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Chris Dawson and Hawaii Polo Life Ohana

Chris Dawson, one of the biggest promoters of polo at the moment, spoke with CLICKPOLO about everything: his brand's growth, his projects for the future, and the present of polo in the US

Photo: Diego Cappella @cappella1971

Known worldwide for its beautiful volcanoes and the vast sea that surrounds its islands, Hawaii gives its visitors the unique opportunity to explore many different activities. However, surfing is not all that's available in Hawaii, as Chris Dawson, the creator of Hawaii Polo Life, noted. Hawaii is also a place of ranches and horses, a place where polo has been played for almost 150 years and a place that holds a very special relation with Argentina: it was the first nation to recognize Argentina's independence, back in 1818.

“The USPA will always be a dominant force in the world of polo”

Chris is the Founder and Visionary of the Hawaii Polo Life (HPL) clothing brand, the President and Founder of the Hawaii International Polo Association (HIPA), which was founded in 2013 and has three tenets: celebrating the sport of polo in Hawaii since 1880, developing an equine retirement facility for polo ponies and supporting at-risk youth via horsemanship programs.

Chris is currently based in Florida as his team, Hawaii Polo Life, is playing the new 16 goal Wellington Polo Tour. With the HPL brand and team, Chris has helped develop young players and women’s polo for more than a decade. This is what it means to be part of the Hawaii Polo Life family or, as it is said in Hawaiian, the Hawaii Polo Life Ohana.

Photo: Diego Cappella @cappella1971

-Chris, what is Hawaii Polo Life for you?

"Hawaii Polo Life is a lifestyle. I was fortunate to be born and raised in Hawaii surfing and got the opportunity to play polo. I created HPL to do two things: number one, to be a sports team, to compete. Supporting men's and women's competitive polo. Number two, to be a clothing brand. The idea of the clothing brand was to support the non-profit that I started, the Hawaii Polo Association. Celebrating polo in Hawaii since 1880 during the reign of our last king, King Kalakaua."

Photo: Diego Cappella @cappella1971

-What does it mean to see the growth of HPL, specially in Argentina?

"Two things: the growth of HPL brand and the recognition. When I started this project the first thing was to put Hawaii on the map, to remind people that we play polo going all the way back to 1880. A lot of people had no idea that polo was such a big part of Hawaii, they always think of Hawaii in terms of surfing and ocean activities, but they don’t think of Hawaii in terms of our horses, our cattle, our ranching industry and of course, polo. It was and still is a very impressive place to come and play polo.

The second part of polo that I think is important in terms of our relationship with Argentina is that I got the extraordinary opportunity to become friends with Adolfo Cambiaso, Mia and their family. I had so many Argentine friends over the years that I met and we immediately clicked and it seems to be a great relationship between Hawaii and Argentina but a lot of people don’t know some fascinating piece of information. Hawaii’s first king, Kamehameha, the king that united all of the Hawaiian islands 200 years ago, was the first to support Argentina’s independence. That’s a fascinating fact, that the friendship between Hawaii and Argentina goes all the way back from now, with myself and Adolfo, to 200 years ago, with the first king of Hawaii. I’m really proud to tell that story, I’m really proud to represent Hawaii and very proud to be a native Hawaiian. It’s exciting to be at Valiente, it’s exciting to be at La Dolfina and to tell that story."

Photo: Diego Cappella @cappella1971

-After many years playing polo, what is your dream?

"My dream to fulfill, as every parent -I have a 7-year-old boy named Kawailoa, native Hawaiian, who looks a lot like me who loves surfing and loves polo- is to see my son playing polo. I think as parents, the best thing we can do is to create opportunities. But at the end of the day, it’s your child who has to want that opportunity. So, I will do everything I can to create every opportunity for my son to follow me and hopefully he’ll want to do that.

