Shooting Manila Spirits

by | January 9, 2015, 11:34am 0

(Don Laczi - DonLacziPhoto)

This article was originally posted on Don’s Blog Lokal Perspective

How did I prepare myself to photograph the biggest ultimate tournament in Asia?

Just like any other ultimate player who participated in this year’s Manila Spirits, I also prepared myself like an athlete. A month beforehand I decided to lose some weight. The plan was to eat right, drink less beer, and do some running around the Iloilo Sports Complex with Iloilo city’s ultimate team, Panay Intensity. When I got the message from Peng and Marielle that shooting Spirits was a go, I immediately started my research.

Thanks to the University of Youtube and the School of Amazing and Gifted Ulti-Photogs at Ultiphotos, I watched videos and and learned from photos on the interwebs every single day and night, just to make sure that everything would run smoothly by the time of the event. After a month of research and practice, weighing 11 lbs lighter, the weekend that I had been waiting for finally arrived.

The moment I saw the playing fields on Day 1, I was in awe of how huge Alabang Country Club is. The grass is so beautiful that you can just lay down there for hours, for as long as the sun permits you to do so. Everyone was excited to start the day.

Stunning layouts at Manila Spirits. (Don Laczi - DonLacziPhoto)

Stunning layouts at Manila Spirits. (Don Laczi – DonLacziPhoto)

Both the Open and Women’s teams were starting their warmup routines. The Marshalls were ready. The command center started the countdown. I pulled my cameras out of the bag, put my headphones on and listened to Fishbone to get pumped up. The first pulls of the tournament were on their way. The games of Manila Spirits 2014 had begun! The shooting begins…

While the teams were battling it out on the field like real warriors, I tried to pace myself. “Don’t get too excited, and try to get some rest after a few minutes of staying out on the field” I said to myself. I have a tendency to get too excited, especially if there are a lot of great plays happening in front of me, and I keep forgetting that I am only human.

I sure did forget that weekend that I’m mortal! How can you leave the pitch when players are flying, grabbing white flying saucers all over the place? You don’t. You keep shooting until your eyes fall off! Because in the end, everything feels right when you capture that amazing play.

After a couple of hours of sunbathing while carrying two bodies of cameras (and a sack bag) I received a text message from Ancella Mendoza of Boon Technical Clothing, requesting me to drop by the booth to get my gear. When I got there, Aldwin, Joseph, Anch and Karen were there, staring at me with smiles on their faces. I was surprised when Anch handed me a bag full of long-sleeved jerseys–four, to be exact–and a pair of Boon shorts.

Full of joy and gratitude, I didn’t even notice the shorts at first. I was even more surprised when I saw my Lokal Perspective logo printed on them. “Teka lang…. Logo ko to ah?!!!”[footnote number=1]Wait a minute, is that my blog logo?!!![/footnote] I said, with a huge smile on my sun-burnt face. Everyone was laughing. Karen of Boracay Dragons told me later that the look on my face when I got the gear was priceless. I felt like a kid again when they handed me the jerseys. I was speechless.

Even now, all I can say is thank you so much, Boon Technical Clothing. Photographing Manila Spirits was already a dream come true. Giving me the awesome gear was the icing on the cake. You made this trip and all my preparations for Spirits all worth it. Hard work and being passionate about what you love really pays off in an amazing way. Maraming Salamat![footnote number=2]Thank you so much, Boon![/footnote]

Chicago's Jonathan "Goose" Helton joins the action in Manila. (Don Laczi - DonLacziPhoto)

Chicago’s Jonathan “Goose” Helton joins the action in Manila. (Don Laczi – DonLacziPhoto)

Day 1 ended with Boracay Dragons on top of the Open division over Sunken Pleasure, and Mullato Probinsyana took home the Women’s division championship trophy over Sunken Pleasure Girls. The Dragons displayed amazing athleticism and great plays while the Women’s final went all the way down to the wire before the Probinsyana’s won. Hats off to both Open and Women SP teams, as well. Watch out for them next year–they will come out stronger and hungrier. No doubt about it!

