Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 March 2018

My Sport - Ultimate frisbee

Ultimate is a low-cost, low-contact sport that combines elements of American football, basketball, netball and football - and I've just represented the UAE at the World Championships.

Jen Thomas at Ultimate practice on JBR beach in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Jen Thomas at Ultimate practice on JBR beach in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

Maybe you’ve seen them out on the beach or at the park on the weekend, throwing around a Frisbee (not a dog to be seen). You’ve probably wondered why they stop once they catch the disc, and how exactly a team scores any points. You might even have tried to toss the disc back to them, only to see it sail wildly in the wrong direction. This is ultimate, and yes, it is weird.

Ultimate is a limited-contact sport that combines aspects of American football, basketball, netball and football. Teams throw a disc to one another, trying to score in an opposing end zone, but players cannot run once they have caught the disc. They have 10 seconds to pass it on to a teammate. Interceptions or incomplete passes are turnovers, so a team can go from playing offence to defence and vice versa in seconds.

What makes ultimate truly unique, though, is that it’s self-officiated. There are no referees – players call their own fouls. Ultimate is a co-ed sport. Teams on grass are typically composed of seven players, and beach teams are usually made up of five. The most common configuration is 4/3 (four men and three women) on grass and 3/2 on the beach, but it can be any variation agreed upon by the players. The National’s Jen Thomas explains how she got into the sport.

How did you get involved and what have been your proudest achievements?

I started playing after moving to the UAE. One day in 2012, I saw a pick-up game and thought it’d be cool to try. After some hard recruiting from an Abu Dhabi regular, I started showing up every week. I’m pretty sure I spent the first six months running in circles, hoping someone would throw to me before I figured out where exactly I was supposed to be running and when. I couldn’t throw a flick pass for at least two years, and I thought I might literally die the first time I played a game on the beach. I am extremely honoured to have represented the UAE at the World Championships of Beach Ultimate in Dubai this month. Our small community is filled with so many talented and dedicated people – it is truly incredible to have been chosen to play alongside them.

How much does it cost to play this sport?

It costs nearly nothing to play. A good pair of football boots and a disc are pretty much the only equipment necessary, and even the disc you can borrow. Plus, if you play on the beach, you don’t even need the footwear. Discs cost about Dh90 (GoSport and Adventure HQ sell UAE-designed discs). Other costs for serious players include fees for eight-week leagues for Duplays in Dubai. In Abu Dhabi, you pay Dh400 a year for use of the fields. That said, you could get away with playing ultimate for free.

How can people get into ultimate in the UAE?

United Arabian Ultimate is the umbrella organisation that oversees all UAE ultimate events, tournaments, clinics, etc. Pick-up times and locations and the most recent news and updates are available at www.facebook.com/UnitedArabianUltimate.

Ultimate is played regularly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Abu Dhabi Ultimate Association runs pick-up on Wednesdays from 6.30pm at the American Community School (see www.facebook.com/abudhabiultimateassociation), while in Dubai, Duplays runs weekly leagues at the Emirates International School (see duplaysdubai.playpass.com/sport/ultimate-frisbee). Beach pick-up runs every Saturday (time changes depending on the season) at JBR Beach, in front of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Other pick-up sessions typically run on Friday mornings on the beach or at Safa Park. Dubai Ultimate Players Association posts pick-up times at www.facebook.com/DubaiUPA.

Jen Thomas is a home-page editor for thenational.ae