One of the fascinating things about Hardcourt is that it’s still so young you can play with and against some of the very people who created it. Such is the case with Matt “Messmann” Messenger from Seattle,Wa. An extremely mellow guy ready to take you on a 30 mile bike tour or smoke you out. He doesn’t give a shit which, he just doesn’t want to sit still. Matt is one of the original bicycle messengers from Seattle that started what we call Hardcourt today, and he’s still actively competing on a regular basis. We were lucky enough to get some insight into the man that is MESSMANN. Oh! and yes Messenger is his real birth name if you can believe that (I didn’t).
What was the initial idea behind the game of Hardcourt bike polo? Was it just killing time, or were you reviving an old game, or something else? What was that one spark that lead you guys to actually build a mallet, and find a ball and just go for it?
The initial idea of bike polo wasn’t “hardcourt”. It was just another fun activity to do while on our bikes. When we were just starting to play, we (current Seattle Messenger/couriers at that time), didn’t know much or anything about the history of the game. We weren’t reviving an old game, at least not yet as we saw. Mostly playing every once in a while hanging out and partying after work. Then Kozmo.com moved into town and hired almost every messenger in the area. While waiting for the Kozmo boom to hit. We started playing more polo because all of us were more condensed to the same location and hanging out. Just a parking lot over to the north of us was a mostly empty below grade parking lot that had natural goals in the layout. So while the weather was not raining, we covered each other to go play some pickup games. Then also friday nights, it was the usual “drink free beer” night from one the courier company owners. Polo was the in between party on friday nights. Playing somewhat consistently on Friday nights at the “cave”, it was a secluded place out of the rain to play and party. The cave is not there anymore but it used to be across from where we play now at Cal Anderson Park tennis court.
How many of you were playing Hardcourt in the beginning? Are you one of the only original guys still playing?
In the beginning around spring 1998, there was a little polo being played. About a dozen of us couriers were playing at one of Seattle’s first epic po-locations, the 10th floor of the US Bank waterfront parking garage across from the ENA satellite (a messenger satellite base in the core). Ali brought a set of crochet mallets to get started but they were converted with longer shafts using cruches and mop or broom handles. I know of a small handful of us “originals” playing still; Irving aka Swerve, Dillan aka Billydotcom , Tim Mason and myself of course.
I’ve heard that the original dab penalty was to bike a circle where you put your foot down, and then it progressed to a tap-in at mid court. What other rules evolved that have been added to the official set?
Originally called a “360”, it was called if a foot was down. Circling started from where you “dabbed”. Not around the mallet but from where you dabbed. Rules have mostly stayed the same; games to 5, reset after goal. Well on that one, when Portland and Seattle were big rivals, polo was called “Little Beirut” cage match style for a short while. When we played in Alberta park in PDX.
Rough play like pushing into the chain link fence. This is where I used bar ends to “glide” across the fence if this happened. Also, there was no reset after point was made. One could score and get the ball and bring it around a score again. Mallet throwing, hooking, grabbing brake cables riding any which way through goals and the whole nine yards. Barbaric is what it would be called today. This Beirut style didn’t last long. People new to the sport weren’t very encouraged to try with this style. The “Tap out” started on the back out hick’s trucks and then the Mid-East coasters came up with that thing. The defensive 360 was a great move. No contact with the ball while doing it, but a bike block/ screen while in motion of the 360 or grabbing a mallet was useful. Never did we play a goalie position until I think Seabass started or someone from the newer generation polo did.
Did most of these pre NAH evolutions to the game happen in Seattle, or did it kinda happen elsewhere and find it’s way back to Seattle?
Some of these evolutions were made up here in Seattle and Portland, but not all. Pre NAH was just a few years ago and every city/area had their own rules/ formats.
What was the evolution of the mallet design from the very first ones you guys put together, to the closest to what’s being used today? the first type of ball used?
I can’t recollect building a mallet for some time into it. Someone had them. Not sure who or where they got them or made them. I didn’t start making them until after I was a courier and worked at a bamboo importer, manufacturer/ distributor. While I was getting back into polo which was not really being played much. I built a bunch out of solid bamboo called “tam vong”. Solid shafts that tapered from 3/4 to 1/2” mostly and heads that were mostly 1 1/2- 2”. I would Forsner bit drill the head out almost all the way and sand the shaft to fit, glue and drill out 3/16 through both mallet and shaft, and pound in a bamboo peg that was used for furniture construction. Sanding down the nodes or joints that you see on bamboo stock. Wrapping the handle with hockey tape of old bar tape, which I still use today. These mallet were mostly indestructible. At this time we were really slashing mallets all the time. Aluminum shafts would always snap from these. Then Portland was using old ski poles and ABS heads with baskets. Still a descent mallet to this day.
For the ball, I think we used a baseball/softball from a batting cage shooter.
So wait, the bamboo mallets were almost indestructible and would break an aluminum one? Please expand on how these mallets played. why do you think the aluminum ended up being the standard over bamboo?
