Maui Polo

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Story by Lara McGlashan | Photography by Drew Sulock

maui polo
Maui Polo’s Sunny Diller (far left), Hobbs Weymouth (right) and Bob Nooney (far right) surround a visiting player from O‘ahu as they gallop down the field.

When you think of polo, what comes to mind? For me, it’s a Gatsby-like scenario of well-dressed socialites with elaborate feathery hats and fire-red lipstick, smoking cigarettes on long, slender holders; men with double-breasted suits and smartly waxed mustaches sipping a Rob Roy or a gin rickey or some other long-forgotten cocktail while watching a polo match with consummate boredom.

Some iteration of this fancy fantasy must exist somewhere in some stuffy corner of the globe, but it is just about as opposite from Maui polo as you could imagine.  

I drove from Kīhei up to Makawao to see the last polo match of the summer season, the Manoa Cup. Since my mental image of polo involves some measure of formality, I had worn a mid-length casual dress (paired with flip-flops because, well, Maui), and as I pulled into the driveway leading to the grounds of the Manduke Baldwin Polo Arena, I wondered if I had underdressed.

I hadn’t, not by a long shot.

maui polo
O‘ahu and Maui teams battle it out at Kapiolani Park; Diamondhead makes for a dramatic backdrop.

A man wearing a faded Hawaiian shirt, a dusty cowboy hat and a pair of jeans that had seen many a saddle met me at the gate and directed me to a parking area. I drove onto the grass below the arena and pulled in alongside a shave ice cart.

A game was already in progress. I couldn’t see much of what was happening because of a high fence surrounding the arena, but I could feel a ripple of thunder pass through the ground as six horses galloped down and around the far turn in close quarters.

I headed for the announcer’s stand — a simple, wooden platform with a roof and a loudspeaker — where I was to meet up with Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi publisher Diane Woodburn and Wendy Peterson of Ka‘ono‘ulu Ranch. I made my way past a long row of pickup trucks backed right up to the fence. Spectators sat in the truck beds in camping chairs and beach chairs and on towels, sipping drinks and picnicking. A group of elementary-age kids kicked a soccer ball under, over and in between the parked cars. Everyone seemed to know each other, everyone was smiling, and nobody, but nobody, was wearing a ginormous feathery hat.

I arrived at the announcer’s stand just as an airhorn went off, signaling the end of a chukker, which I would later find out is like a quarter or a period in other sports.

“The polo club just finishing up their games, and the Manoa Cup match is next,” explained Wendy. “It’s the last game of the indoor season so it’s very exciting.”

An indoor match being played outdoors?

As it turns out, polo has two seasons, indoor and outdoor (which gets a little confusing, since here on Maui they are both played outside). Indoor polo, also called arena polo, is played on a smaller field (200 yards long, 75 yards wide) surrounded by a tall fence. The ball is larger and is filled with air, and teams of three players score by hitting the ball against the boards in a designated spot. Outdoor polo is played on a much bigger field (300 yards long, 150 yards wide), and the ball is smaller and made of hard plastic. There is no fence, and so spectators sit further away from the field (because a plastic projectile traveling at 30 miles an hour would make quite a dent in your person), and players hit the ball through two posts to score a goal.

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