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Guide to playing ultimate frisbee in Cape Town

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Cape Town, with its awesome landscapes and vibrant culture, is a city that appeals to adventurers and sports enthusiasts of all sorts from around the globe. While Cape Town offers more activities and excitement than you could dream of, one sport has been soaring to new heights, quite literally, on the beaches and green fields of our beautiful city.

Ultimate Frisbee, or Ultimate for short, is a fast-paced and dynamic sport that combines teamwork and athleticism with the casual fun of throwing, flicking, or hammering a frisbee or disc (more on hammering later). What sets Ultimate apart is something called “Spirit of the Game”, an emphasis on fair play, camaraderie, and sportsmanship above all. 

In Cape Town, Ultimate has found a home in the city’s diverse parks, stunning beaches, and community spaces. Whether you’re a seasoned Ultimate player or just someone looking for a fun way to spend your free time, Cape Town’s Ultimate scene has something to get excited about.

By the end of this article, you will know more about Ultimate in Cape Town, its history and origins, what Ultimate is exactly, where to play, the community, some tips, and the unique culture that makes this sport more than just a game. 

Origins of Ultimate

Photo by Dharanidharan Dharanidharan

Ultimate originated in the United States during the 1960s. It was initially developed by a group of high school students in New Jersey and has since grown into many different sporting endeavours. 

Over the years, Ultimate evolved, and formal rules were established, emphasising sportsmanship and fair play. The sport grew in popularity, spreading to colleges and universities, and eventually gained international recognition. Today, it’s played by millions of people worldwide in organised leagues, tournaments, and casual games.

What is Ultimate?

Photo by UCT Ultimate

Ultimate is a non-contact team sport combining elements of American Football and Netball, played with a frisbee. It is gender-neutral, accommodating both mixed and same-gender teams, which is an incredibly appealing aspect of the sport to many. The field, varying in size depending on player preference, features two end zones and a central zone. Official games involve seven players per side, but casual games can be adapted to player preferences as well.

The objective is to score points by catching the disc in the opponent’s end zone. To initiate a point, a team “pulls” (the only throw in Ultimate you can do while moving) the disc, and the opposing team has an opportunity to score. Players do their best to avoid contact and are encouraged to avoid plays that could be dangerous.

Photo by Dharanidharan Dharanidharan

In Ultimate, there are usually only two positions labeled Handler and Cutter. Handlers are those who primarily throw the disc upfield to Cutters who are using their athletic ability to accelerate in one direction and change it rapidly to generate space between them and their mark to receive a pass. 

There are plenty of nuances that I could include but with what I have provided, you have more than enough information to find some friends, find a frisbee, find a space, and get your own game going! Check out the Ultimate Rules Cheat Sheet to get yourself up to speed.

Casual Ultimate in Cape Town

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If you’re looking for a casual fix, I have you covered! Cape Town is host to a plethora of teams and communities that you can join to play casually. PickupUltimate is a terrific resource to use to learn about where games are taking place and who to contact if you need to find out more information.

Two of my favourite pickup games to attend are the UCT Friday Social and the Rondebosch Social Frisbee. These are great communities that are fun, easy, and open to all ages and levels of experience. Both have a WhatsApp group that they use to communicate times, locations, memes, and other information. Here are the UCT Friday Social and the Rondebosch Social Frisbee WhatsApp groups to get yourself involved! 

Photo by Dharanidharan Dharanidharan

One of the best ways to learn and to play Ultimate is on the beach. Nothing quite compares to sand, sun, fun, and frisbee and Cape Town has some of the most beautiful Cape Town beaches to throw plastic. Clifton Beach Pickup is an all-time favourite of mine. Games are organised on their WhatsApp group and usually take place at Clifton 1st Beach on Sundays between 9 – 12 am. 

Alternatively, Hout Bay Pickup organises regular Ultimate games on the beach. This is a terrific option for those who find themselves on the other side of the mountain. These games are usually hosted at Hout Bay Beach or Ambleside Fields on Sundays between 4 – 6 p.m.

Competitive Ultimate in Cape Town

Photo by UCT Ultimate

Along with the casual coolness of Cape Town Ultimate, the competitive scene is always looking to grow and develop new players. Along with the regular leagues that take place in the summer and winter periods, there are plenty of tournaments to participate in too.

