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Helping Hospice through polo

Diane Rivas stands beside Jed Ednie, president of the Mauna Kea Polo Club, on his horse, Fancy. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Diane Rivas stands beside Jed Ednie, president of the Mauna Kea Polo Club, on his horse, Fancy. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Carlos and Diane Rivas pose for a photo at a rodeo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANE RIVAS FOR NHN)
Carlos and Diane Rivas pose for a photo at a rodeo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANE RIVAS FOR NHN)
<p>Polo is played at the Waikii Ranch Polo Field every Sunday from Oct. 6 to Dec. 15. Players compete during a game on Nov. 17. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Polo is played at the Waikii Ranch Polo Field every Sunday from Oct. 6 to Dec. 15. Players compete during a game on Nov. 17. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Carlos Rivas barbecues in an undated photo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANE RIVAS FOR NHN)</p>

Carlos Rivas barbecues in an undated photo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANE RIVAS FOR NHN)

<p>A polo player readies her horse at the Waikii Ranch Polo Field. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

A polo player readies her horse at the Waikii Ranch Polo Field. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Teams compete at the Waiki’i Ranch Polo Field on Sunday, Nov. 17. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Teams compete at the Waiki’i Ranch Polo Field on Sunday, Nov. 17. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Teams compete at the Waiki’i Ranch Polo Field on Sunday, Nov. 17. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Teams compete at the Waiki’i Ranch Polo Field on Sunday, Nov. 17. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Diane Rivas attends a polo game at Waikii Ranch. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Diane Rivas attends a polo game at Waikii Ranch. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Carlos Rivas at an event in an undated photo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANE RIVAS FOR NHN)</p>

Carlos Rivas at an event in an undated photo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANE RIVAS FOR NHN)

<p>Carlos Rivas announces at a rodeo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANE RIVAS FOR NHN)</p>

Carlos Rivas announces at a rodeo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANE RIVAS FOR NHN)

<p>A point is made as the polo ball passes the goal posts. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

A point is made as the polo ball passes the goal posts. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Polo players wait on the sidelines for the game to begin at the Waiki’i Ranch Polo Field. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Polo players wait on the sidelines for the game to begin at the Waiki’i Ranch Polo Field. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

It’s been said that playing polo is like trying to play golf during an earthquake. If that’s the case, it would be difficult to find a more entertaining spectator sport. Combine that excitement with sipping something bubbly and laughing with friends while divot stomping and it’s the formula for a perfect Sunday. Next weekend, Hawaii Island residents will have the opportunity to partake in such folly — all for a good cause.

Waiki’i Ranch will provide the stunning backdrop as polo fans gather on Dec. 1 for the Mauna Kea Polo Club’s First Carlos Rivas Memorial Polo Tournament. The benefit polo game will raise funds for Hospice of Kona and North Hawaii Hospice, Inc.

Carlos Rivas, who died away in 2006, was one of Hawaii’s great sports announcers. Not only is he credited with bringing the organized game of polo to Hawaii Island, he was also a radio station manager, canoe paddler on Duke Kahanamoku’s crew, championship swimmer, advertising executive, columnist, storyteller, rodeo official, polo announcer, and polo player, to name a few.

“Carlos did a whole bunch of things in his life and one of them was to promote Waikoloa Village and Waikoloa Stables,” said Sam Patton from Mauna Kea Polo Club. “One of the things he started was indoor arena polo at Waikoloa Stables way back in 1974. Before that, there had been ranch polo played on the Big Island, also called ‘paniolo polo,’ but it was very casual and disorganized. Carlos brought over some guys from the polo club in Oahu and actually got a real, functioning polo club started and that was the Waikoloa polo club, which is the direct organizational precursor of the Mauna Kea polo club. After that, polo was played in various other locations like Parker Ranch arena, Kohala Ranch, and Waiki’i Ranch.”

Known as the “Game of Kings,” polo is one of the oldest team sports in history. According to the United States Polo Association website, its origin is unknown, but it is believed that Persia or Central Asia used polo as a way to prepare warriors for battle as early as 2,000 years ago.

