Bored of those run-of-the-mill sports? Luke Wilson talks to the United Arabian Ultimate team about why Frisbee is more than just a game...
Ultimate Frisbee might not be a sport you know too much about, unless perhaps you grew up in North America. In fact, it might surprise you that there are more than five million ultimate (as it is now known) players in the US alone.
The allure of this fast-paced sport is spreading though, having crossed the Atlantic to become popular in Europe and beyond. The UAE has its own gang of disc chasers, United Arabian Ultimate (UAU), whose numbers are growing year on year.
In June, UAU sent a team out to London to compete at the sport’s premier event, the WFDF World Ultimate & Guts Championship, making their mark with some top-notch performances. Despite it being their tournament debut, the mixed team punched well above their weight, finishing in joint 17th spot – some 12 places above their competition ranking.
Adna Muliawan was one of the three co-captains of the squad that represented the country with such distinction. He was rightly proud of their achievements.
“For only nine months of training together as a national squad, it was a very impressive result,” he tells Time Out. “Many of the other countries we came up against have been playing ultimate for two to three times longer than a lot of our team. It’s a testament to the team’s work ethic and the dedication of the ultimate community in the UAE that we were able to match those teams on the international stage.”
Muliawan, who first started playing ultimate as a student at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in the US, has invested a lot of time and effort into spreading awareness about the sport, organising tournaments and clinics in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. And he believes there is plenty of scope for expansion, as interest in ultimate rises and the team plays in more competitions worldwide.
“The community in the UAE is small but growing -- we have around 300 players registered in the national organisation,” he says. “We’ve found the best publicity for ultimate is playing a game in a public place. We have weekly beach pick-up games on JBR on the weekends, and they usually draw spectators. Most people are only intrigued by the game, but we’ve had quite a few people pick it up and learn.”
The beauty of the sport is that all you need for a game is a Frisbee and flat piece of land to play it on. It might seem a little confusing to start with, especially as it’s played at such a fast pace, however Muliawan believes ultimate’s greatest asset is the fact that most people can understand the basic rules within minutes.
One young talent who has embraced the sport with both hands is Saif Alserkal, a 16-year-old student who was introduced to ultimate by his uncle, Ibrahim. As the only Emirati in the UAU squad, the teenager was flying the flag in more ways than one in London – the prestige of which was not lost on him.
“I was exhilarated by the fact that I was chosen to represent my country, but what made me even prouder was the fact that I was also the flag bearer,” he says. “It gave me a sense of pride in my country and myself, and it also gave one unforgettable memory that is motivating me to spread this wonderful sport even further in the country.”
Alserkal is full of praise for his teammates, who instantly took him under their wing as they trained for the London tournament. The UAU squad is very much an international affair, with players drawn from the US, Canada, the UK, the Philippines, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, to name a few. Having such a spread of nationalities was both a “challenge and a blessing”, according to Muliawan.
“From a training perspective, you want to see consistency and reliability from your players, and it’s harder to establish a common skill set if people have different strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “At a tournament, though, the team’s toolbox of strengths and weaknesses leant us a lot of flexibility. This year was a stellar run for the UAE, and it’s satisfying to have capped it with such a big finish.”
We defy you not to catch the ultimate bug.
For more information on how to take up the sport, visit www.unitedarabianultimate.com.
A quick guide to ultimate
Know the game
Ultimate is a sport where each team is trying to score by receiving the disc in their endzone – rather like scoring a touchdown in American football. You can’t run while you have the disc, which means your attacks are advanced solely through passing.
There’s a lot of sprinting and running, as the only way to stop an attack is by intercepting or breaking up a pass. Many people get hooked on the sport because there are a lot of highlight-reel style plays: the disc often hangs in the air for a long time.
Along with the pick-up games at JBR, Duplays has been running a weekly league, Hammer Time, for the last three years. The fourth season of this Monday night tournament begins on September 5. Sign up at www.duplaysdubai.playpass.com/a/7718-hammer-time.