Maui Polo

maui polo
O‘ahu Polo’s team captain, Raymond Noh, vies for the ball against Maui’s Bob Nooney.

Speaking of goals, a loud THWACK shook the fence and the crowd cheered as one of the club teams scored. Another airhorn blast signaled the end of the game, which gave me the opportunity to become the Question Queen. Wendy, Diane and a number of other people in-the-know kindly answered my pedestrian equestrian queries:

Are there positions in polo like in other sports?
Yes, and these are indicated by the numbers on the shirts. For indoor polo, number 1 is the scorer, number 2 is the quarterback who gets the ball to number 1, and number 3 plays defense.

I notice everyone is playing right-handed. Is that on purpose?
In 1973, they instituted a rule that everyone has to play right-handed for safety, and to prevent collisions between horses and players.

I see a lot of shoving and pushing as players try to get the ball — do people fall off a lot?
Sometimes. When that happens, they pause the play so the fallen player can get back on.

Do you ever get hit with the mallet?
Both people and horses get hit from time to time.

How do you know where to go and where you’re supposed to be?
You have to be going the same direction as the ball. If you deviate or cross over, you’ll cause a collision.

Why is that player on a different horse now?
You switch horses with each chukker to give them a break.

How long is a chukker?
Seven-and-a-half minutes.

I imagine having the right horse is very important.
Polo is about 80 percent horse. The horse pushes your opponent away from the ball. Your riding abilities help put the horse in that position, but after that it’s all about the horse.

Do you have to train a horse specifically for polo?
Yes. But some horses won’t do it. They don’t like to be crowded or touched by another horse.

maui polo
1960 Maui Polo Interisland Champions (left to right): Henry Rice, Peter Baldwin, Richard “Manduke” Baldwin and Gordon Von Tempsky. This was the last polo match played at Kapiolani Park on O‘ahu.

The announcer hopped back onto the loudspeaker, thus ending my Q and A; it was time for the Manoa Cup match to begin. From the elevated stand, I could see the entire arena, and armed with some new polo insight, was able to follow along much better. I got caught up in the battle for the ball. I flinched as a horse stopped short and its rider was almost catapulted into the fence. I cheered with the crowd when the Maui team scored —  and actually understood why it was a well-earned goal. I was on the edge of my wooden seat as the teams had a shoot-out to determine the winner of the then-tied game. And I high-fived the clan in the announcer’s booth like we were old friends when Maui polo came out victorious.

On the way home, I thought about the day, and realized why Maui polo has been so popular for so long: It’s different and it’s exciting, but most of all, it’s inclusive. Everyone is welcome — no hats required.



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