When Chris Dawson’s father learned that his son, an avid surfer, had begun to take an interest in the land sport of polo, he immediately called relatives with a ranch on Hawaii Island and had two ponies shipped across the channel. So began a decades-long love affair with “The Sport of Kings”, and the gentle beasts that riders spend countless hours training for the sport at polo clubs worldwide.
Twenty-five years later, Dawson is now the United States Polo Association’s Circuit Governor for the Hawaiian Islands. And he’s “paying forward” what his father did for him, this time to visitors and horse enthusiasts drawn to the Land of Aloha. Dawson has opened up his humble ranch, on the island’s famed North Shore, to people who want to learn to swing a mallet and give chase. Bordering the same shoreline that sees towering, 40-foot waves, Dawson and his trainer offer “stick and ball” as well as aggressive polo riding techniques to anyone with an interest.
An interesting fact: The sport of polo is rumoured to have been played on these islands prior to Mainland USA. A local rancher visiting relatives in New Zealand saw it being played in the late 1870s, and brought the sport back to his ranch hands. When he moved from Hawaii Island to Maui a year later, the sport jumped the channel, and was then picked up by industrialists and land barons on Oahu, where the last reigning king (Kalakaua) eventually commissioned a game in Kapiolani Park at the foot of Diamond Head Crater.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not to pick up a mallet, venture out to one of two polo clubs on Oahu. Start with the bucolic Honolulu Polo Club on the eastern shore, in the mountain town of Waimanalo. The road that will take you there is one of the most scenic within the entire island chain; it follows a craggy coastline, passes towering cliffs and the Makapuu Lighthouse before dropping down to sea-level and a stretch of pasture lands that's home to a riding school and the club.
On the North Shore, the Hawaii Polo Club (a mere trot down the beach from Dawson’s Anuenue Farms) is the place to party on Sundays in the Spring/Summer/Autumn. Every Sunday, cars line up at the gate to park between the Pacific Ocean and the polo pitch. It’s the islands’ biggest in-the-know tailgate party. Here you can watch Dawson gallop full speed alongside 3- and 4-goal (polo handicap rated) players, many of whom are former professionals or intercollegiate players.
During the weekdays and Saturdays, however, you’ll trot a far more civilized pace on a pony that suits your personality. All this, while learning to whack a white ball across a training ring tucked between the ocean and the majestic Waianae Mountain Range.
After your lesson is done and you’re careering through the valley back to town, you’ll have cocktail party fodder for decades to come. We’ll start you off: “Yes, I do play a little polo when time permits.”
Polo and riding lessons: Anuenue Farms
Honolulu Polo Club: Sundays, 2:00 p.m. June through mid-October.
Hawaii Polo Club: Sundays, 2:30 p.m. mid-April through mid-July, then again from Sept. through mid-October.
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About the author: BrianBeruschBrian Berusch
Brian Berusch traded in his Manhattan gym membership for a quiver of surfboards, trail running shoes and a one-way ticket to Honolulu more than a decade ago. Since then, he’s interviewed dozens of celebrities and covered the destination for more than 25 travel and lifestyle magazines. He’s an award-winning Editorial Director, a Today Show correspondent and most recently the publisher of two new magazines. He has yet to “get barreled” in the perfect wave.