Bocce Me, Bambino
We don’t just love Costa Mesa for the beautiful weather, beach-close location and endless options for fun, food and festivities – but for the kinds of people this city attracts. Our neighbors have got to be the very best thing about this community and what make it such a unique place!
And today’s featured Costa Mesans are nothing if not unique – having created a local, after-work, social league putting a fresh, modern spin on an ancient sport. The game is bocce ball. The place is Gunwhale Ales. The night is Tuesday and the Costa Mesans are Rachel Wong and Corey Walker, co-owners of Left Coast Sports.
If you’re new to Costa Mesa, this is the perfect opportunity to get out, socialize and enjoy some friendly competition in a cozy, taproom setting. If you’re not new to Costa Mesa, you should come out anyway!
Bocce and Brew: After-Work Pub Games On Tap With Left Coast Sports At Gunwhale Ales, Costa Mesa
Photos: Brandy Young
“Bocce transcends age,” said Walker. “Any adult can play in our league.”
Wong and Walker – a young couple who both juggle day jobs – operate Left Coast Sports as a social-sports side hustle true to their athletic interests.
“We’ve both played sports our whole life,” said Walker. “Social sports, like flag football, city-league softball or basketball. But then we started hearing from our friends in the Midwest, and on the East Coast, about all these adult bocce ball leagues popping up. We couldn’t find one here in Orange County so we thought it’d be fun to be the ones to bring it here.
“We liked the idea of starting something more inviting and inclusive for those who don’t want to go out and play, like, flag-football, but still enjoy the friendly competition and socializing.”
Wong and Walker play to their respective strengths when divvying up the day-to-day of running a bocce league.
“I just hate talking on the phone!” said Wong. “So Corey is the phone guy and the people guy. He acts as ref – measuring the ball distance and getting the games going with rock-paper-scissors.
“I do a lot more of the behind-the-scenes stuff, like sending out email notifications, social media, letting our players know if there will be a food truck here at Gunwhale on game night.”
Deboccery Starts Here: Bosses Of Bocce, Corey Walker and Rachel Wong, at Gunwhale Ales in Costa Mesa
Photos: Brandy Young
Even though bocce ball may seem new and kind of exotic here on the Southern California scene, it’s actually quite an old game, and very popular worldwide.
“Bocce is the third most-played sport in the world,” said Wong. “We were first introduced to it when we were volunteering at the Special Olympics.”
“I like how simple it is,” said Walker. “You really only need eight balls and an empty space to do it.”
“Plus, you get to drink beer which is a major bonus,” laughed Wong.
“There’s definitely a ‘beer curve’ though,” added Walker. “It’s like your game slowly improves as you relax into it with beers #1 and #2, but as you round the corner on beers #3 and #4 your game drops off a cliff. So watch your curve.”
And if you’re coming to play, bring your sense of humor along.
“You see all sorts of crazy team names,” said Wong. “Bocce Balboa, I Wanna Dance With Some Bocce, The Big Lebocces, Bocce-lism…are some that come to mind. And the little white target ball is called a ‘pallina,’ so lots of players will jokingly refer to it as the ‘pashmina’ or ‘polenta’ – give it funny nicknames and stuff like that. People who like puns will love bocce!”
The league isn’t just helping locals connect with each other. Wong and Walker have expanded their social circle, too.
“We’ve made some new friends through the bocce games and that’s really fun,” said Walker. “It’s competitive but also really laid-back at the same time. A good way to spend a Tuesday evening and get to know some people.”
Team ‘Bad n Bocce’ at Tuesday Night Bocce League, Gunwhales Ales, Costa Mesa
Photo: Brandy Young
One of the people they’ve gotten to know is CJ Connolly, team captain for Bad n Bocce, who first caught wind of the league while visiting the brewery.
“I was in here at Gunwhale having a beer and I saw this flyer posted,” said Connolly. “Some friends and I had been talking about doing a weekly kickball or softball league, but this sounded a bit less physical so I could get more friends to sign up.
“While bocce seems pretty relaxed from the outside, it can definitely get the competitive juices flowing. You get that heart racing. Our team is a group of ten or twelve people so if someone can’t make it, we have substitutes.”
Connolly’s teammate, Billy Chandler, had some beach bocce experience before joining the Left Coast Sports league, but found indoor bocce to be a whole other beast.
“In beach bocce, the sand makes the ball land and stay in place,” said Chandler. “This league court is more compact and there’s much more of a roll to it. So a backspin throw helps. You need finesse.”
“This league is competitive in a fun way, but ultimately everyone’s here to just hang out and have fun,” added Connolly. “No one gets too serious about it. They get just serious enough.”
Photo: Brandy Young
When it came time to choose a location for the bocce league, it made sense Wong and Walker would look to their own backyard.
“We live in Costa Mesa and we like to go to all the local breweries,” said Walker. “When we got the idea for the bocce league, we just got to chatting with some of the brewery owners. The guys here at Gunwhale said, ‘Hey, go ahead and let’s give it a shot,’ and so here we are.”
“Even though both Corey and I grew up in Huntington Beach, my grandmother moved to the part of Costa Mesa behind the Fairgrounds back in the 1960s,” said Wong. “So my family’s been a part of Costa Mesa for my whole life. I definitely see the city changing, lately. Hip restaurants like Taco Brat and Social are more the norm, but the city still has a cool, under-the-radar vibe to it.”
“I see Costa Mesa as a good mix of all of The OC,” added Walker. “Enough real life to not make you go crazy, like living in those cookie-cutter parts of Orange County. I’ve lived lots of different places and what I really like about Costa Mesa is the healthy mix of transplants and lifers, Californians and not-Californians.
“Plus, we’re so close to the beach! We’re always down in Newport and Huntington, and at the dog park with our dogs.”
And on Tuesday nights, you know where to find them.
“We invite everyone to sign up and come play bocce* with us!” said Wong.
“Or at the very least, come say hi and have a beer,” added Walker with a smile. ♥
*To sign up for the next Left Coast Sports Bocce Ball League, visit: www.leftcoastsportsoc.com
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