The Bamboo mallet was very specific. I worked for an importer that brought that one type of bamboo in from Vietnam. I’m telling you that this was very strong. I believe that they used to use it for a pole-vault pole before fiberglass. Not the bamboo that is hollow. I think the aluminum shaft was more popular due that the fact that you could get them almost anywhere, where I might of had the only access to the bamboo at the time.
What was the first city outside of Seattle that you remember playing Hardcourt?
Portland and Seattle go way back for rivalry. I invited Portland couriers up for what later became the Messmann’s Messquerade in 1999. I hosted a halloween alley cat and polo match. I think this was our first meeting on the court. Not remembering the total number of teams, maybe 5 or so. Since then Portland and Seattle were playing matches almost every messenger event we hosted.
Were the wheel covers devised in Seattle, or was it something that happened somewhere else?
Okay, Gary Tegantvoort made the first wheel cover in our neck of the woods, He had some carbon fiber material from some snowboard manufacture that he glues together and cut out for a wheel cover. Leon still has this cover in his collection. I sure at the same time some others had them in other parts of the country.
I’m curious what advances or evolutions you saw happen after the game went world wide and came back to Seattle. Did any of them make you say “hey, why didn’t we think of that?”
A few things, like dual brakes, or just front brakes, dual double wheel covers. Different types of piping used as mallet heads for sure. Wheels that were beefy enough for the game as well. I always tried not to spend much money on polo bikes at all. But when $800 bikes starting showing up with couplers and such. The advances and evolutions really began, I guess.
I got to see you play at worlds 2011, and what really struck me about you is how your mellow, laid back personality contrasts with your game. They are quite opposites to your credit. What’s your court philosophy?
Well, I starting being real competitive when I became a messenger in Seattle in 1996. Racing some of my first alley cat races through the city and I was introduced to mountain biking at the same time from some of the same couriers. To things that really boosted my adrenaline and that I enjoyed very much. When I’m on the court, its a game face for me. Something like friends off the court not on the court. I just want to keep the game high pace and make others wear out fast as I can. I can keep going. Off the court I keep it mellow and I like socialize with all enthusiast of the game.
Being one of the forefathers of Hardcourt, do you fall into the “Diy or die!” camp, or are you excited about any possibilities that major sponsors could do for our sport?
It has always been DIY for polo for me. I still think the whole sport is DIY, from guys making podium software for tournaments to polo peeps making and building bikes and other gear. Just how big can the sport get on a DIY basis, I hope big. I know I would like to host a few specialty tournaments myself. Only recently have I spent more money on bikepolo gear. but still not that much as I see others. Before it was just recycling anything to make my bike/mallet go the distance. This has all to do with the competition. Competition is what is going to bring in sponsors to the sport as well as popularity. I am working on a sponsorship package for the 2013 season.
I look at “Hardcourt” as a step child of mine kinda. Its not all mine but I helped raise it a little. I think it needs to grow in the number of players. Its boundaries are closing in as rules and such. It only has a few quirks to work out before everybody is playing on the same grounds of rules and such. As for television coverage like the recent CSI episode, I think its a quick little thing for Hollywood to use for a story and thats it. Kind of a one time thing. I’m excited that polo gets just a little exposure. Its a sign that someone it paying some attention to it. At least the writers of these shows.
What’s your current bike and gear set up? Pr0n please.
Current bike is best feeling set up so far.
- K2 Energy aluminum Cross bike 55/56cm
- Dual Paul brake pull w/disc brakes(BB5’s)
- SS 2934 rear Bontrager wheel, 29 wheel front
- Short riser bars
- Time pedals with a 32-21 gear
- 2 wheel cover on mallet side
- Schwabe Marathon tires
- XT 170 cranks with square spindle.
- 510 hightop shoes.
What are your thoughts on so many players from around the world moving to Seattle specifically for the level of Hardcourt that’s played there?
I really enjoy players moving here for more polo. Just gives me and others more days and nights to play with different competition levels, like High octane Monday Nights (A players only). I do miss the casual party pickup from the old days. Almost to serious sometimes. One reason some locals don’t play anymore.
Having been there since the beginning, where do you see Hardcourt being in 5 years, and then 10?
I see it in 5 being very organized with worlds being played on a different continent, than the two it is played on now. Then 10 years, it will either just fall apart or be recognized as a (pro) sport in some official competition of some sort.
Where do you want to see it?
I would like to see it get to a level or mass appeal that is very similar to the skateboarding industry as in places to play and traveling tournaments.
What are your thoughts on the bench minors? Do you want to see the game moving in that direction or is 3 vs 3 where it should stay.
I’ve never played or witnessed a Bench Minor. I do like the idea and have put myself in a draft for one or two. I think the 3v3 will be around and will be a competitive backbone of the sport for a long while. BM’s have there place in the game and will pick up popularity.
Do you think the time is right for Hardcourt to have it’s own television coverage?
Television? Im not sure. Maybe, but first there will have to be a specific courts built to suit and cameras to catch all the great action, since the game moves really fast. Internet channel maybe with right amount of games and tournaments to watch.