Silicon Valley Goes to the Polo Grounds

They are the kinds of regal images you think of when thinking of royalty and the rich. The smell of gorgeous steeds, fresh cut grass, a gentle zephyr on a Saturday afternoon. The crowd on the sidelines nattily dressed, enjoying a glass of white Bordeaux or a fetching Sauvignon Blanc. Maybe a gin and tonic. Transfixed by the men on horses charging after a ball, their mallets swinging. Polo, the game of kings - and of future kings. That's how it is played in England and so many elite clubs in the United States.

Segway Polo
Segway Polo

Cut to the Silicon Valley, and our version of royalty play the game, well, a little differently. Forget the horses. It's more like "horse power" instead with players whirring around on their high-tech mounts. Segway Human Transporters, to be exact.

"I love animals, but not horses," Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak tells our producer Annie Pong. He's one of the budding Segway Polo League's biggest stars, and of course, a true member of Silicon Valley royalty.

He's known as "Woz" to his friends (there's even a street named Woz Way in Downtown San Jose), and he's leading the charge in the game we're there to cover. His Silicon Valley Aftershock, wearing yellow kits, taking on Oakland's Junkyard Dogs in black.

Silicon Valley Segway Polo only seems to be gaining in popularity, and while interest in the Segway seems to wax and wane, the intensity and excitement behind this unusual sports/technology league increases every week.

"I grew up playing sports; I was real competitive," he says.

His opponents, most of whom are engineers and technologists from some of Silicon Valley's best known tech companies, agree.

"Woz is definitely one of the most agressive players," says George Clark, an Apple engineer.

He's always in the thick of the action; defense, offense. It doesn't matter. And he's not afraid of the contact in this contact sport.

"No, no, no. They were running into me just as much," says Woz. I am trying to get to the ball and they are too!"

"It is our standing joke," says Drew Foster. "We try to take out Steve. He seems to be their leader!"

Joking aside, there are rules to prevent injuries, most of them fashioned after horse polo. The most important one is the right of way.

"If you are traveling in line with the ball, people can't cross your path because that could cause a collision," says Stuart Moore.

Hooking is OK if you are preventing your opponent from hitting the ball, which is soft so wheels can roll over it. Of course, in real polo the ball is wooden and hard.

Another key difference, the speed of the game. Horses gallop at 35 miles an hour. A Segway maxes out at about 12 miles an hour. But even at that speed, there are accidents.

"Have I tumbled? Three or four times at least," laughs player Victor Miller, the Hollywood screenwriter behind hits like "Friday the 13th." "I did one really good face plant!"

Usually injuries aren't, even though at the start of this game, Woz did suffer a cut. And even though he's a bleeder, he patched himself up and rolled back onto the field. There are collisions and banged up Segways. So, more often than not, players keep multiple mounts. But at $5,000 a piece, they are pricey toys. Woz has the largest stable with 8 of them!

To be a good polo player, your mount should become part of you.

"To be a really successful player, you have to be able to ride a Segway in the grass without thinking of it at all," says Apple engineer George Clark.

And there is teamwork, much different for Woz compared to when he was at the office.

"When I did my work, especially at Apple, pretty much it was working alone and this is working with a team. You have to pass it to somebody or take the shot yourself. There's lots more strategy here," he says.

But the key strategy is to play hard and have a great time.

"This is the most fun I have had outside the bedroom since I was in my 20's," says Miller.

Questions? Comments?