One of the first recorded polo tournaments took place around 600 B.C., and the sport spread around the world from there. In 1869, England held its first game followed by the first tournament in 1876. Polo came to America that same year and the United States Polo Association was created in 1890. Today, more than 250 active clubs are part of the USPA and host some of the best polo in the world.

One of those clubs is the Mauna Kea Polo Club, established in the mid 1970s. Their mission is to promote and expand the sport of polo in Hawaii through continued education, sportsmanship, member support and community outreach.

The history of Polo in Hawaii dates back to the late 19th century and is closely associated with the paniolo culture of the Hawaiian cowboy. The paniolo tradition is a cultural blending of Asian, Polynesian, and Western influences. Its colorful, and dramatic history helps define Hawaiian polo. The exciting, romantic equine sport of polo was a natural extension of the paniolo’s love of horses and quest for adventure. The sport has become more refined and organized since its humble beginnings, but sill carries with it traces of paniolo influence.

“We think it’s a great sport and it’s clearly worth the effort,” said Patton. “Because Carlos is the person who got it started here on the Big Island and he was a polo announcer among many other things, we owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Rivas became well known for announcing Hawaii Island baseball games in the early 1960s, as well as recreating mainland baseball games for Hawaii radio prior to the days of instant play-by-play, ticker tape commentary.

His varied career also included announcing indoor polo on Oahu at the Honolulu Stadium in the ’50s and promoting Waikoloa Village in the 1970s. It was 1974 when Rivas brought polo back to Hawaii Island and started the indoor arena polo at the Waikoloa Village Stables. His wife, Diane Rivas, did the timing and scoring for the matches. Rivas then helped form the Waikoloa Polo Club with the assistance of Fred and Murph Dailey from the Mokuleia Polo Club on Oahu. He later announced outdoor polo games at Parker Ranch and Waiki’i Ranch polo fields.

Sunday’s match honors the enormous contribution of Rivas to the sport of polo on Hawaii Island.

“It’s going to be an excellent event,” says Sally Rice, one of the benefit organizers. “It’s toward the end of the season and the players, who were good to begin with, have gotten even better over the season, which started in October. It’s a beautiful venue at Waiki’i and lovely weather — cool and green and beautiful. There will be a potluck after the game so people are welcome to bring food, or to come early with a picnic and tailgate.”

The Waiki’i Ranch polo grounds will open at 11 a.m. and a preliminary polo match will be played at 1 p.m. The Carlos Rivas Memorial Polo Tournament will begin at 2:30 p.m. Bob Hogan, well-known Hawaii polo player and polo announcer, will present the games. Lauren Hickey, Miss Hawaii United States, will present the trophies to the winning team.

“It’s gotten to be very popular,” said Rice. “The crowds have increased over the season. People have heard about it and come to watch. They’ve enjoyed it so much that they come back the next week. We hope that we’ll get a lot of community support for this event and hopefully it will turn into a really nice annual fundraiser for hospice.”

The Mauna Kea Polo Club encourages the community to take part in the event and experience what it’s like to be a part of the historical game of polo. Club organizers boast that when players and horses take to the Waiki’i Ranch fields it reinvigorates a dormant scene out of thin air, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

“The idea is just to get out there and have fun in a family environment,” said Patton. “The cooperation between the horse and rider is just outstanding. The better horse and riders appear as one unit. To see these animals at full gallop, all four feet off the ground, and the guys taking neck shots under the neck of the horse at full gallop is just stunning. These horses are really beautiful and they are really well-trained, particularly for the advanced teams. It’s a really an exciting sport.”

To get to Waiki’i Ranch Polo Field take the Hawaii Belt Road (Hwy 190), turn onto Saddle Road (Rd 200) toward Hilo. Drive seven miles and look for the sign “Polo Today.” Turn right at the upper Waiki’i Ranch main entrance gate at the gate house.

Admission price is $5 per person (12 and under are free). Season tickets are available for $50. Guests are encouraged to bring a chair, warm jacket, boots for stamping divots, coolers, and snacks. For more information, visit www.maunakeapoloclub.com.