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MEET HONOLULU POLO CLUB

Mar 20, 2018 2:48 PM

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Honolulu Polo Club logo

Based at the foot of the towering Ko’olau mountain range on the third largest Hawaiian island of Oahu, lies the polo paradise of Honolulu Polo Club (HPC) in Waimanalo, Hawaii. Boasting a breathtaking backdrop, tropical climate, and laid back country atmosphere, HPC has welcomed players from countries all across the globe to its field for almost 32 seasons. Currently featuring 0- to 4-goal tournaments and special events from May until the end of October, HPC was created to prioritize the local player community and is home to the aloha state’s only USPA certified polo instructor. Embracing the spirit of the islands, HPC promises friendly rivalry intertwined with beautiful cultural experiences in the heart of Hawaii.

Hula Halau Kalehua Tuahine performs before the 2017 Hawaii Invitational of Polo on September 16, 2017 in Waimanalo, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi:Getty Images for Hawaii Polo Productions)
Hula Halau Kalehua Tuahine performs before the 2017 Hawaii Invitational of Polo ©Darryl Oumi/Getty Images for Hawaii Polo Productions

Developed on a 30-acre expanse of state land in the mid 1980s, HPC was established for players by players, with the vision of preserving and reenergizing the tradition of polo which was first played in Hawaii in the 1880s. Allen Hoe, HPC club president, has been with the club since inception as one of four founding members which include Enrique Zobel, Bob MacGregor, and Michael Sheehan. “In essence we organized HPC with the vision of a players’ club, focused on the needs of local players and growing the playing community on the island.” Initially named the Waimanalo Polo Club after the surrounding town, HPC became a USPA Member Club in November of 1986 and played their first game in March of 1987. As the Hawaiian Islands have been a popular destination for international players on vacation since the 1960s, the HPC complex offers a full-size playing field, adjacent paddocks and training areas ideal for weekend getaways.

Despite playing primarily inter-club tournaments, HPC maintains an active polo schedule during the official six-month season, highlighted by the annual Hawaii Invitational of Polo, a 25-goal game featuring eight hand-selected All Pro Polo League (APPL) players from around the world. Complete with a traditional Hawaiian opening ceremony, the regional polo experience is unrivaled. “Coming here gives players a unique opportunity to play polo,” Hoe said. “Over the years we’ve had great exposure to a lot of our renowned polo families from Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Mexico, England and Ireland so we’ve developed a great international list of players and fans.” Frequented by internationally recognized Hawaii Polo Life ambassadors and professional players such as Mariano Gracida and Pamela Flanagan, HPC hosts special events on Saturdays which attract diverse players to Hawaii’s shores a few times per year.

Eleele's Mariao Gracida hits the ball downfield during the 2017 Hawaii Invitational of Polo Photo by Darryl Oumi-Getty Images for Hawaii Polo Productions web
Eleele's Mariano Gracida hits the ball downfield during the 2017 Hawaii Invitational of Polo ©Darryl Oumi/Getty Images for Hawaii Polo Productions

Fusing the traditions of Sunday polo with aspects of Hawaiian heritage, HPC creates for its guests an experience truly distinct from mainland clubs and culturally immersive. “Every year on opening day of the season we have a traditional Hawaiian blessing and chant given by a Kahuna*,” HPC club manager and Hawaiian native, Ynyr Khai Agon, shared. “The blessing is over the horses, players, families, friends, and the land for a safe season. It’s a very moving ceremony that has deep cultural roots for us here.” Offering both covered clubhouse seating overlooking the winners circle or casual tailgating, HPC takes pride in providing a family-friendly day of polo action for an affordable price. Multiple aspects of authentic island life are incorporated throughout the club’s operations, ranging from performances by Hawaiian bands and colorful hula dancers to the playing of the beloved state song, Hawaii Pono’i to open games. An ideal setting for a leisurely afternoon, HPC continues to entertain well after the game finishes with spectators lingering to play volleyball, football or horse shoes and listen to music as the sun sets.

Pa`u riders, traditional native hawaiian parade dress
Riders wearing traditional native Hawaiian parade dress.

Situated in one of the largest military hubs in the United States, HPC’s location creates the ideal environment to increase the percentage of military players. “Our former Circuit Governor Chris Dawson, myself, Mark Gillespie and a handful of others approached the USPA about 10 years ago and convinced the Board of Governors to create an Armed Forces Committee,” Hoe explained. “Each year since we’ve gained a little bit more and are able to do increasingly more to reengage the military with its history and culture of horsemanship. I believe we have had some great successes in bringing young soldiers both male and female into the equine arena and the polo world, but we will always strive for more.” Given the club’s proximity to many active and retired military members, HPC leadership ensures that their American heroes always feel appreciated by granting them free entrance to games. “From day one we adopted a policy which recognizes and honors all of the service men and women and their families as our special guests.” Propelling the sport forward both on the field and from the sidelines, HPC is reaching out in all directions to engage potential players both locally and internationally.

close up of winners circle and club house
Winners circle in front of the club house at HPC.

Since returning to Hawaii in 2011 to rejoin the same club where he got his start in polo as a teenager, Agon has taken on the joint responsibilities of club operations director and polo school manager, obtaining his CPI certification in 2016. Traveling across the mainland from California to Florida over the course of his 25-year polo career, Agon played and worked for some very influential players in the polo industry before shifting his focus to leadership at HPC. “I do have some adults in my polo school program, but most recently my focus has been on the kids,” Agon revealed. On Wednesdays and Saturdays Agon works with eight to nine kids on the field and utilizes the arena 15 minutes away at neighboring facility Koko Crater Stables on Sundays. Demonstrating their investment in growing youth polo, HPC helps bring the dreams of determined students to fruition through sponsorship and scholarship opportunities.

aerial of Waimanalo town, home of Honolulu Polo Club
Aerial view of Waimanalo, home of Honolulu Polo Club.

Devoted to creating a positive outlet for local children, Agon also runs an at-risk youth polo program which works with the Olomana School to provide semester long courses for youth who enroll in the polo program. “At the beginning of the semester we walk the kids through basic grooming skills, tacking up, and basic riding skills three times per week,” Agon explained. “We then get polo specific, introducing mallets and teaching the basic rules of polo. At the end of the semester we put on a polo match between the students and invite their families to come and watch.” Agon has witnessed the positive influence polo and horses have made in the lives of the 14 students in his specialty program, emphasizing their talent but lack of activities to focus on. “I am hoping to tap into that resource to grow polo locally. My mission with these at-risk kids is to simply provide an opportunity for them to grow, learn to be responsible for another living thing, and empower them to realize they have many opportunities in life if they choose to take them.”

Waimanalo polo field
Waimanalo polo field with Mount Olomana in the background.

Integrating the rich history of Hawaii’s vibrant culture to create an experience uniquely their own, HPC ensures the preservation of polo on the island by cultivating it on the grassroots level. The ultimate players’ club, HPC is a shining beacon in the North Pacific, beckoning players to meet on “the gathering place” and enjoy polo year-round. “I think this is one of the best clubs to start at because here we play with the level of players we’re with,” Agon said. “Anybody can come out here and enjoy themselves in an unreal setting.” Knowledgeable and easy going, the HPC staff welcome you to become part of their growing polo ohana*.

For more information on Honolulu Polo Club and polo school, please visit their website at www.honolulupolo.org. “Like” Honolulu Polo Club on Facebook and follow them at @honolulupoloclub on Instagram.

*Kahuna refers to a Hawaiian shaman or wise man

*Ohana in Hawaiian culture means family in an extended sense of the term, including blood-related, adoptive or intentional

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