Ultimate Frisbee: The Cult of Layouts and Discs

Today, Kris and I played our first game of Ultimate Frisbee in Korea. For those who do not know what Ultimate is, it is a unique combination of netball and American football, all played with your humble, plastic Frisbee disc. The aim of the game is to catch the disc in your opponents’ end zone to score points (as in American football), and do so more times than your opponent. The first team to a predetermined number of points wins. What makes it harder is that you cannot run with the disc, and must remain stationary after a few steps to slow down (as in netball). What results is a frenzy of running, creative throws, diving, screaming, and laughing. There is truly no game like Ultimate. And a new dimension is added when it is played in heavy rain.

When we left the train station after our hour-and-a-half-long trip to the field itself and saw the storm clouds in the air, we were a little disappointed – we had hoped for a sunny, bright day for our first experience of Ultimate in Korea. Instead, the moment we could see the field, it began to rain. Luckily, we had thought ahead and brought our rain jackets with us. We had arrived early, so we stood on the sideline, cheering on the other teams in our league, who had been scheduled with earlier games. When we arrived, there was only one person from our team already at the field, which we hoped would change, because playing with too few people is never fun. The running to having a good time ratio goes very out of whack when there aren’t enough legs on the field.

Luckily, our teammates gradually arrived. They were a cheerful, energetic mix of foreigners and Korean locals. We had just enough time to do a warm-up lap of the field before the match before ours ended, and we took to the field. What followed was about an hour of scrappy, muddy, wet Ultimate. Both teams dropped discs because it was too slippery. Both teams were wary of running out of fear of slipping on the muddy ground. Most importantly, though, both teams had a great time. By the end of the game, we were all wet to the bone with smiles on our faces.

That is what we found in Ultimate that is unlike any sport we had played before – the sense of community with every member of the league. In other sports, the teams are generally separated, not talking to each other. In Ultimate, we stand next to each other, cheering on the good plays of the game, whichever team they come from. There is always a good-spirited chat after the game. Some tournaments are even organized as thinly-veiled excuses to drink with other Ultimate players.

Ultimate is more than a sport. Some would call it a cult, and they wouldn’t be far wrong. People who play Ultimate generally do so once and then leave, or are hooked for life. They generally come to their first practice or game having been convinced/seduced/dragged by a fanatical player. When you get together with Ultimate people, a large portion of what they talk about will be which brand of disc to buy, which way to run in a given situation, or how to defend more skilfully. It is a cult. And one that I am happy to be part of, and I look forward to meeting regularly with my fellow cultists in Korea.


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