If you’re interested in playing competitively, you’ll need to sign up as a Cape Town Flying Disc Association (or CTFDA) member. You can sign up here to participate in any CTFDA-organised league or tournament. Check out the website for a bunch of cool events, informative resources, and points of contact to get involved.

One of the oldest competitive clubs in the Cape Town scene is Chilli Ultimate. They pride themselves on being pioneers, fierce competitors, and fair and spirited sportspeople. A close-knit, loyal family of Chillies is looking to welcome new (and experienced) players to the squad. Drop them a message on Facebook or Instagram to get involved.

Nomad Ultimate is one of the newest competitive Ultimate clubs to enter the fold. They are a group of alumni University of Cape Town students and pride themselves on clean competitive Ultimate while still having all the fun. If you are looking for like-minded young athletes, this is your port of call. Check out their Instagram page to find out more.

What do I need to play Ultimate?

Photo by Dharanidharan Dharanidharan

As if Ultimate wasn’t appealing enough, this sport requires so little it’s almost silly. Sports like Tennis, Hockey, Rugby, and Cricket, amongst others, require a fair amount of equipment and specific fields to play. Ultimate, on the other hand, requires just a frisbee and an open space to play on. 

Sadly, it is tricky to find the official Ultimate Frisbee discs in South Africa, which has been a real issue for South Africans to acquire their WFDF-approved discs. Many Ultimate players need to look overseas to find the right one. Aria Discs is a great option as well as Discraft if you are looking to get your hands on an official disc. 

The Ultimate Frisbee Club at the University of Cape Town imports discs yearly from Discraft and has them available for sale to the general public. Drop UCT Ultimate a follow and a message and they’ll help you out! CTFDA usually has discs available for sale too.

Cleats (soccer boots) are a helpful addition but running shoes/trainers or bare feet work just as well. Any sort of exercise clothing works too however it is recommended that you bring both a light and dark shirt (white or black ideally). This is a standard practice in the Ultimate community to differentiate teams. 

Other than that, bring along lots of water (I always joke that Ultimate is HIIT with a disc, i.e. you will be doing a lot of sprinting), some snacks to replenish electrolytes, sunblock is useful for the fair-skinned, a hat, and all the enthusiasm you have.

Coaching and training resources

The internet is littered with resources that you can use to learn more about Ultimate and how it is played. From never having touched a disc to more technical and structural knowledge, there is a resource available online for you to find and explore. A quick “How to play Ultimate” on Google helped me immeasurably when I first learnt to call it a disc and not a frisbee (more than 6 years ago).

Here are two of those resources that I’ve ground my understanding of Ultimate. The first is How To Play Ultimate “Frisbee” created by a Belgium Ultimate club called Diabolic Heaven. This animation is a great tool to understand the basics of Ultimate visually. It’s only 2 minutes long so it is a fantastic intro if you have no clue what the sport of Ultimate looks like.

The second resource is a more detailed video intro video. How to Play Ultimate Frisbee for Beginners is a voice analysis done by Rowan McDonnell of the 2012 Club Championship Mixed Finals between Polar Bears and Blackbird. This is an awesome illustration of how Ultimate is played at the top level and broken down so that even the newest players can learn and understand.

Tips to up your Ultimate game

Photo by Dharanidharan Dharanidharan

My biggest tip for any player at any level is to play. Just playing the game as much as you can will teach you how to catch, how to throw, and how to move on the field. You’ll meet so many different people with different perspectives that can contribute to your growth as an Ultimate player. 

If you are looking to take your game to the next level and become more serious about Ultimate, I would recommend that you find a team nearby that you can practise and play league matches with. This is a level-up from the previous tip and a great way to enter the competitive scene of Ultimate. 

If you are stressed for time and can’t commit to regular practices or games, getting your hands on your disc is a must to improve your throws. All you need is a buddy and an open space and you’re good to go. Not only is this a great pastime and a lot of fun, it is good exercise, great for hand-eye coordination, and a good reason to get outside and away from screens or sitting. Nothing quite as simple as a disc, a friend, and the beach has made me so easily happy. I highly recommend this tip. 

