Christopher Dawson is the United States Polo Association Circuit Governor representing the Hawaiian Islands and Vice-Chairman of the USPA Marketing, Branding, & Broadcasting Committee. Seven years ago, polo players in the Hawaiian Islands voted for him to be their Governor. Christopher Dawson represents the clubs and players to the USPA as he helps the association with communicating their programs and support to their members. “Obviously we’re in a rather unique location – a chain of separate islands – so the Hawaii Circuit is composed of four active clubs on three different islands: Big Island, Maui, and O’ahu. We have some of the most desirable locations in the world, most notably the only beachfront polo field in the world (Mokuleia on the North Shore), and Oahu’s other field (in Waimanalo on the South East shore) is at the base of the gorgeous Ko’olau mountains.”
The outdoor field on Maui is situated half way up a dormant volcano and overlooks the ocean, in the upcountry area of Makawao, where cowboys blend with bohemians and surfers. On the Island of Hawaii (Big Island), the field is on the slopes of a mountain – Mauna Kea – and literally sits in the clouds at times. Polo has been played in Hawaii since 1880, arguably before the U.S. continent. Hawaii benefits from a distinctive brand of polo, marked by the heritage of the Paniolos (Hawaiian Cowboy). “We are situated in the international crossroads, and act as the bridge between East and West through the Hawaiian Islands Polo Association (HIPA) that I created with the endless support of Bill Kirton of Maui and Allen Hoe of Honolulu. The aim is to help connect polo throughout the world. We have players and teams coming from New Zealand, India, Australia, Argentina, China, Malaysia, and many more countries.”
Hawaii has some of the best sports people in the world. Not only regarding the sport of polo. There you find an abundance of true thrill seekers.
Polo in Hawaii has three main hubs, each club represents a unique area. Each location also attracts a different crowd. In Maui, the upcountry lifestyle brings in a big number of horse men and women who work in the ranches and farms. Maui is also home to the famous wave called Jaws, which is one of the biggest and best waves in the world. So, Maui has a large number of surfing world champions as residents – and amazingly some of them have been crossing over to play polo.
“Hawaii is very unique in this sense, it has some of the best sports people in the world. The Ironman triathlon is on the Big Island, the Triple Crown of the surfing world tour is on Oahu, we have the best kitesurfing in the world, and much more. We clearly have an abundance of true thrill seekers in Hawaii, and they are naturally turning to polo. Maui is the epicenter for this phenomenon, and the Maui Polo Club has been an excellent host and promoter.” The second Ride to Survive is happening in Maui in October this year, where top professional surfers play polo. Supported by the Hawaiian Islands Polo Association and Dawson Media Hawaii, these men and women ride both monster waves and polo horses with far more guts than most of us can ever dream of.
On Oahu, the Hawaii Polo Club on the North Shore attracts the biggest crowds. Up to 5,000 people come to special events like the 2013 Maserati White Party organized by Dawson Hawaii and the launch of the Hawaii Polo Life Magazine each spring. This field is on the beach, people come to tailgate and enjoy the beach and polo at the same time, skydivers land on the field at half time each Sunday. The Honolulu Polo Club, also on Oahu has a more traditional Hawaiian style approach. Many of the same families and friends have been coming to see the matches here for years, setting up camp for the day and enjoying the polo play. It is a very laid back feel, relaxing and majestic with the towering green mountain range behind the field. Being close to one of the military bases (Bellows Air Force base), they welcome active and retired military as well as their families without charge. It is also an idyllic location in the countryside yet closer to the city of Honolulu than the North Shore club. They also have on premises the Therapeutic Horsemanship of Hawaii and a kids polo program, all dedicated to introduce horses and horsemanship to everyone who needs it. The Mauna Kea Polo Club on the Big Island offers a more unique and remote experience. The field is in a dream-like location, also has more of the Paniolo feel, in the cowboy country of Hawaii. It is definitely worth visiting for those who want to see something different, peaceful and inviting. The families and spectators who come here to watch and play polo are almost all from working ranches and farms in the north region of the island.
The polo history of Hawaii dates back to 1880, when polo was still unknown in the US.
And who are the big names and players in Hawaiian polo? It’s hard to name all, from long-time players, superb horse men and women to big supporters there are many people that make polo in Hawaii possible. Herman DeCoite, Bill Kirton, Allen Hoe, Ka’aina Decoite, Julian Alvarez, Devon Dailey, Mike Dailey, Bob Miller, Bryant Laporte, Raymond Noh, Emiliano Achaval, Jesse Neuwirth, Siri Masterson, and Tiare Paty is still the strongest female player. For young women we have a fantastic group of interscholastic girls who continue to be very successful on the National level. They include Sydni Tobin, Lindsay Holmes, Sophie Sabin, Jessica Hartley, Jacklyn Schmitt, Noelani Piccolo and Hana Diller – some are on Maui, some on Oahu. Historically, some of the biggest players have been Ronnie Tongg, Stuart McKenzie, the legendary Peter Baldwin (who is still roping) and Sam Delgado (who unfortunately passed away just a few weeks ago). We are still shocked by him leaving us so fast. He was a true Paniolo rancher, he was the head of Dillingham Ranch – which owns and operates the Mokuleia polo fields – for many years. Christopher Dawson: “I have been playing polo in Hawaii and outside for over 25 years. Besides being born and raised on the islands, I am part Hawaiian by blood which for us is both a blessing and a big responsibility. For Hawaiians the stewardship of the land and the traditions is very important. I take this responsibility with pride and put much hard work into it. I had the blessing of playing polo with some incredible Hawaiians like Ronnie Tongg, Herman DeCoite, and Kimo Hudleston.”
On the islands of Hawaii, each club has its polo school. Herman DeCoite from Maui, a former professional 7-goal player, usually travels to the clubs to teach clinics as the players improve. But there are also individual operations like Anuenue Farms Hawaii, where the sport is introduced to those who can help polo move forward (young players, community members who are interested in promoting Hawaii and polo to the world). Maui definitely takes the biggest award for the largest number of kids in training. Bill Kirton and other great Maui Club members have been instrumental in quickly multiplying the number of new players who have been improving at an incredibly fast pace. Mauna Kea Club has restarted after a 10-year hiatus, 2014 is their third season and they are actively training and welcoming new players. There is a fifth club on the beautiful island of Kauai that is currently dormant but hopefully makes a comeback in 2015.
“My main goals as the USPA Circuit Governor are to elevate the level of polo, increase the number of players, clubs and horses. HIPA is devoted to pay a special tribute to the heritage of the Paniolos by providing bolstered training and more horses in hopes of continuing the tradition of polo throughout Hawaii. Being part Hawaiian I feel the need to be the steward of the sport, to make sure that polo on the islands is perpetuated for future generations. To secure the future of polo in Hawaii, we put special emphasis on the younger players. And we celebrate the legacy of polo through programs such as Army Polo Hawaii, which brings together the Armed Forces with the civilians through polo, while raising funds to support the families of active and retired soldiers. It is also commemorating the relationship between the sport and the military men who played polo to train for battle. I took this program that we created in Hawaii and replicated it in the USPA through a new Armed Forces committee. This project has now raised over $200,000 for charities across America; army polo matches were played in five different states in 2013 and is expanding in 2014.”
For more information about the Hawaii International Polo Association please visit www.HIPoloAssociation.org