Leigh Fulkerson plays polo — possibly the world’s first extreme sport — in and around Austin, Texas. She also spends a ton of time wakesurfing on Lake Austin behind her Nautique G23. We asked her about both kinds of riding.
How long have you been playing polo?
I’ve been playing polo for five years. I’ve been riding all my life. My grandparents had the training track for Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Ironically, that’s where I also developed my love for water. I learned to ski on Lake Hamilton. My dad was a huge trick skier. I remember as a kid watching him dry start from the dock with a martini in hand.
What traits help you excel at it?
Polo is like a huge game of chess with a healthy dose of hockey. Throw in a little tennislike hand-eye coordination and you’ve got yourself a polo player. So it’s balance, hand-eye coordination and core strength.
What’s the biggest rush from playing a sport on horseback?
Just sitting on a 1,000-pound animal is a rush all in itself. Add seven other players, a big stick (mallet) and a little white ball — all at around 35 mph. Now you have a sport that can please any adrenaline junkie.
When did you start wakesurfing?
I started wakesurfing four summers ago. I dabbled in wakeboarding. My kids were little, so I didn’t have much time for the water. We’ve had a boat on Lake Austin for 18 years, starting with the family-friendly Sea Ray, then two Nautique wakeboats. But it wasn’t until we got the G23 that I really started spending some time on the water. And when I say time, I mean I’ve put 987 hours on it in four years.
Can you compare riding a polo pony to a wave?
Riding a horse and riding a wave are more similar than you would think. Both are unpredictable, and it takes balance and a ton of core strength to stay on both of them. One is just more fun to do in the summer.
Which sport attracts the cooler crowd?
Oh, now I’m going to make someone mad. Each sport has a pretty die-hard fan base. If I were to be honest, all the cool people do hang out on boats. Polo attracts more spectators; I just played a match for over 2,000 people here in Austin. In Argentina, the crowds swell to 30,000.
What kind of board do you ride?
I ride a custom Waterloo board that has been a game changer for my riding.
When’s your next session?
I just played polo this morning and am about to hit the lake right after this interview. Best way to spend a Texas summer: Sweat 5 pounds while playing polo, then go jump in the lake.
Looks like you have a lot of fun on the water.
We started the trend of the party wave. We were the first to surf doubles and triples behind a wakeboat. Our crowning achievement is four girls on four boards and no rope.