Find Fitness in Fringe Sports
Try five unexpected activities thriving in OKC
Aerial photo by Jamie Russell
David Ragland, founder of the OKC Polo Club, began his sporting career on a lark some 35 years ago, on some polo fields built by the late Bob Moore Sr. off Highway 9 outside Norman.
“I’d never ridden a horse. A friend of mine invited me to play, and I went twice and fell in love,” he says. “I played in Norman for 18 or 20 years.” Then polo in Oklahoma fizzled, and Ragland was forced to travel to Palm Springs and Jackson Hole to play. “I still had a company to run, but I traveled on the weekends to play polo.”
Five years ago, Ragland, weary of travel, formed the OKC Polo Club. “Traveling with 12-14 horses is a hassle, and I was just getting tired of doing it. I bought the property here, built barns and a polo field, and we began.” Just four years ago, Ragland was the only player in the club aside from his son, who doesn’t live in Oklahoma. Slowly, he built the club’s membership. An initial membership of six has grown to more than 20 today.
The OKC Polo Club is an active member of the United States Polo Association (USPA) and part of its Great Plains circuit – of which Ragland is currently serving as governor.
How to play it
A polo field is huge, 300 by 160 yards, because the horses can reach speeds of 35 mph. Nine football fields fit on one polo field. There are goals at each end, with goal posts set eight yards apart. Teams score by hitting the ball through the opposing team’s goal.
There are four players – numbered 1-4 – on each team, and two (mounted) referees are also on the field. Player 1 is offense, player 4 is mostly defense, and numbers 2 and 3 are mid-fielders, and do a little of each. Each player has a numerical handicap, and the individual handicaps make up the team’s handicap.
The game is played in 7.5-minute time periods called chukkers. Games at the OKC Polo Club are four, five or six chukkers long. Players will change horses between (and sometimes during) chukkers.
How to try it
The Oklahoma City Polo Club offers multi-week Polo School courses for beginners, as well as group and private lessons. Riders with no experience may be asked to start with lessons, not Polo School. Lessons are $100 per hour and include one lesson and one day of riding during the same week. Polo School, a 4- or 5-week course, costs $500 and includes two-hour lessons on Saturdays, plus a one-hour practice ride each following week. Students will learn riding skills, polo horsemanship, mallet swing technique, proper tack, rules of the game and team strategy. Horse and tack are provided. Visit okcpoloclub.com to learn more.
Drive past Lake Hefner on a windy day, and you’ll see people speeding across the water’s surface and launching high into the air, attached to colorful balloon-like sails. Are they daredevils? Certainly. Are they having the time of their lives? One hundred percent. The sport is called kiteboarding, and it’s only been around two decades.
One of the earliest adopters in the 405, self-described adrenaline fiend Daniel Nicholson, took to the new sport like a duck to water, largely because kiting enables the kiter to fly 20, 30, even 40 feet above the water and to do tricks. “I used to windsurf. I’d seen it back in 1996, and a guy I knew had a couple of them to sell, cheap,” says Nicholson. The first model of a commercial kiteboard was released in 1999, and Nicholson bought a 2000 model. “Those early ones were dangerous. Your ability to release the kite from your kite harness wasn’t easy.”
Nicholson recounts a tale of his near-drowning with the gallows humor of a seasoned extreme athlete, and encourages men and women interested in learning to kiteboard to spring for lessons. “The first three or four hours of lessons are worth every single dollar. You learn on safe equipment. I would have taken lessons if they had been available when I started. Kiting cannot be learned on YouTube.”
Once a person is competent with the equipment, Nicholson said, the real fun begins. “Out at Hefner, it’s mostly pleasure riders. It’s a sport that is as calm or as active as you want it to be. I ride all year, as long as the lake isn’t solid ice. It’s great to be able to go out and forget about anything else in life. It has an addictive component. The adrenaline, the freedom and the flying are amazing, and it’s an excellent workout.”
How to try it
Nicholson recommends working with 405 Kite, and specifically owner David Van Nostrand, whose dedication to safety, knowledge, patience and athleticism are the best in the area. “He will also help you choose the right equipment that you know is safe. Never buy from Craigslist. You don’t know what you’re getting; could be old stuff, could be bad stuff,” Nicholson says. With a few hours of lessons under your belt, prepare to enjoy your new sport into your 70s! Visit 405kite.com to schedule your lesson.
It’s a tennis/ping pong/squash mashup with a fun name, and once you’ve played, odds are good you’ll want to do it again. Pickleball is a full-fledged sensation that’s been sweeping the nation since its invention by families summering on Bainbridge Island near Seattle in the summer of 1965, and it’s growing more popular all the time. In 2009, Don Stanek and Ron Barnes started the pickleball scene in OKC. Their small pickleball group grew to 30 people and officially became a club in 2011. “By 2017, we had 274 members; in 2018 we were up to 406, and in January of 2019, we were at 663. Today we are at 706 members,” says Brad Merritt, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Pickleball Club.
Pickleball courts have popped up in church gymnasiums, community centers, gyms and outdoor courts. “We have 19 places to play pickleball in Norman, Edmond, at the First Baptist Church in Moore and all over Oklahoma City. Some people play every day,” Merritt says.
OKC’s Santa Fe Family Life Center, 6300 N Santa Fe, is a hub of pickleball activity most mornings, and ballers range in age from 40s on up. Many are former tennis players or other athletes who find the small size of the court to be a little easier on the knees and shoulders.
