Disclaimer: A large part of this post is for the benefit of my Ultimate-playing friends who want to know about the Ultimate scene in India. If you’re not an Ultimate fan or player, there’s a good chance this post will be a little dull and long-winded.
One of the first things I did upon deciding to spend a couple months in Mumbai was find their Ultimate Frisbee team. All it took was a quick Google search to discover that there was one co-ed team, the Storm Chasers, that played Frisbee on the beach every Saturday at the ambitious hour of 6:30 in the morning. Thus, my first Saturday in India I found myself wandering along a trash-ridden beach in the wee hours of the morning, searching for people throwing a disc amongst the countless games of boys playing football and cricket, joggers, and yoga circles. For the record, I’m slowly improving my ability to look confident and purposeful when I am, in fact, lost.
True to their internet word – I eventually found the Storm Chasers! In classic Ultimate fashion, the game didn’t actually start until around 7:15. The field was crowded onto a relatively clear stretch of sand, the game was played barefoot, and I was welcomed onto the team as if they had all known I was coming. Some aspects of the practice were delightfully familiar, despite being half a world away from Hendrix turf grounds: the same dynamic warm-ups, a whiteboard review of certain end zone plays, the same rash, occasionally successful, decisions to throw hammers. Other things were different. Like the stray dog that claims the same beach territory and revels in disrupting Frisbee games every week (the team affectionately and practically named the mutt “Bitch”). Cricket games and oblivious walkers are constantly encroaching on the field, requiring extreme vigilance from the players. Monsoon season is also a game changer. During one practice, we watched a heavy storm cloud roll across the ocean and eventually unleash itself on the beach. There was a sense of jubilation as we attempted to continue the game under furious sheets of rain. Playing with the Storm Chasers was like coming home in an otherwise foreign land.
The team began when one of its founding members started watching YouTube videos about Ultimate and thought it’d be fun to start a team in Mumbai. He recruited some athletic friends, and slowly accumulated more and more players. Some were randomly asked to play while on the beach, just because they looked fast. The team is largely made up of Indian nationals, with foreigners dropping in now and then.
Turns out, I unintentionally timed my joining the team very well. The largest Frisbee tournament India has ever held took place July 6-8 in Bangalore, and I was immediately invited to attend. Despite the ominous 17 hour bus ride, the ticket was cheap and the company would be good. Of course I was going. It would be the Frisbee tournament road trip to end all Frisbee tournament road trips. Nothing would stop me from going—including a bout of stomach problems right before getting on the bathroom-less bus.
The tournament itself was held in a stadium that looked like the Indian version of the Coliseum. Twenty-four teams came from all over the country for three days of play on only two fields. The Ultimate scene in India is small, but growing. Consequently, there’s huge anticipation for tournaments and a sense of community amongst the teams that just doesn’t exist in the same way in the US. Everyone seemed to want to watch every game. We would arrive to the stadium early each morning, and stay there until it got dark—even if we had finished our games for the day. Players were hungry for Ultimate, and wanted to spend every moment of this weekend in its presence.
One of the most unique things preserved in Indian Ultimate culture is their spirit circle tradition. After every game, players from both teams exit the field and find a quiet corner. Players alternated and formed one big circle, so that each person is standing next to someone from the opposing team. Next, a representative from each team speaks about how they thought the game went: in terms of skill, effort, and most importantly, spirit of the game. The idea is to clear the air if any disputes that arose on the field, honestly assess the sportsmanship displayed, and lay the groundwork for good games in the future. Idealistic? Sure. But after three days of post-game spirit circle, only one of the opposing team’s spirit circles seemed a little false. I was deeply impressed by this deliberate prioritization of and respect for Spirit of the Game—the concept that makes Ultimate truly unique in the world of sports.
After concluding the spirit circle, some teams would play little games or have a song prepared, much the same way we do in the US. Hence, it seemed appropriate to teach the Storm Chasers the Ultimate version of the song “Wavin’ Flag” that I had prepared when playing the Hendrix Sugar Gliders. It was a hit. At one point during the weekend, our team commandeered the stadium megaphone and serenaded the entire tournament with the song I had originally written when I should have been taking notes in Plants and People class.
The Bangalore Tournament ended on a positive note for the Storm Chasers. Most of our team had left for the return journey to Mumbai on Sunday evening, and did not get to attend the awards ceremony. There were only five of us left when it was announced that the Storm Chasers had won the Spirit Award for the tournament—a huge honor, considering the award was based on a detailed evaluation each team filled out after each game that ranked their opponents’ sportsmanship, level-headedness, knowledge of rules, and overall attitude. The five of us took to the stage to receive our prize (a few bulging bags of food, plus a bottle of wine). The tournament directors, however, insisted that we couldn’t receive the prize unless we sang the song again. And that was the weekend concluded: myself and four others, clutching a microphone, echoing the “Wavin’ Flag” remix to an audience in the middle of a giant Indian stadium.
 For those of you unfamiliar with the rapidly growing sport of Ultimate, it’s best described as a quick-paced team sport that’s a combination of football and American football played with a disc (read: Frisbee). It’s become extremely popular in the US, with most colleges having a team and pick-up games to be found in most cities.
 Hammer: a dramatic, overhand Frisbee throw. Difficult to catch, flashy, always a crowd pleaser.
 Sorry, Team Awesome, OliviaDizShreeshJenny. Appleton was epic, but 17 hours (one way) on an Indian bus takes the prize.