Why Not in Newport?

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A Newport Beach Magazine editor wonders why polo ponies aren’t part of Newport Beach athletics.

By Karlee Prazak

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It recently caught my attention when I heard that Balboa Bay Club’s (BBC) Duke’s Place welcomed the Newport Beach Polo Club. The team is slated to compete at the Celebrity Ranch Polo Club arena in Temecula with BBC’s support, which includes luxury shuttle service from BBC to the arena.

While the polo club itself has a fantastic mission to raise money for local charities, I have to admit the name throws me for a loop. With so many sprawling beaches in Newport, you’d think this was a “beach polo club”—one that takes to the sand rather than the well-trimmed fields of grass in inland locations. But the club is part of the latter group. This raises the question: Why not have an actual beach polo club in Newport?

Simply put, it would bring the sport of kings and its unique viewing experience to the masses, according to International Beach Polo Association Chairman Alex Webbe.

“Watching beach polo is different than watching field polo because of the size of the playing surface and the background of the ocean,” Alex says. “The spectators are sitting right on top of the action, close enough to see the emotions in the faces of the players and horses!”

Beach polo has an intimate playing area—approximately one-ninth the size of a traditional field at 100 yards long by 50 yards wide—so, logistically, Newport has plenty of sand space to support the sport. Many beaches stretching from the Balboa Pier to the mouth of the Santa Ana River support two volleyball courts side-by-side (each close to 10 yards wide with spacing between) and still require an at least 20-yard walk to the courts and another 40 yards to the water’s edge. For spectators, Alex explains one side of the arena is typically VIP, whereas the other is free and open to the public—where it isn’t frowned upon to don a swimsuit and catch some rays while observing the finest in polo ponies. Factor in these areas, and Newport will have the only beach polo club on the West Coast.

That’s right—the only ocean-side venue in the U.S. is the Miami Beach Polo Club. There is the Chicago Beach Polo Club, which plays on North Avenue Beach on the shores of Lake Michigan, but that’s on a lake. Internationally speaking, the sport garners a large following in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (the origin of beach polo); Sylt, Germany; Sandbanks, U.K.; Viareggio, Italy and various other European locations.

Think of the positive impact Newport will experience from welcoming this niche crowd.

“The benefits of hosting a beach polo event are similar to the benefits of hosting other high-profile sporting events,” Alex says. “They attract people to the area; they fill hotel rooms, restaurants and shops in the area. … The sport of polo just reinforces the stature of the Newport community.”

An increase in visitor traffic—both people and ponies—will require extensive setup and tear-down processes to support the field regulations, judges, player and pony areas, et cetera. But I say, look north for the solution.

Each year Huntington Beach transforms the pier area into a surf contest and spectator haven for the U.S. Open of Surfing. Anything from retail shopping to beach volleyball tournaments to X Games-style skate contests to concerts are hosted on the sand in addition to the surf contest towers and bleachers. And each year, Huntington is able to use precautionary tactics and garner a large enough following of volunteers to help with the cleanup.

Alex says the only other town to recently entertain this idea was Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County, but it was unsuccessful due to preexisting legislature in the area. With Newport Beach’s demographic and beachfront real estate, the city has the perfect combination to put the West Coast on the map for beach polo. If anything, the polo ponies will draw enough attention to justify welcoming the sport. NBM

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