The Sandbanks Festival
Picture the scene; two days of fast-paced action as some of the world’s top polo players battle it out against a backdrop of some of the finest coastline in Britain. Then when the sun starts to slide into the horizon, the gathered thousands party into the summer night to some of the finest DJs on the music scene.
Running for twelve years and still going strong, there is no stopping the enthusiasm of those who flock to the beautiful beaches of Sandbanks, Dorset. Held on the second weekend in July to join in with what has become known as “the Sandbanks weekend” in the sporting and social calendar of the south coast of England.
Curiosity brought people to watch high-quality beach polo at Sandbanks for the first few years but since then the parties, hospitality, fashion shows, international volleyball, and beach rugby and, for the last three years, the SandfestUK music festival have kept the audience guessing and wanting more.
Johnny Wheeler, the man behind Sandpolo explains. “We came up with the idea 13 years ago. Polo was confined, restricted really, by the field polo clubs, with little value to the spectator aspect of the sport.” In its conventional form of field polo, the spectators are distanced from the action, the ball is hard to see, and for the casual or first-time spectator, it can seem confusing. So, Sandpolo was born, a spectacular, high-speed sport where the spectators are right on top of the action, where they can see up close the skill of the players and their ponies and the contact made between them. The arena is smaller and the extra-large orange ball is easier to see as it flies around at high velocity. It’s no wonder that it has been compared to the high speed excitement of ice hockey. And the beautiful Sandbanks peninsula doesn’t hurt. As Johnny says, “Where better than a blue flagged beach?” And the players that are attracted? Most of the top park polo players attend, although the sport is different, they attract all the arena polo specialists and most of the top players are attracted to the Sandbanks event. They haven’t quite yet managed to attract a 10-goal handicap high goal polo player, but Chris Hyde, the best in the world, 10-goal arena player has played in past years. The event has four teams confirmed, but the players will be named a lot closer to the event. As Johnny explains, “players get injured and may be involved in high goal competitions, which affects their availability, and you might not know until a week before the event.” Even so, the event is incredibly popular with players and Sandpolo never fails to attract top players.
The same can be said of the crowds. There are more spectators at Sandpolo than at any of the high goal competitions, places that are the bastions of polo; Cowdray Park, the Guards Polo Club, and Hurlingham, and that in turn is a huge factor to the quality players that attend. “Players like to play in front of a large crowd” as Johnny says.
A firm playing surface achieved by producing a heavily watered beach arena is surrounded by elaborate marquees, staging, and grandstands above the high-water mark. This is the stage for the British Beach Polo Championships, otherwise known as Sandpolo which has become the “must go to” two-day event. With a ticketed capacity of 5,000 on-site, the polo can also be enjoyed by spectators along the beach from a raised sand platform and gives polo exposure to a wide variety of people and business platforms who may not have experienced it before.
The polo is played under the authority of governing body, the Hurlingham Polo Association, and is made up of four competitive medium goal teams of three players. Each team plays on both days with a further exhibition game on the Saturday. A charity race is also held between the two fastest ponies on each day. International teams are welcome and bring an interesting dimension, and over the years the event has welcomed Australian, South African, Argentinian, Irish and Welsh teams among others.
Generous corporate sponsorship from established brands such as Sunseeker, Barclays Wealth, Audi and Oakley has ensured the quality of the event remains high and guests are treated to the best level of service. And when the chukkas stop the musical talents of Idris Elba, Tinie Tempah and Trevor Nelson ensure the beach parties stay energised until the early hours of the morning. This year the outstanding Arts Club house band will perform on the Friday evening with Radio One DJ Nick Grimshaw hosting the polo closing party on the Saturday.
After the sport has finished on the Saturday, Sandfest begins. It attracts a unique audience of music and beach lovers on the Sunday from midday to 10 p.m. This year’s line-up includes Chase and Status, Example, Yxng Bane and Hannah Wants. Sun-soaked ‘Sandfesters’ will feast on the best DJs and live performances and indulge in the exquisite beach food and bustling outside bars.
With continued support from the local authorities, the Sandbanks Festival will carry on adjusting to the ever-changing social dynamic while staying true to its mission of bringing a broad range of people together to enjoy being entertained on the spectacular Sandbanks beach. Why not come along for this year’s weekender across 12-14 July?