I’m seated on the second level of a bus headed to Belfast, UK, looking out on familiar gray skies and rain soaked windows. Chasing Sarasota has just finished two shows at the WFDF Junior World Championships in Dublin, Ireland and I’m looking forward to a bit of travel. I don’t have a plan or a place to stay the night – just the hope that I am on the right bus. I lay my head on my overflowing backpack, throw on my headphones and wait for the adventure to begin. The bus stops in the right place, but in a country where I have all the wrong currency. Trading in my Euro for Sterling, I start to survey the city.
As the sun goes down on many hotels with no vacancy, I stumble upon lodging that will quickly burn a hole in my wallet and leave me with no spending money. I send an e-mail to the friends I made in Dublin and ask if they know of a couch I could crash on. Within hours, a Belfast ultimate player, whom I had never met, got in touch and offered up a place to stay. Not only did I get my own room with a futon, but Adam (my gracious host for the night) cooked some homemade stew, shuttled me around in his car and pointed me in the right direction for Belfast adventure. I had gone from no plan and no lodging to first-rate accommodation in a foreign country within 24 hours.
In a lot of ways this seems normal to an ultimate player. Crashing on random couches and receiving generous hospitality from strangers is commonplace. When I recount this and similar experiences to non-Frisbee players, it doesn’t seem so normal – the stories are met with wonder and disbelief. Over 17 days in Europe, I paid for only 3 nights of lodging. During 15+ North American stops on the Chasing Sarasota tour, I didn’t spend a dollar on a hotel. This isn’t just luck though, and this isn’t how most people are able to travel. It is a direct product of the ultimate Frisbee community and the type of people who play this sport. There is a caliber of person, a culture in the community and shared ethos that makes Ultimate unique.
In the nearly 20 cities around the world I visited, the ultimate communities held shockingly similar personalities. Whether you had known them for 10 years or 10 minutes, they were generous with their homes, socially engaging, eager to talk about the sport and had a thirst for adventure. Before every show, the theater lobbies held an infectious energy and excitement. Each Q&A had questions filled with insight, humor and passion for the sport. The after-parties were filled with people looking to share some laughs, drink a few pints and make lasting memories. Whether I was in Portland, Washington D.C., Ottawa or Dublin, the atmosphere was the same. Wherever my car was parked that night, I immediately had hundreds of new friends – all because we throw the same 175 g disc. It was humbling and exciting to find this network of fantastic people in any city I visited.
The sociology of ultimate is intriguing. Does the community attract a certain type of person or do people assimilate to the cultural norms of the group? I’m not a sociologist, nor do I have the ability to give full attention to this question, but I tend to think it is a combination of the two. A certain type of person is drawn to the sport and community. Once that person is a part of the “in group,” they learn the shared vocabulary, the etiquette on and off the field and the social norms and activities that dominate the culture. Influencing the behaviors of “in group” members happens in any sub-culture, but the values and behaviors shaping ultimate players is unique. Those values and behaviors have led to some of the funniest and most important memories of my life.
The ultimate community frequently has discussions about the direction of the sport – professional leagues, media exposure and how it can hit the big time. The passion ultimate players bring to their game and the desire to grow the sport is intoxicating, but those are not the reasons I have played ultimate for the past 8 years. I was drawn to the sport because of the way the disc flies, the competition and the opportunity to continue playing a team sport long past my Pee-Wee football glory days, but I’ve stayed with the sport because of the people. Ultimate has reverence in my life because of the players I’ve met at tournaments, the new friends made at parties and most importantly, the teammates I have shared the field with. Simply put, ultimate is made up of really great people – an international tour with Chasing Sarasota has made that abundantly clear.
Five months after the tour began, I find myself looking out a window in Portland, greeted by gray skies and damp foliage. The nostalgia I feel isn’t about the box office sales, but about the company kept out on the road. It’s the sport that hooks you in, but the people that make you never want to leave.
The Chasing Sarasota DVD and other merchandise are being released on Monday, November 26th at the Chasing Sarasota online store: http://store.chasingsarasota.