“Feminist on the Court” is a bimonthly column giving voice to a variety of women, trans, and/or femme players (and those that support them) from around the world. This polo herstory is written by one of the longest-playing women on the West Coast, SF polo’s Jacki Rust. If you’d like to tell us your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The sun was beating down behind the Sound, the smell of fried fish and boggy air swilled in the Seattle evening as we gathered on the rooftop of an adult video store near Fisherman’s Wharf in 2005. Matt Messenger, the ring leader of this eclectic group, encouraged me to play a game, so on a Frankenbike with homemade mallet (composed of a crutch for the shaft and PVC pipe for the head) I played my first game of bicycle polo.
I was really nervous on the roof of that downtown porn shop, because I wanted to be accepted by this group that I thought, at the time, were the coolest people I had ever met. Turns out they are a bunch of nerds, but I’ll never forget Matt’s encouraging words, “Oh look, it’s Suzy Natural.” Those five words kept me coming back for years after, and reminded me to welcome anyone one who is interested in the game, especially women.
Flash forward over a decade later to the World Championships in Timaru, New Zealand. Participants now play with equipment specific to the sport, mallets cost around $50, bikes are custom made to a player’s specs, the budget for the tournament is $100,000, and professional cameras film the entire event. There are paid referees (there are actually rules now) calling out fouls and penalties. People flew in from all over the globe to represent their city, but with less than 10 women out of 108 players, I felt that I was representing women, not San Francisco.
In the first years of playing polo, I would never have dreamed it would evolve into what it is today. At first only a handful of cities played, but now it has blown up, and there is a club in almost every major city in the world. This is partly because of the ability to share information in the vast area of the internet, but partly the tone that was set by Messenger: “All are Welcome.”
The men are so accepting in polo, and the majority them do not see us differently in the sport, which in my mind is something as extraordinary and beautiful as electing a black president.