How to play it
More often than not, pickleball is played in doubles. The court is 20 feet by 44 feet, the same dimensions as a badminton court. There is a seven-foot no-volley zone on either side of the net, to prevent spiking the ball. The ball is served diagonally (starting with the right-hand service-square), and points can only be scored by the side that serves. The ball has to bounce once on each side before players can volley. Only the serving team can score; teams serve until they fault. Play continues until one side wins by scoring 11 points.
How to try it
The Greater Oklahoma City Pickleball Club offers beginner lessons at 9 a.m. every Wednesday at the Santa Fe Life Center. Guest day passes are $8; the club will loan you a paddle. A second regular beginner class is in the works for Saturday evenings, contact the club for details. Annual membership to the GOKCPBC is $40; fees for the 19 play locations vary. For details visit greaterokcpickleballclub.wildapricot.org/.
The English game we know as cricket today probably began in the 13th century as a game called club ball. Its first official rules were codified in the 16th century, and the game spread beyond its mother country into India and beyond in the early 1700s. The game made it to the States in the 18th century, and to Oklahoma even later. It’s a bat-and-ball game, with teams attacking and defending each other’s wickets, giving it similarities to baseball and soccer.
Mahesh Krishnan, president of the OKC Strikers Cricket Team, has been devoted to the game since boyhood. “In India, sports are not as big, or a direction to go into, except for cricket. It’s the number one or two entertainment there, and every Indian person grows up loving cricket.” The game is immensely popular in all British Commonwealth nations.
The cricketer most beloved? Krishnan doesn’t hesitate. “Sachin Tendulkar,” he says. “He is the Michael Jordan of India.” A child prodigy, Tendulkar holds the record as the highest run scorer in the world, and began his career in international play at 16.
Members of the OKC Strikers hail from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, England, New Zealand and the U.S. Krishnan has played his whole life. After attending Wichita State University, his career in IT took him to Cleveland, Los Angeles and, finally, Oklahoma City. He took cricket with him to each new city, and would like to see it become a mainstay in Oklahoma. There are now more than 25 members of the Strikers, which now fields two teams. They hold demonstrations on a regular basis and welcome new players, or those who want to learn the sport.
“To be a good batsman, you need good hand-eye coordination, powerful arms and stamina. In outdoor play, the field is 50 by 44 yards,” he says.
How to play it
Cricket is a complex sport, with various match lengths. Here is a simple overview: Two teams of 11 play on an oval-shaped grass field, with a flat strip called a pitch in the center. The pitch is 22 yards long, with a wicket at each end, each made of two posts with a crosspiece laid atop them.
A player from one team is the bowler, which is similar to a pitcher. The bowler throws the ball toward the other team’s wicket, which has a batsman standing in front of it. The batsman must defend the wicket by hitting the ball, after which s/he runs and “exchanges ends” (a.k.a. trades places) with another batsman, thus earning points. The opposing team fields the ball and attempts to get the batsman out by throwing it and hitting their wicket.
How to try it
The Strikers is a very open club, so if cricket tickles your fancy, head for a Strikers practice. You’ll find them each Thursday from 5:30-8 p.m. at Douglass Park, located at the corner of NE 4th and Eastern. Just show up! Or visit the Strikers’ web site, okcstrikers.com, and learn about other events.
The Oklahoma Curling Club was founded in 2010, but the sport’s origins date back to 16th-century Scotland, where a similar game was played on frozen lochs and ponds. Captured in the paintings of Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the sport was first referred to in writing in 1540. By the 19th century, curling had spread to chilly countries around the globe. Olympic curling was first played in 1924. Nearly a century later, ex-Canadian and dedicated player Jonathan Havercroft joined forces with cousin-in-law Fred Mischler, and the Oklahoma Curling Club slid into being. Today, there are between 60 and 70 members playing in three leagues each year.
How to play it
Aside from some unfamiliar terms, it’s a straightforward game much like shuffleboard. The playing field, a rectangle 138 by 14 feet, is called a sheet (as in sheet of ice). There’s a bullseye shape 12 feet from each end. The middle of the bullseye is called the button; the rings around it are called the rings; the ring-and-button area is called the house. So far so good?
Two four-player teams take turns throwing stones toward each other’s houses … which, fortunately, are not made of glass. Stones are literally that: 38- to 44-pound hunks of granite with handles on top. The last person to throw is called the skip. That person is also the team’s strategist, and will tell the others where to try to throw their stones.
To throw one, a player braces herself at the end of the sheet, resting her feet against a starting block-like piece of rubber called a hack. She pushes off, slides across the ice and releases the stone before she gets to a line called the hog line. From there, the stone careens toward its prey: other stones, the rings and the button.
This is where the sweepers come in. The skip stands back behind the house, giving direction. The thrower is sliding and throwing. The other two teammates are the sweepers. They use brooms to scrub the ice in front of the stone, which changes the surface of the sheet and can make a stone travel 8-12 feet farther. A team with a righteous sweeping game can also alter the stone’s course. The team with the most stones closest to the button after the last throw wins.
How to try it
The Oklahoma Curling Club regularly hosts Learn to Curl (LTC) sessions. For $25, you get a two-hour curling lesson, including the basics of delivery, sweeping and scoring, and plenty of throwing and sweeping. Wear warm, stretchy clothing and rubber-soled tennis shoes. Find the LTC schedule and more information at okcurling.com.