Ultimate Frisbee has come a long way from when Iain Stewart first played it in 1999.
Back then there were sporadic social matches being played across Auckland and the National Championships had just four or five teams competing. Fast forward 16 years and there are over 3,000 players across the country, the National Championships feature 20 teams and Ultimate is even being introduced into schools.
We caught up with New Zealand Ultimate Executive Officer Iain Stewart to find out how Ultimate is gearing up for a busy summer, his vision for Ultimate to become 'New Zealand's favourite summer sport to play' and much more.
Can you describe Ultimate to someone who hasn't seen it before?Ultimate is a non-contact sport that combines elements of football, netball and touch rugby with a flying disc. The offence tries to advance the disc down the field by passing it to each other without running with the disc. A catch in the end zone scores a point. Any incomplete pass, whether it's a drop or the defence knocks it down, is a turn over. Traditionally games are completed when one team reaches 15 points, however shorter versions can be played to a lower point cap.
How can people get involved with Ultimate this summer?There's heaps of ways to get involved. Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch all have spring and summer leagues - both social and competitive. They have leagues up until Christmas then a new set of leagues will start from January through to March. In the smaller regions there is what we call 'pick-up' games where a field is booked at a certain time and players get together and make teams as they go. You can find games happening in Whangarei, Taupo, Rotorua, Napier, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Nelson and Dunedin.
How is the social version of Ultimate different to the traditional version?The rules vary by the various leagues - it's not like one branded version. The traditional version is normally played 7 a side on a field of similar size to a rugby field. But all our social leagues are played 5 a side across the width of the field. So a smaller playing area which means more touches of the disc and newer players are much more involved.
What are the biggest challenges to attract players?I think it comes down to unfamiliarity with the Frisbee. Everyone knows how to pass or kick a ball but throwing a Frisbee is a new skill for a lot of people. But it's not as hard as people may think and everyone in our community is ready to teach new people at any stage!
What would you say to someone looking for a summer sport and considering playing Ultimate?We want to be New Zealand's favourite summer sport to play. Ultimate is fun, fast and you're always involved. You can play anywhere - you just need a disc and some markers for the end zone. You can play on the court, down at the beach or the local park. It's very easy to pick up so get stuck in and we will teach you how to play!
Tell us about the Ultimate World Champs in 2016The World Champs are held every four years, next year they are held in London. New Zealand has four teams confirmed at the moment. We are going to compete in the mixed-grade, men's, women's and women's masters. There is also the chance of men's masters competing which would mean representation in all five categories. In addition we will send a men's and women's Under-20 team to the separate World Junior Ultimate Championships in Poland. The competition will be tough, the sport is very strong in USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and England and the level of play in Europe is getting higher each year. New Zealand finished 8th in the women's and 9th in the men's divisions last time. If we could achieve top-8 next year we would be very happy.
If you would like to play Ultimate or would like more information, visit: www.ultimate.org.nz