Mallet to the face
Christine Carrisosa, bicycle polo player
A tennis court somewhere in downtown Sacramento is lit up, and the pick-up basketball game on the other side of the chain-link fence has come to a halt, with the players watching six people swerving, balancing and hopping atop bicycles to swat a tomato-red plastic ball into a goal with mallets. This is hardcourt bike polo. And the Capitol Bike Polo club's Christine Carrisosa asks that the location of the practice site be kept a secret, since the last time a media outlet publicly announced it, the police shut it down shortly thereafter. Carrisosa, who manages a franchise coffee shop during the day, has been spending her nights over the past year playing the sport, helping organize tournaments and trying to recruit fresh blood to ride with the CBP crew.
Why is CBP not too keen on media coverage?
(Laughs.) I think because we were so eager to do [a local TV-show segment] the last time, thinking there would be positive feedback, and [instead] it was just so ridiculous.
We all got up and had to be here at 7 o'clock in the morning—people took time off of work—but we came out early and did all this, and I think we felt we were getting an interview, and when it came down to it and we saw what was on TV, it was a joke. They played circus music behind us. They were here for a couple of hours, and, you know, you get a two-minute snip, and it was edited goofy. … It was just not positive. … So it just felt like a waste of time. Channel 31 Good Day Sacramento! (Laughs.)
How’d you first become interested in bicycle polo?
My boyfriend started playing, and so I started watching him. And I watched him play for about a year before I finally decided to jump on the bike and see what it felt like with the mallet. And I just fell in love with it. It's really challenging; it's not something I thought I'd ever be into.
Most challenging aspect?
It's so many things at once: You're pedaling; you're having to speed up and slow down; you're having to try to either control the ball, hit the ball, defend it or take it away from somebody, so it requires … a lot of coordination. And that's definitely not natural to me. It's so challenging, but it's a group of friends—it's our social time. … Instead of time we'd spend at the bars, we're out here.
Do you travel to other cities for tournaments?
Lots. I would say that our city, just as a whole, travels to tournaments more frequently than [other] clubs, and we host a lot of events in our city, because we can use this court here, we can use the courts in Davis, and then there's a beautiful court in Folsom that's actually a roller-hockey rink. … Our southwest region qualifier is going to be held there in May. …
During the wintertime, we can kind of play here as often as we like, because tennis players aren't using the courts. But in the summer when the weather is really nice, there's a lot of competition. We get kicked off. I recently have been … trying to work with the city so we can find funding so we can help build a multiuse court in the Sacramento area, preferably Midtown. There's hundreds, seriously hundreds of tennis courts in the greater-Sacramento area, and there's not one multiuse court.
What kind of gear do you use?
Definitely a helmet. If you've taken a ball to the face or a mallet to the face, you've probably invested in a face mask. … Most everyone is wearing lacrosse or hockey gloves because they keep your fingers protected from mallet strikes or handlebars hitting your hand.
Gnarliest injury you’ve seen?
Oh, gosh. So, in our house, [my boyfriend] had a broken finger, I had a broken finger, he had a cracked rib. I've seen people tear their ACL. I've seen some pretty bad injuries in polo. When we were at [a tournament], a guy ran into the backside of another guy's bike. The part that the chain is on just sawed his shin open about 7 inches. Injuries you'd never think you'd get 'cause they're strange injuries. … You're riding a bike at a fast pace, six people are all doing their own thing—
Is this the stupidest thing you’ve done?
No! (Laughs.) If I wasn't being so personally rewarded with friendships and the fun and the travel, maybe, but I think there are definitely people that I work with and my family that question what the hell I'm doing out here every night. But I really feel like it's, for me, one of the best things that's happened. I love it.
How long will you stay out here playing?
The latest we've ever stayed, 4:30 in the morning. Not kidding. But usually, if we have this many people, like the next game, there'll be six fresh people in, we can play until midnight. Regulation games are 12 minutes or until five points [are scored], but sometimes when we play like this for endurance, we'll play for hours and not take score.
Do you know about the history of polo being played with severed heads?
No, I didn't know that. That's awesome. I know more about, like, the civilized English playing—it started with horses, obviously—about a hundred years ago, the British started playing on bikes with mallets on grass. … It's more of a gentleman's sport, less contact.