On Saturday, Ashlyn and I were invited to watch the semifinals of the BMW NZ Polo Open, which was held at the Auckland Polo Grounds, by an old friend-of-a-friend named Mat Norris.
Mat is what some New Zealanders would refer to as a “good keen bloke”. Mat became friends with two of my dearest college friends, Cammy and Marion, when they were all working in Kodiak, Alaska not long after we graduated from college, about 20 years ago. Mat has stayed in touch with Cammy and Marion ever since and I actually met him back then when he visited Cammy and Marion on the East coast in the early 1990s. Marion recently dug up a photo of us in Washington DC from that trip (none of us have aged a bit, right!).
When Ashlyn and I started to plan our sabbatical, Cammy put me back in touch with Mat so that we could reconnect once we got to New Zealand. Mat was nice enough to give us a ride from the airport to our rental house when we arrived in Auckland, and as if that wasn’t enough, Mat loaned us his car the first three weeks that we were here because he was headed over to Australia for a three-week trip. Talk about going above and beyond the call of duty!
So on Saturday, we arrived at the Auckland Polo Grounds to watch our first polo match ever. Polo is played with four people on a team and the match is divided into six periods (called “chukkers”), each lasting 7 minutes. Polo fields are the largest fields of any organized sport, and interestingly, most players at that level have a different horse for each chukker (6 horses just for one match!). One of the important things to know if you ever watch a polo match is that every time a team scores, they switch ends, so it can be a little disorienting for a spectator at first. There’s not that much in the way of safety gear – a helmet, some elbow and kneepads, and that’s about it. Here’s Luke modeling some of the gear.
I learned three important things about polo on Saturday. 1) Polo is FAST. It was amazing to see how quickly the game moves up and down the pitch, and how easily the riders turned the horses back and forth as the play moved around the field. 2) Polo is LOUD. The stomping hooves, the frantic breathing of the horses, and the screaming riders all make for a very exciting atmosphere even without the commentators. 3) Polo is DANGEROUS. The riders hit the ball incredibly hard (upwards of 110 miles per hour!) and can effortlessly lift the ball in the air so it’s amazing that more people don’t get whacked in the head or the face by one of the balls.
In the match that we watched, “Rodd & Gunn” defeated “Southfield” 11-7 to advance to Sunday’s final. We didn’t go to the finals on Sunday, but it was apparently a much fancier affair with cocktail parties, corporate tents, a fashion show, etc. It was really great to watch the match on Saturday, and while I don’t think I’m going to start following polo on a regular basis, it was certainly another fun new activity that I’m thankful we were able to try while we’re in New Zealand. I’m also very thankful to re-connect with Mat after all these years and to be able to spend some time with him while we are in Auckland. Thanks Mat and “good on ya, mate”!