Espiritu Sudaka: Growing Ultimate South of the Equator

by | April 14, 2015, 9:30am 0

Flying into Buenos Aires’ EZE airport is always interesting to me. Over one wing I see the vast flat lands that extend out into Las Pampas, while over the other the urban sprawl looks as though it is going to push the shoreline buildings right over into Rio La Plata. A daydream about some discs getting tossed amid the green patches of the concrete chaos below distracts me from the announcement we are landing. Then the plane touches down, and I find myself in the middle of farmland on the outskirts of the city.

I’m back in Argentina to participate in a fourth straight Espiritu Sudaka. Sudaka is entering its sixth year of competition, and continues to be the benchmark tournament for players in the region. What began with a few teams from three countries looking for competition against new faces has exploded to a perennial event that draws players from the entire continent. After a long summer vacation, Sudaka provides an opportunity for some of the 800+ ultimate players in Cono Sur to compete against both old and new friends, and an excuse for a vacation to Argentina.

After changing just enough money to take a transfer bus, I will find myself in the home of my gracious host, Ian Mackern. Like other locals, Ian will host visiting players from Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela, and other parts of Argentina. He is on the board for AVVDRA, Argentina’s ultimate association, and is also co-owner of Aerostyle, the local ultimate apparel company sponsoring the tournament. He is an ambassador of both his ultimate community and his city. He’s very knowledgeable about non-touristy things to do and see and, more importantly, where to order the best empanadas.

It’s Semana Santa (Holy Week), so most of the South American countries have one week of vacation. Many players are arriving early, or staying longer, to sightsee. Players not staying with locals are all generally located in the same area near the shuttle that will get them to the fields, which is also in a central location to see the city. Landmarks like the Obelisk, Casa Rosada, Plaza de Mayo, Parque 3 de Febrero, and neighborhoods like Palermo, Puerto Madero, and Boca are only short bus rides away.

This year’s edition of Sudaka marks growth, with the team count rising to 14, and number of players approaching 300. This is a positive sign that ultimate is really gaining a foothold in a soccer-dominated part of the world. However, it is also an international tournament, which means there are teams that are unable to participate due to financial or logistical reasons. Conceivably, if all the teams in the region could overcome that barrier, the tournament could reach 24 teams from every country on the continent. For now, though, it is already a big step for a Venezuelan team to be returning, and for the first time not one, but two Colombian teams are attending.

These three teams bring experience that the others can learn from and strive to achieve in their respective countries. But it is not overwhelming, like the eleven pro/elite flight open and women’s teams attending TEP in Medellín this year, where it would change the attributes that make this tournament unique. There is a small, close knit feeling, reminiscent of local summer league, with subtle notes of a college rookie tournament. I think the experience the Colombians and Venezuelans bring will enhance the atmosphere with an elevated level of play and teaching/learning opportunities. Not only will their on-field experience help other teams grow, but their presence alone could inspire opponents to play harder, and pave the way for more Colombian and Venezuelan mixed teams to attend in the future.

Again this year, this tournament will continue to establish itself as the capstone of the region: bringing teams together, allowing for both learning and competitiveness, and demonstrating the growth of the sport south of the equator.

Now that Easter–and Sudaka–have passed, here’s what some of this year’s players had to say:

Photo credit: Malela Paredes

Sudaka 2015! Photo credit: Malela Paredes

Day 1

The first day of competition saw some logistical changes from last year, both for the better and the worst. Thursday clinics were now replaced with games, fields were all in the same location, and school buses had been rented out to shuttle players from Plaza Italia to the fields. However, being a holiday week, only two fields were available for ultimate on the first day, which meant a lot of time between games. This allowed everyone to relax, watch other teams, and interact with the diverse pool of players at the tournament. I took this opportunity to converse with some of the leaders of the ultimate community in Cono Sur, who have unique perspectives of the sport in the region.

Paolo Chiappin is a Brazilian-American that has played in tournaments in both North and South America, as well as Europe, and we talked about where Cono Sur ultimate stands on a global scale. The first thing that came to his mind when asked identify the unique elements of Sudaka is that it is the only tournament on the continent that draws players from nearly every country. Colombian and Venezuelan tournaments tend to draw teams from within those two countries, and more recently the U.S. But this unifying element allows players to build friendships across borders and share experiences with players who weren’t able to make the trip. The tournament is also centered on Spirit of the Game, which puts the players in a position where they can choose which direction the sport will grow in the region by staying informed about the discussions on SOTG and interpretations of the rules. “Proportionally, we have more people that have to study what’s happening in order to understand how to grow and improve the sport,” said Paolo.