“When I started this project the first thing was to put Hawaii on the map, to remind people that we play polo going all the way back to 1880”

The other thing that’s very important to me is hoping that other Hawaiian native children will follow our footsteps and play polo. Polo is a great way to see the world. Winston Churchill said it best: 'a polo handicap is your passport to the world.' In my case that’s definitely been true. Coming from Hawaii I had the opportunity to meet extraordinary people and visit the most extraordinary places to play polo.

In addition to that, it’s a great way to go to college. Back at home we are working with different programs to get native Hawaiian youth and Hawaii youth to get engaged in sports, specifically in polo, with the idea of having them use polo as a lens to see the world. That’s my great hope, to see them follow my footsteps."

Photo: Diego Cappella @cappella1971

-How does Hawaii support young players in America?

"Polo is a game of opportunities. You can be the best at whatever but if you have opportunities and don’t seize those opportunities, you won’t get far in the sport. This year I committed to playing in the 16-goal league in Wellington and the opportunity was presented to me by two Argentines: Robertito Zedda and Adolfo Cambiaso. They were very excited about doing a 16-goal league here in Wellington and explained to me like this. Number one there are a lot of private fields in Wellington that are not being utilized. If you own a private facility and spend all this money, you'd prefer to use it more than to stick and ball. You like to actually have some games on it, so we wanted to find some way to do that. The second thing is that the 16 goal level created a lot of opportunities for American polo players, Argentine players too, but specifically for them to jump and all of these teams. The third point is that I think that it is really important for team owners like myself who have the ambition to play in the U.S. Open Championship and the Gauntlet, the 22 goal level, that there is no mid-level to get organized, or, as I call, it, base camping. Jumping from 12 goals to 22 goals is an incredible jump, so Robertito and Adolfo said that this is a great place for all patrons and team owners to base camp, get organized, get horses, to play at this level. So, I committed myself one year ago to play at this level for those three reasons.

Photo: Diego Cappella @cappella1971

When I came here, I got injured, broke some ribs, and we had a very good team that was put together with Diego Cavanagh and Tatu Gomez Romero, who are brothers in law. It was great to have them together, plus Tatu also manages all my horses. We wanted to have an American in the team and we got Jake Klentner, what a beast! A young guy who is just getting bigger, stronger and smarter every day so he was our third player and I, of course, was the fourth. But I just wasn’t ready, I hadn't been riding and the team brought Jack Whitman to the table. They said “Jack´s our guy”. For me it was perfect. Two Americans playing with two Argentines in this tournament, it made a lot of sense.

After our first game something very interesting happened. Jack Whitman´s dad put out a post and tagged me and said “my son went off with ambitions to be a professional polo player at 13 years of age and he worked very hard and he saved his allowances and he went to the HPL website and bought four jerseys with his own money.” He posted photos of Jack wearing those jerseys and now Jack had the opportunity to play for us. It was an extraordinary opportunity to help Americans, under the guidance of two experienced Argentines, and I loved that exchange of knowledge from the older guys to the young guys. I always say Hawaii Polo Life is a family “Ohana”, that’s the Hawaiian word for family. I´m excited to welcome Jake and Jack to the Hawaii Polo Life Ohana. They are great guys, keep an eye on them. They are going to keep coming up harder and harder and I see great things for them."

-How do you see American polo?

"The USPA will always be a dominant force in the world of polo. I think we do a good job in bringing new players and new clubs into the sport. The big challenge is to continue to grow the sport. The content creation, the backstories, there are so many fascinating backstories, both American and non-American players. The USPA and the American players have an incredible platform to expand so I’m excited to see what happens.

I served on the USPA board for many years and it taught so much about the professional side, the women's side, the intercollegiate and interscholastic side, branding, marketing and all these different components come into place when we talk about growing a sport. That is something that everybody needs to keep in mind. We need more eyes on the sport so I appreciate everyone who creates content. The second thing is that we have to invest in our kids. Jack and Jake are two examples of that. I reward work ethic and I like people who work hard. Those guys I’m going to help and Jack and Jake are the epitome of hard working young Americans."

Photo: Diego Cappella @cappella1971


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