A flying disc whizzes towards Jasper Ng and he catches it before deftly spinning it away to his teammate. He’s competing in ultimate frisbee, one of the hottest sports of the moment.
It’s hard to imagine the classic beach game as anything but relaxing, but playing frisbee competitively, or ultimate, as it is known, has been steadily growing in popularity for far longer than you’d imagine.
Frisbee has been a beloved lazy pastime for beach bums since the ’30s, but it didn’t take long for the flying disc to catch on, and an iconic game was born.
Things got serious in the late ’60s when US university students created a game that had elements of American football, basketball and football. Now, it’s estimated that more than five million people worldwide play the sport.
Jasper, 17, decided to give ultimate a go three years ago while spending a year studying in Hangzhou, on the mainland.
“It started just as a simple hobby with casual throwing around, but as I was shown the more competitive side of ultimate, I started to fall in love with both the technicality and the spirit of the game,” he recalls.
“The great thing about ultimate is that you don’t need the apparatus that football or basketball require; all you need is a field,” Jasper says.
As a cutter on the Chinese International School ultimate frisbee team, Jasper’s main skill and duty is catching the disc. The player admits his forehand could use a little work, but that didn’t stop him and the team making history this month, when they became the first school team to take part in a major competition: the Hong Kong Pan Asia Tournament 2016.
In Jasper’s own words, however, CIS got “pummelled” from the first match. They suffered a string of defeats against adult and university teams to eventually place 15th out of 16 teams. But regardless of the results, it was a big accomplishment for CIS to get a place in the tournament, as they had only trained for two months.
Despite the young age and relative inexperience of the team, none of the rival players looked down on them.
“It surprised me how much other teams respected our grit, and recognised our potential. It was humbling to play against experienced teams, so for them to recognise our efforts was really encouraging,” Jasper says.
This sportsmanship is one of the central values of ultimate, and that’s been the case for as long as the game has been around. This spirit of mutual respect is one of the appealing things about the sport.
“I think the best thing about ultimate is the achievement of spirit – something that is often neglected in other sports,” says Jasper, who received the spirit award last year after playing in CIS’s first inter-school ultimate tournament.
But, like any competitive sport, it can be tough to support rivals and stay upbeat when the game isn’t going well. “Spirit is very important to me,” Jasper says, adding, “but it’s not always easy. There’s a lot of pressure to do well, both from yourself and from your teammates. Plus, natural factors like wind or the sun can hinder your performance.
“All these factors sometimes make it difficult to find the middle ground between the desire to win and the spirit of sportsmanship.”
After the tournament ended, Jasper felt very nostalgic. He explains: “You realise that everything comes to a close, but you just want to go back in time and relive all those moments you shared on and off the field with your team. That’s what frisbee does to you ... it’s hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it yourself.”
If you think ultimate sounds like the perfect sport, Jasper would probably agree.
“My favourite thing about ultimate, without a doubt, is the people that play this game,” he says. “The sidelines explode whenever there are great layouts and throws, but for me it’s the smiles on everyone’s faces after these plays that cultivate my ever-increasing love for ultimate. There’s no better feeling than playing your heart out while having so much fun – and that you did so without diminishing anyone else’s experience.”
What song/movie title best describes you when you’re playing ultimate?
I think it’d have to be Full Metal Jacket. This movie title best describes me when I’m running long to catch those hucks, but the premise of the movie and the themes of brotherhood also point to what I value most in the game.
You can take the abilities of any animal during one competition. Which do you choose and why?
The limbs of an orangutan would be so handy for layouts or skys or just snags in general.
What’s your favourite thing to eat before a big event?
Cereal, either Fruity Pebbles or Coco Pops. They’re both super conventional breakfast cereals but they’re a must have. They get me ready for important tasks and tests, as well.
Which fictional character would you choose as your team mate?
Monsieur Gustave from The Grand Budapest Hotel. He’s so meticulous with everything and would be the perfect caddy on the sidelines. He’d be able to get me anything and everything and keep me in top form every game.
10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company do you sign-on as spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?
I’d sign with Adidas and try to establish an ultimate campaign for cleats.
Right now, us frisbee players have to rely on cleats made for football, lacrosse, or American football, so a frisbee line would be a big boost for the sport in terms of publicity.