Monday, 8 December 2014

Polo in Geneva?- don't mind if I do- Hells Bells Ladies European Polo Tournament,

It's been almost 3 weeks since I came back from Geneva where I took part in the 4th edition of Hells Belles European all female bike polo tournament and all this time I have been dreading the moment I will finally have to sit down and try to word my experience. How do you give justice to the best tournament you have been to and probably one of the best weekends of your life??!!

It was Friday late evening when my team mate Vicky, Gabriela  (teams official cheerleader!) and I arrived at the airport in Geneva. Our initial feel of luck to see our bikes intact after forgetting to deflate the tires has been dismissed by the endless round trips dragging the bike bags around the airport, waiting on trains that mysteriously don't depart and looking for phantom bus stops. Drained and hungry we eventually arrived at our hosts flat in Vernier. Tina and her boyfriend were most gracious about the fact we dropped on them like a bomb so late at night and fed us delicious soup with hazelnut bread! At about 2 am we finally settled for sleep.. our bikes half built, bags half packed, route directions half remembered and us - half dead. But we were      TEAM DEATH PROOF and nothing could lower our excitement for the next days games of some polo with the coolest  ladies in Europe! 
 8 am (it would be a faux pas to be late in Switzerland!) we were at the courts, united with our 3rd team mate Lizzy, we signed our forms, got the bikes checked, received goody bags from the organizers, and got a free coffee and croissant for breakfast from the bar. There.. was.. a bar. This was getting better by the minute.  The courts looked good. Shared space with a skate park sheltered under the motorway where no rain could get to us seemed  like a perfect location to hold the tournament. It slowly started to fill up with bikes and everyone we met seemed to be as excited to be there as we were. It felt like the right place to be.  

The games came as a rush..butterflies in the stomach despite playing for over 2 years and this probably being the 15th tournament I've done so far. I don't remember the scores, don't know how many times we lost or won. At the end it didn't matter. We were there to have fun and it seemed like we hit the jackpot. Relaxed, friendly and just pure awesome the atmosphere couldn't get any better!  Our original plan was to see a bit of the city after our morning session games but we just couldn't stay away from watching the rest of the competition! Besides it was raining.. so we stayed and savoured the vibe.

 After the games have finished the party and throw-ins commenced while the organizers focused on the scores and bracket placement for the next day. A couple of beers later and I really put our team name to the test by smacking my face hard on the concrete going for a joust. Sat on a side thankfully with no concussion and Arnica being applied to my cheek bone (thank you Elodie!) I got told that our team actually managed to get into the winners bracket! After receiving mixed signals my brain finally concluded that the pounding headache and a blooming black eye was not important and it was time to celebrate! And celebrate we did. Few hours of dancing, laughter, beers and other 'medicinal' supplements later we decided it's time for a classy kebab then bed. 

  Sunday morning was a haze. 10 am start only sounded reasonable in theory. We needed adjustment period and coffee.. a lot of coffee. We played our best but at the end we dropped out to eventually end up 8th out of 16. There were some pretty damn good teams out there and being in a winners bracket meant we got to hassle for the ball with them. My goal for the tournament was reached - play with the best, at their best.  Later on in the day 'you win or you're out' single elimination format of the games bred some nervousness on the court and you could feel it. With each team dropping out stakes were getting higher and the crowd of spectators fuelled by beers and music was getting louder reaching the zenith when the well deserved winners of the 4th Hell's Belles title came to the team Sisters! All joy, mallets thrown in the air, bikes dropped to the side, hugs, congrats and what nots we all joined the celebrations! It was a long weekend of games and we were all finally ready to put our guards down.. literally.  Then came the prizes, thanks and free beer! We stayed at the courts for few more hours drinking, dancing, admiring what a cracking job organizers did putting the event together, rehashing the games and making drunken promises to come to local tournaments around Europe and talking how we all love polo for being this kind of a crazy sport that turns absolute strangers into best friends. We were all winners.

Kegs of beer finished, bar cleared, equipment being put away it was time to hit the town for the big party! We set off on our bikes howling like mad people through Geneva's city centre stopping at another classy kebab place. 2 hours and 30 fed people later we headed for the club! Even more beers and even more dancing it was a great night with great people and I don't think I could shake the drunken smile off till I finally crashed at 4am. 
 We had a flight back to Manchester in the early afternoon.

What a weekend. What a tournament. What a place. I love to compete, in any sport really, but it's the passion and energy of the people that play this badass game that keeps me coming back for more.