Forget American football for the moment. There's a lesser known sport gaining traction around the world and in South Florida, especially Broward County.
Hardcourt bike polo cropped up in Seattle in the early 2000s and is an underground version of grass bike polo, which was invented in Ireland in 1891.
Players form teams of three or four and use handcrafted mallets made from ski poles to skillfully maneuver a ball into a goal.
The games are played on streets and hard surfaces like basketball courts, tennis courts and roller hockey rinks.
With grace and balance, games are fast-paced and played with a beautiful intensity. Players in streetwear ride single-speed bikes and often customize their bikes with handmade, graphic wheel covers, shortened handle bars and moving the braking system to one side so players can brake with just one hand.
The game took hold in South Florida about six years ago, when a group of 15 or so players would meet up at the roller hockey rinks at Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale. In the beginning, FTL Bike Polo meetups were inconsistent until word caught on and a resurgence in popularity occurred in late 2011. Now the group meets regularly on Thursday nights.
On the court competition can be fierce, but off the court players foster a tight-knit community, often hanging out on weekends, celebrating birthdays or simply goofing around. When players go on the road or travel to other cities, they can seamlessly plug-in to other local bike polo scenes and find a couch to crash on.
Bike polo is divided up in seven regions across the United States. Fort Lauderdale resident and longtime bicycle enthusiast Kreally 'K' Kasai says: "South Florida was one of the last areas to bring in bike polo, so the increase in interest we're seeing is more of a catch up to other cities. We are seeing a huge expansion now."
From there, the scene grew and spread to Miami.
Resident Eric Madrid founded Miami Bike Polo along with Andrew Feher in March of 2010. Weekly games occur on Sundays at Jose Marti Park on basketball courts situated underneath an overpass. Madrid claims that the crowd seems to grow by the week. Sunday games are known to draw the largest crowds of 100 people or so, due in part to the group offering up a monthly barbecue and welcoming people to sit back and hang out.
The sport has also spread to Weston in West Broward, or what players affectionately call the "Weston Everburbs." Resident Wayman Luy says the Tuesday night games draw 10 players who are mostly dads to the seven roller hockey rinks at Weston Regional Park, where the World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship will take place October 17-19.
The world championship will attract top players from around the world for a three-day event, putting Broward County on the map. The first world championship of its kind was held in 2009 in host city Philadelphia. Berlin was next in 2o10, Seattle in 2011 and then Geneva in 2012.
Last year, the Southeastern Hardcourt Tournament took place at a Broward park, drawing players from around the country.
While hardcourt bike polo is still considered an underground sport, it is on the cusp of becoming more regulated as goes mainstream, an unwelcome change that some players say would ruin its pure essence. Others like Kasai welcome the surge in popularity.
"One of the problems we face is since no one knows what the sport is, we get kicked out at a lot of parks, like we're hoodlums," Luy shares. "I'm a business owner, and we have a player who is a chemist and another who is a robotic engineer."
Palm Beach Bike Polo started up about six months ago.
Hardcourt bike polo has seen interest spike locally in tandem with the growing popularity of cycling in general. Events like South Florida's Critical Mass have helped attract new players. "There's a big crossover from Critical Mass, people coming out to polo," says Wayman.
The sport is hard to master, but those comfortable riding a bike can pick up the basics within two days according to Wayman. Since players are friendly, spectators are welcome to come out to any of the weekly games. No pressure.
"It's a welcoming group where you can just show up and hang out with us," says Kasai. "We are happy that you came out, even if you don't play."