Days 2 and 3 were definitely the time when my preparations were put on to the test. 16 playing fields. 58 teams. 1,500+ amazing athletes. It was crazy! I was looking at the playing field map at 5:00 o’clock in the morning, strategizing where to shoot first. I was able to follow my plan (zigzag motion, shooting two fields at the same time, moving to a new location every 5–10 minutes, drinking lots of water, having fun!), but the drawback of this plan is that you miss a lot of great plays from the field you just left five minutes ago. I sure did miss a lot.

With that in mind, I would like to apologize to some teams for not being able to spend much time shooting their games. There were lot of places and games to cover. In the end, everything went smoothly–except for the heat. The great ball of fire was nasty during the weekend!

(Don Laczi - DonLacziPhoto)

(Don Laczi – DonLacziPhoto)

I’ve photographed a few ultimate championship games around the country for the past 10 months, but the game between Team Mixed Nuts and Sunken Pleasure was undoubtedly the best championship game I have ever witnessed. Both teams battled their hearts out through the end of the last point, which was double-game-point. The sad part was that mother nature decided to bring on the darkness quickly. My camera couldn’t see a thing so I decided to call it a day, reward myself with an ice cold beer, and enjoy the rest of the night.

The spectators went wild during Championships, including me. Marshalls and sideline players from both teams were trying to keep us off the field. Everyone was so eager to get on and celebrate with the team who would be crowned as the victor of such an epic finale. Including me! A well-thrown forehand from Derek Ramsay to Cat Phillips, waiting in the end zone before making an amazing catch, sealed the victory for Team Mixed Nuts. The crowd roared in excitement. High fives and victory hugs filled the beautiful Alabang Country Club. Everyone was in awe of how the tournament ended. Again, that includes me! I must say, this one final game will be remembered by all who witnessed it for a very long time.

Photographing a 3 day ultimate tourney is not easy, to be honest. You have to set your camera settings right for any natural lighting situation. You need to be focused, just like the players in the game. You have to wear the right clothing and a comfy pair of kicks. You need to be prepared for all weather conditions. You also have to know at least the basics of the game, of course.

With 58 local and international teams and 16 playing fields, Manila Spirits 2014 was definitely a challenge for a sports photographer. Tired? Yes. Sore feet? Absolutely! Empty stomach? Not really! But why do we photographers keep on doing this, even when by the end of the day we all look like bright-red lobsters? Why do we fight against the heat of the sun or the pouring rain? Why do we spend tons of hours in front of our computers editing the photos that we captured during a tournament?

John David elevates big time. (Don Laczi - DonLacziPhoto)

John David elevates big time. (Don Laczi – DonLacziPhoto)

Because from the moment you captured your first sky or layout or amazing defensive play, freezing that moment forever, it gets really addicting. You want more. You become a hunter who’s searching for that ultimate game trophy. You became the artist who immortalizes all these amazing athletes. But there’s one more reason why I keep on coming back out on the field to shoot more.

It’s the people. The community of ultimate players. Whenever I feel exhausted, or feel like I am done for the day, all I do is look at all these smiling burnt faces of players enjoying themselves. Having a great time. Cherishing the moment together with fellow teammates and friends. They are the ones who give me the strength to go back out there and keep doing my job. They are my fuel. They are the ones who inspire me to be better at what I do. Because in the end, with hard work and passion for what you love, everything will turn out epic.

That’s how I did it.

To the Philippine Flying Disc Association (PFDA) board, thank you so much for this amazing opportunity. To Oli Togonon, for giving me a roof over my head during the weekend, thanks to you my friend! A very special thanks also to the crew of Boon Technical Clothing. You guys made me feel like I am now part of a big family. Maraming Salamat!

Until we meet again, Tuloy Lang Ang Party!!![footnote number=3]The Party Continues![/footnote]


See more photos from Manila Spirts by Don on his facebook page.

Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Manila Spirits as the largest tournament in Asia.

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