Danish Polo Players in Brooklyn Are Almost Unseen – Except to Those Who Care the Most

Danes Skyscrapers

Danish Polo Players in Brooklyn Are Almost Unseen – Except to Those Who Care the Most

In Brooklyn’s century-old Metropolitan Pool and Bathhouse—one of a precious few indoor pools in a city of nine million people—an unlikely celebration of life, family, friendship and athletic prowess recently took place, with New York City’s hippest population blissfully ignorant of what for some was a seminal event.

None of the shoppers waiting in line at the Apple Store on Bedford Avenue on a sunny Saturday afternoon paused to stick their heads in at the city-owned Metropolitan Pool, located in the heart of trendy Williamsburg. If they had, they’d have witnessed an intrepid group of 15 travelers representing the Kolding Water Polo Club—as in Kolding, Denmark—scrimmaging against the Brooklyn Wets, the borough’s own Masters polo team. And, among throngs of folks feeding at fancy food trucks on nearby Berry Street, none knew to offer congratulations to Mikkel Frandsen, a Kolding club member whose 50th birthday celebration spurred this noteworthy New York City experience—available only to those in the know.

Danes_Best_Standing

Photo Courtesy: Frederick Weiss

“Our good friend Mikkel invites us to New York for his birthday and of course we have to play water polo,” said Rene Piper, a spry 63-year-old who has been with the Kolding club for 55 years.

Played in this country primarily by Californians, among its practitioners water polo elicits a zealotry unsurpassed in other sports.

“When you meet water polo players, we love each other and understand each other,” said Piper, whose sons Anders and Kasper are also on the squad. “I have two kids. My friend’s two kids… we are like a family.”

Keld_Pedersen

Photo Courtesy: Sebastian Pedersen

Those additional “kids”—Sebastian and Silas—are sons of Keld Pedersen, the club’s former coach who is a spiritual inspiration for the traveling Danes, having passed away from pancreatic cancer three weeks ago.

“He was a great man; he was my coach, my mentor, my teammate for at least two decades,” said Frandsen, whose meticulously planned celebration with friends from Denmark included polo, their favorite group activity.

Describing how this match came to be, Sebastian Pedersen explained that a polo adventure in New York would make the Kolding club’s trip that much more meaningful—and soften the blow of the all-too-recent recent loss of his father.

“I thought, well if we could find a team to play (against), how awesome would that be?” Pedersen said.

A chance call to Granger Abuhoff, the Wets’ manager, created the opportunity for an international match in Williamsburg, where the Wets’ home pool is located. A tech entrepreneur and water polo coach who has steered the Wets since the club’s founding in 2014, Abuhoff was delighted with the event, if not the outcome. His team lost 14-4 and it was not really that close.

Danes Action

Photo Courtesy: Robert Lindo

“It was fun to have them here—they have a great spirit,” he said about the Wets’ Danish opponents. “It brought a new energy to have an international game here and to go out for drinks afterwards”

After the match Sebastian emphasized the short- and long-term bonds that bind his club.

“(Our) team is one big family which comes from generations,” he said. “You pass it on; now I have a son; he’s going to play water polo.

“The young guys are also starting to have families,” he added, projecting how his sport will persist in Denmark, which is not known for its polo play. “We are trying to make the new generation of the water polo team. That’s how much we love it.”

The match itself was most compelling for the visitors, many of whom mentioned Keld Pedersen’s absence. According to his son—who along with his brother Silas is a mainstay of the Kolding squad—Keld was present in Williamsburg, if only in spirit.

“I believe he was here with us today,” Sebastian said of his father, a bear of a man remembered as his generation’s best Danish polo player. “I believe he goes everywhere.”

Many emotions swirled about for birthday boy Frandsen, who scored three times. He is no longer in Denmark—five years ago he relocated to the States, first to New York City and then to San Francisco—but his connection to his teammates is life-long.

“The reason we’re all here is the love of the game,” he said. “I’ve been playing on this team for 36 years—most of them with the same players. “We’re not as fast as we used to be, but we have a lot of fun.”

Saturday’s match was not only a celebration of life and friendship. It also showcased the lengths polo players will go for their sport, as evidenced by the unplanned arrival in Williamsburg of Janelle Laros, a 22-year-old from Hawaii who’s played her whole life. Laros showed up hoping for casual competition—and unexpectedly found herself in the middle of an international contest.

“I’ve been in the city for five months trying to get involved with a water polo team,” she said between shifts in the water with the Wets. “Getting in the pool and playing with some guys, I don’t care. It’s water polo!”

Asked if it’s surprising to find a pool in Brooklyn with water polo in it, Laros added: “This is the first one that popped up and looked promising. I showed up and they let me play.”

Which seemed entirely perfect for this occasion; a polo player searching for a game in one of the world’s most crowded cities stumbling on a match that carried surprising significance. Abuhoff, the Wets manager and coach said his club welcomes new players—and now the team has another.

The idea that polo exists in New York City was still novel even to those who experienced it at the Metropolitan Pool.

“I didn’t even know Brooklyn had a water polo team!” said Frederick Weiss, a bystander who is friends with the Danes. “I love the logo—the “Wets” allusion to the Nets logo.”

Silas Pederson, Sebastian’s brother, was impressed to almost puzzlement that polo could occur in such an unlikely spot.

“It’s always a great experience to have new water polo friends all over the world,” Silas said. “It’s amazing to be in a pool in the middle of Brooklyn.”

Because so little water polo is played in this city— throughout the five boroughs it exists in only a handful of pools—Laros’ timely discovery is almost as noteworthy as the Kolding club’s visit. But, to paraphrase an old adage, wherever a polo player goes, there’s likely a match to be found. Even if only a select few know: those who care most for their sport.

“I feel pretty tired just after playing for a few minutes, but it feels really good,” said Laros, now the Wets’ newest member. “I definitely plan to be back.”

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Kim
1 month ago

Wonderfull story – in general, water sports deserves much more attention and credit!

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