|Photo by Michael Bulbenko|
He’s known for helping create one of the world’s largest information technology companies with Steve Jobs 38 years ago. But Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak also is an early pioneer of a little-known sport related to a certain popular game played in Wellington.
“The Woz” who will speak at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium’s gala April 4 at The Breakers, was one of the first players of Segway polo. Founded 10 years ago, the team sport is essentially an electric version of the traditional game played on horses.
“We invented the sport right here in Silicon Valley,” Wozniak says over the phone from California. “We started out with a bunch of geeks who wanted to own Segways, and we wanted to look for a way to play a game with them, so we invented the game of Segway polo.”
The sport mimics elements of the original game: Riding on Segways, athletes on five-member teams use mallets to hit a foam ball over a goal line during eight-minute chukkers. Participants must wear helmets and can only play with Segways that travel no faster than 12.5 mph. The playing field is roughly half the size of a traditional field.
“The horse polo is much further evolved,” Wozniak acknowledges; for instance, Segway polo players don’t have handicaps. But the game has gained international interest: After the first five teams formed in California, including Wozniak’s Silicon Valley Aftershocks, others followed suit in countries such as Barbados, Lebanon, Germany and New Zealand. The global popularity led to the establishment of a governing body—the International Segway Polo Association, which set officials rules and regulations such as a list of acceptable tires—as well as a world championship game, which Wozniak sponsors, called the Woz Challenge Cup.
“The European teams are so strong that the California teams have kind of reduced to one or two teams,” Wozniak says. “We’re a little low on the athletic scale. But every year when the championships come up, we get together and try to field some teams.”
Where will Segway polo be in the next few years? Wozniak predicts the game could become an Olympic sport.
“It’s a little slow. It’s not like seeing people running and doing incredibly human things,” he admits. “But, on the other hand, there are events in the Olympics, like canoeing and crew, that are kind of slow, too.”
Perhaps in 2016.