While driving past the playing fields in Chiang Mai’s
Payap University I saw some people chasing a flying dinner plate around, and
when I stopped, James Fahn took time out from the game to explain the sport
of Ultimate Frisbee.
If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the days when
we never left for the beach without a Frisbee - that colored plastic disc,
providing fun and exercise as it floated through the air between laughing
Well, we may not see this instrument so much at the
seaside these days, but James informed me that a full-blown international
sport has been developed around it.
An estimated 100,000 established Frisbee throwers play in
organized Ultimate competitions at the national and international level in
over 50 countries including Sweden, Norway, and Japan, where the game
receives government funding. And the skill became recognized as a medal
sport at the 2001 World Games.
Apparently, Ultimate Frisbee arrived in Thailand when
Gary Eisenberg formed The Bangkok Soi Dawgz in January 1998. By September
the following year, the club was strong enough to send a side to the
Singapore Tournament where they took a respectable third out of ten places.
Since then, Soi Dawgz teams have faired well in Bali,
Shanghai and Hong Kong, and in 2002 they hosted their first annual Hat
James enjoyed playing Ultimate Frisbee in Bangkok, but
found nothing doing when he moved up to the northern capital. Therefore, he
started stimulating some interest in Chiang Mai and up to now has around 20
people on his email list.
The Frisbee got its name from William Russell Frisbie,
who opened a pie factory in the USA during the late 1800s. About 60 years
later, the more boisterous of students at Yale and Harvard were seen tossing
the pie tins to each other in the playground and they called the practice
In the meantime, inventor Walter Frederick Morrison was
perfecting model UFOs ญ from pie tins coincidentally ญ when he
ran into entrepreneurs, Rich Knerr and A.K.”Spud” Melin. Together, they
proceeded to market a plastic flying saucer, which could be thrown between
people for fun, and while promoting the product at Ivy League campuses, the
kids told Knerr they’d been frisbie-ing for years.
Knerr thought that frisbie sounded good as a brand name
and by either neglecting history or avoiding possible law suits he developed
the Frisbee ญ same phonetics but different spelling. This led to sales
that have exceeded one hundred million worldwide and created a sport.
Back at Payap, James explained that Ultimate Frisbee is a
discipline that tests an individual’s sense of integrity, as there are no
referees, even at the international level. It’s up to each player to be
fair, honest and abide by the rules, which are a mixture of those from
netball and American football.
In play, the Frisbee is thrown from player to player in
teams of up to seven on a rectangular pitch with end zones. No physical
contact is allowed and no one runs with the disc, which changes possession
on a foul or when it’s dropped, blocked, intercepted or tossed out of
Goals or points are awarded when a player successfully
takes a pass inside their opponent’s end zone and the first team to score
15 is the winner. This usually means that an Ultimate Frisbee match takes
around 90 minutes.
James trotted back to the match and its male and female
participants that comprised a mix of beginners to experts at ages ranging
from teenage to 50. When play restarted, I was astonished at the amount of
skill needed to find space away from the marker and pass the disc accurately
and, when played at speed, Ultimate Frisbee is very pretty to watch.
The more experienced players soon raised the level of
those just starting out, and it wasn’t long before most participants were
mastering well-judged backhand throws and hucks - long passes.
After 100 minutes of competitive, but not too serious
Ultimate, James called time and a group of weary but healthy Frisbee
throwers trudged off the field looking calm and satisfied.
A reasonable level fitness is needed in Ultimate,
especially in 7-a-side matches on a big pitch. But the joy of this game is
no physical contact and a limited degree of difficulty from which to
develop. Anyone can play and it’s far more exciting than jogging or
“That’s right,” agreed James, “Ultimate Frisbee
is not only great fun, but also an exciting way to keep fit and make new
friends. So, everyone is very welcome to come by and join in.”
James can be contacted at [email protected] or Eddy
Clark at [email protected]