Alejandro Rey Mojica and Cesar Jimenez Henao are Colombians currently residing in Buenos Aires who have both brought their playing experience to Argentina. Reflecting on the differences between Colombia and Cono Sur, they both agreed that in order to solidify the sport, players need to focus on teaching the youth, both in high schools and colleges. Without this base it will be very hard for teams to keep rosters together, since the foreign players are usually not permanent. Sudaka has served as a great motivator for many teams and players to encourage others to learn to play and train in order to attend next year and experience the tradition of high spirit that Sudaka lives up to.

Day 2

Friday’s weather was warm and sunny, with a light wind. One additional field was available for ultimate and the game schedule ran as late as 9pm, under the lights. Again, there was a fair amount of down time, which facilitated some impromptu dance parties and foosball games between stops at the parrilla to chow down on empanadas, bife de chorizo, and choripan, or to rest in tents and hammocks. Everybody was already in their high spirit groove, gearing up for the pizza party that followed the night game. During my downtime I was able to catch up with the captains of the Colombian and Venezuelan teams to ask why they had chosen to attend, and what they thought of Sudaka thus far.

Marco Batista, Carlitos “Wey” Romero, Jhon Salgado and Laura Rincon all expressed one point in common when they made the choice to attend Sudaka: that the tournament regards SOTG highly. They also wanted to dispel the stereotype that all Colombian and Venezuelan teams have poor spirit. Another influencing factor was that TEP dropped the mixed division this year, which presented these teams with a higher incentive to head south to seek fun, competitive ultimate. Just as Sudaka is a big motivation for newer teams, the cafeteros and venecos were equally as driven to save money to get to the tournament and take extra time off to enjoy a part of the continent that many of them had never visited. Across the board, the captains have reported that they are having a fantastic time at the tournament and in the city of Buenos Aires, and that both are fully living up to their expectations.

Dance parties at Sudaka. Photo credit: Alejandro Cynowicz

Photo credit: Alejandro Cynowicz

Day 3

The humidity of the port city finally broke, unleashing a three hour downpour in the morning that delayed the start of Saturday’s games and truncated the caps from 90 minutes down to 75. The unexpected delay incited a play-to-stay foosball tournament in the field house, where players anxiously awaited for the sky to open up and dry the fields. In this break, I was able to catch up with some North American and European players that were participating in Sudaka for the first time.

Matt Andaloro, Mike Kowalczuk, and Julian Von Gottenberg all have years of experience in Canada, the U.S., and Germany, respectively, but thus far have only participated in the local league and tournaments in Santiago, Chile. All three echoed the fact that the ultimate culture in Cono Sur has an extraordinary amount of passion on and off the field. They were particularly impressed with the twenty minute long spirit circles after each game, and players who, after the fact, apologized for poor judgement and heat-of-the-moment actions.

“Every aspect of my life is painted with a Frisbulls brush,” noted Matt, commenting on the team he had joined. “We now live with Frisbulls, we party with Frisbulls, we do everything with them.”

Teams do so many things together, and with one another outside of ultimate-related functions, that the community is essentially an extended family. Sudaka acts as part tournament, part family reunion. With all the preparation, effort, and love put into training for, traveling to, and playing in Sudaka, Mike dubbed it “the pinnacle of achievement” of his South American ultimate tenure.

Day 4

On Saturday night many teams ate big team dinners in and around Plaza Italia and Palermo, either much to the joy or dismay of the restaurants they had selected. The following Sunday morning, the weather returned to warm and sunny with a mild sea breeze, setting up an ideal day to finish an ultimate tournament. After a morning of semifinal and placement games, players were able to wind down, trade jerseys, buy all the beer in stock at the food stand, and prepare to watch a fun final match. Before the championship pull, I was able to catch up with two North American players who had discovered, and learned, the sport of ultimate after moving abroad.

Jordan McAdory and Teri Swinson hadn’t played ultimate until they arrived in Chile and Argentina, respectively, and Sudaka was their first taste of a big ultimate tournament. They both have been playing for roughly a year now, but will have an extremely unique perspective of ultimate when they one day return home to play in the States. The big selling point for them so far has been the high level of spirit, the sense of community that ultimate has cultivated in Cono Sur, and the contributions of females players in the mixed division. “The training we’ve done [for this tournament] has been intense” reflected Jordan, who played NCAA Division I Women’s soccer in the U.S., saying the intensity is “on par” with that of well-supported college athletic programs.

Overall, Sudaka proved, yet again, to be a stellar tournament that ties competition, SOTG, tourism, and community all together into one package. It’s always full of surprises, from variable weather to late night games, and even North American players getting their rookie feet wet at their first tournament. Players, families, and fans continue to attend this grand event, which continues to be both the staple and benchmark of growth of ultimate in the region.

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