Taking a Closer Look at Urban Handball
If you’ve spent any amount of time in New York City, you’ll know that many New Yorkers are athletic types—nary is there an afternoon in any season that you won’t find somebody playing something somewhere. On the way to work or a business meeting, you may have noticed fenced-in courts that feature large, rectangular concrete barriers that look like what would happen if you crossed a squash court with the Berlin Wall. These are urban handball courts, the site of much blood, sweat, and money being spilled.
The most famous proving ground for the urban handball elite is the West Fourth Street Courts (a.k.a. “The Cage”), located in NYC’s Greenwich Village. Here, whenever the courts are dry, you may find some upstart locals, duking it out in open handball combat. Or you might just come across a professional like Timbo Gonzalez, who is sponsored by Red Bull, and will put a hurting on you, handball-style. (Don’t confuse his brand of handball with the European-style played in the Olympics; this one is played with a much smaller, bouncier ball on courts that are made of stone versus wood.)
How do you play? It’s either mano-a-mano or two-on-two (doubles), with two chances to serve over the line, like tennis. But that’s where the parallels end with the world of Federer and Serena. In this game, you have to score on your serve, and the first baller to 21 wins. Plus it doesn’t exactly encourage a country club atmosphere.
“The games in Manhattan, you get to see more intensity, because the guys throw up a lot of money,” explains Gonzalez of his sport. Since the setup is so easy, you can find urban handball courts in all five boroughs.
Not every court is tournament-ready. Gonzalez is actually hoping the sport sees enough competition-love so that it might someday become an Olympic sport in its own right. (There are urban handball tournaments all over the country at the moment, with events scheduled in Las Vegas, Venice Beach, California, and other hot-spots.) There’s even a U.S. Wall Ball Association. The ultimate prize? The “King of the Courts” crown, which Gonzalez has already won once.
Watch Timbo in action below.