Kota Kinabalu: American lawyer Matt Heibel is here to throw a disc around to a group of strangers.
“We’ve got people from Thailand, New Zealand, France, England, Hong Kong, Brunei. Even though it’s kind of harder to get you to see the draw.
You see 150 people from all these different countries. Everyone’s coming over to play some Ultimate,” said Matt.
Matt, who works in Guam, is part of the 150 Ultimate enthusiasts who took part in the 4th Annual Borneo Headhunter’s Hat Ultimate Frisbee (Ultimate) Competition at the Sukma Fields, Saturday.
A hat competition in Ultimate is where competitors sign up individually and then assigned to a specific team to compete. Some teams would be made up entirely of strangers.
To top it off, the game is played without a referee so players would call out their own or each other’s fouls. “It’s also co-ed. Men and women can be equal. It makes everyone good to each other and I think it’s a bonding experience,” said one of Sabah’s Ultimate pioneers, Julia Chan, who started playing the game when it was first introduced to Sabah by an American working for WWF five years ago.
“I live for Ultimate. It’s such a brilliant sport. It’s all about spirit and I’ve got friends around the world, ones I don’t even know, (because UF provides) you with an instant community and friends,” said New Zealander Natalie Sisson.
Edward Hill, an expatriate here, started playing Ultimate Frisbee six months after moving to Sabah.
“I saw them playing at the beach one Tuesday night and thought it was interesting and I joined in. It was great fun and the people are awesome.”
Since then, he’s represented the Sabah Ultimate team, The Headhunters, to Kuala Lumpur, Kuching and Miri.
Competition Organiser Dinoza Mahruf said he is capitalising on the international draw of Ultimate’s Hat competitions for Sabah’s tourism.
“Most of the people here booked tours before or after the tournament.
They don’t just come here to play. They came here to check out Sabah,” said Dinoza.
Matt visited Sabah specifically for the Saturday’s competition, saying “I heard about this Borneo tournament and I’ve always wanted to go to Borneo. The tournament came up and it’s a perfect excuse to come and travel.
“There’s a circuit around Asia that goes all the way from China and a North Korea tournament even, Australia, New Zealand, India, South East Asia, so many different places to play. It’s a great, great scene and Borneo of course, KK, is now one of the stops that people want to come to play,” he added.
Neighbouring countries like Thailand and Cambodia have already picked up on Ultimate Frisbee, with over 400 participants for its hat competitions.
Open competitions, where Ultimate Frisbee is played competitively with structured teams, has also been active around the region.
Natalie shared Matt’s sentiment saying: “The Asian UF scene is really growing. It’s got a way to go, for sure. I’m used to playing competitive but I really love the people here, they’re really enthusiastic. (They are) well-spirited and they’re improving all the time. I really like KK, I think it’s a cool city.”
The Annual Borneo Headhunter’s Hat Ultimate Frisbee Tournament began four years ago with 30 people with hopes to promote the sport to locals.
The number of participants grew significantly to 80 the following year, 120 last year and 150 this year.
According to Dinoza, for this year’s tournament, 30 of the participants are locals while the remaining players come from the peninsula and other international countries.
But Dinoza’s take on Ultimate Frisbee does not stop at tourism.
He hopes to one day introduce the sport as a school curriculum activity.
“We’re hoping to start off a proper UF Sports Club here.
I think it’s just about increasing the number of players and getting the whole committee done.
From there, it will be much easier for us to get into schools as well.”
He said he has done clinics in SMK Kolombong and SM All Saints and is hoping to bring the sports to colleges.
“We heard Institut Sinaran also has a bunch of players playing UF as well.
We’re already in talks with Kinabalu International School to have it as a curriculum activity,” said Dinoza.
Source: Daily Express