If you are getting into Ultimate and find yourself regularly attending practices and matches, cleats (Soccer boots, togs, studs, whatever you want to call them) are a must-have. Ideally, you want to find plastic studs. These will change your game as they allow you to accelerate more efficiently as well as change your direction without slipping and falling on your butt (I learnt the hard way, as you might tell). 

History of SA Ultimate

Photo by Dharanidharan Dharanidharan

The annals of Ultimate in Cape Town tell tales that the first forms of the sport were initiated as early as the 1980s. At the time Prima Toys, one of South Africa’s largest importers of games and toys (who also had a license for Frisbees in South Africa), became heavily invested in disc sports such as Ultimate and FreeStyle (a sport and performing art characterised by creative, acrobatic, and athletic maneuvers with a flying disc). And while things looked like they were talking off, it did not last long. The sport slowly started to die as committed members started leaving and finding other ventures. However, thanks to members of the community like Justin Smith who was Chair of SAFDA (South Africa Flying Disc Association), the community was kept afloat. At the time, Justin and just a handful of people were playing as much as they could, wherever they could.

In late 1997, one of the regulars had a chance encounter with the Canadian Women’s Team coach. It was then that the seed of attending Worlds (the biggest international Ultimate Frisbee tournament that takes place once every four years) was planted, which they managed to attend the following year. 

“That tournament was the first proper Ultimate tournament most of us had ever played in,  and that became the springboard for Ultimate’s growth in Cape Town.” – Ant Pascoe, Former SAFDA Chair and Founder of Chilli Ultimate. 

Shortly after this, a development program sponsored by Truworths began to teach Ultimate at schools in Khayelitsha. Pindi Mey was instrumental in that program which saw young stars like Asanda Nanise, Asanda Ntshanga, and Thabane Vusane emerge as a new generation of talent. All the while Ultimate players were growing numbers slowly from the original base of 14 players.

The Cape Town Flying Disc Association was formed alongside SAFDA as Ryan Males, a key player at the time, left for Johannesburg and started to develop the sport there as well. This led to the first South African National Ultimate Tournament taking place in 2001. Four teams attended namely Big Strong Arm, Yellow Fever, Akkediske (from Stellenbosch), and International All Stars. 

Each year saw new members enter the community and some leave as well. Slowly but surely, the community grew and Ultimate maintained itself with regular leagues taking place each year as well as Nationals. South Africa, and Cape Town in particular, was able to send teams to Worlds in 1998, and 2000. In 2004, Khaya was the first junior team to attend, which was the product of those development programs and sponsorships from the Finnish embassy. 

Photo by Dharanidharan Dharanidharan

UCT hosted regular social games with minimal rules and formalities around this time. But by happenstance, a member of the Cape Town league passed by where they were playing and shared with them that this was a legitimate sport and gave them a bit more structure with the implementation of proper fields and a stall count (a 10-second count the defending player says out loud when marking a player with the disc).

“After joining the local league and pick-up games, a bunch of us decided to start a club at UCT and got together and it was done pretty quickly. We had a lot of help from sports admin and the first year was super boosted by a bunch of US exchange students in the mix.” – Nick Zaloumis, Former CTFDA Chair and League Coordinator. 

In 2010, UCT Ultimate was formed and became a pillar in the Ultimate community in Cape Town, hosting regular practices, social games, and a space for league matches to take place. Stellenbosch University followed shortly and attended league matches as well. 

Throughout 2010 and onwards, we have seen a few clubs form and leave as interest levels change with teams like Ghost, Catch-22, Salusa, Home Bru, Viking, and Northern Lights. Currently, the league has 6 – 8 teams participating regularly and many more teams attending Nationals as well! The rest is history. 

Ready to throw a disc?

Photo by Maties Ultimate

Ultimate is an incredibly fun and exhilarating sport that takes the best parts of sports we already know and love and throws a frisbee into the mix. The casual nature of the sport, the emphasis on fair play and sportsmanship, and the gender-mixed aspects make Ultimate appealing to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. 

It is worth mentioning that this article is not all exhaustive and I will have definitely missed a few things here and there. Cape Town is also littered with opportunities, communities, teams, leagues, and tournaments of all sorts for you to join and participate in. Whether it is the beach or the field, you can find something that suits you in our beautiful city!

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