Steven Lee gets excited when someone asks him about Ultimate Frisbee – maybe even a little too eager.
“I get so excited that I have bladder spasms and muscle cramps,” said Lee, president of the Hong Kong Ultimate Players’ Association (HKUPA). “When someone asks me that question, it means I’ve got a chance to share the special game of Ultimate with someone who has never been exposed to it.”
So what exactly is Ultimate?
“It’s a demanding, fast-paced game that provides a great workout,” said HKUPA member Tom Nunan. “I do a lot of sports, but Ultimate was the one that really hooked me because I got the workout of my life.”
Ultimate is played on a 70-by-40-yard field. The objective is to advance the disc to the other team’s end-zone, using a series of passes upfield to teammates.
Players use four basic throws to achieve this. The two most common ones are called “forehand” and “backhand”, thrown face-up. The two most used face-down throws are the “scoober” (to gain short yardage) and “hammer” (which resembles more of a typical football throw).
Once the receiver catches the Frisbee, he has to stop and has 10 seconds to look for any of six teammates on the field. One defender is allowed to “mark”, or guard, the player in possession of the Frisbee.
“One of the easiest ways to play good defence is to start with a good marker,” Nunan said. “It’s the responsibility of the marker to block off a section of the fielder so the defenders have a better chance of closing down the offensive players who they’re marking. When a mark is broken, it often results in a quick downfield game for the opposition.”
If there is a drop, offence becomes defence and the game continues until there is a score. Generally, games are played to 11, 13 or 15 points. After a score, players line up on opposite sides of the field, like rugby, and the other team “pull” (kick off).
While Ultimate is a non-contact sport, the game requires players to be in great physical condition because they are constantly on the move.
“A good Ultimate player is a balance of endurance and speed,” Nunan said. “You have to be agile. The top players tend to be in pretty phenomenal shape.”
Players, when explaining the game, draw parallels between rugby, football and netball, but Ultimate has many of its own characteristics.
“Ultimate is quite unique,” Nunan said. “It does combine elements in other sports, but it is a unique game.”
And quirky traditions have added to its mystique. One tradition that has lasted through the years is the nicknames given to players. Although Nunan didn’t want to reveal his nickname, he stressed the importance of having one.
“Nicknames are good for calling offensive plays,” he said. “You can identify people without the opposition knowing.”
Nicknames are usually given to players based on their personalities, but other factors also play a role. Ultimate players share a common code called the “Spirit of the Game”, which means self-officiating. There are no referees.
“Basically it’s good sportsmanship,” Lee said. “It means playing as hard as you can to win, but never at the expense of cheating or trying to bend the rules. You call things as you see them, irrespective of whether a call would give you an advantage or a disadvantage.”
Hong Kong team Junk compete in tournaments across Asia. They were in Bali, Indonesia, over the weekend for such an event.
The HKUPA also organises games twice a week in Hong Kong and is thinking about adding a third day to work on skills and techniques.
The association is always on the lookout for new members.
“Just today we were thinking about business cards and brochures,” Nunan said. “We’re quite open to people who are enthusiastic and who want to come out and have a good time.”
This article was originally published in the April 12, 2004 edition of the South China Morning Post.