players must play offense, defense and protect the goal.

“I’m good at passing,” the 5-foot-11, 210-pound pedaler said. “Shooting and goaltending I have to improve on. People will hit that ball right through you.”

Winter and his mates have faired well in his last three tournaments, placing third in an Oakland tourney last summer. At last year’s North American Championships in Seattle, Winter’s team finished in the top 16 in a field of 48. He was also proud to finish in the top 12 of 36 teams at the Los Angeles “Polo Picnic” in January.

A true cycling enthusiast, Winter and girlfriend Cecilia Broadaway tool around town on their tandem bike.

“It’s been discussed,” Winter said about an inquiry on his interest to attempt tandem bike polo. “We know two bike polo players who have tandems and girlfriends, and we’ve talked about it.”

San Franisco Bike Polo

Where: Jose Coronado Playground, 21st Street between Shotwell and Folsom streets
When: 7 p.m., Monday and Thursday nights; tournaments on the weekends
Equipment: A bike, preferably of the mountain variety, helmet, gloves and pads
Summer tourneys: July, North American Championships in Madison, Wisc.; August, World Championships in Berlin

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner: