It was cold…and wet…and windy. Of course. But, it was still ultimate. By the time I reached Dunedin, New Zealand, I had been playing high-level college competitive ultimate frisbee for two years. In that time, I had gone to College Division 1 Nationals once and travelled across the country a few times to compete at other high-level college tournaments. I had learned all the jargon, mastered some of the throws, and had finally understood what “field sense” is. Now I was thousands of miles from my one true team, in a foreign country. at a huge university. But I was still playing ultimate, and it was rad.
Before I got to New Zealand, I made sure to do my research. The worldwide ultimate community is a unique one. It’s a fairly new sport, but old enough to be played in most countries and have official Olympic recognition. Big enough for world tournaments, but small enough that you’re probably only ever two or three degrees separated from any other person who plays.
So I asked one of the study abroad alums on my college team if she could point me towards anyone in New Zealand. She put me in touch with Dunedin’s own ultimate club within a few short Facebook messages.
Beth, the unofficial leader of the club, was just as stoked as I was to get in touch with her. Their club often relies on the American students studying abroad at the University of Otago to be able to fully field teams at tournaments and have moderately sized practices and pick-up games. By the time we met in person, they had finally come to a decision on the new team name, and thus D.U.D.E. was born.
The Dunedin Ultimate Disc Experience, a.k.a D.U.D.E… D.U.D.E. was everything a study abroader could ever want in a team. It was organized enough to play pick-up games a couple times a week and go to the big New Zealand tournaments, but not serious enough to actually have a training plan or practice schedule set, allowing for all other modes of exploring to happen.
It was native Kiwis, long-time immigrants, and short term study abroad students all together, building and thriving in the ultimate culture.
While there are some seriously competitive teams in New Zealand, D.U.D.E. is more focused on representing their name properly. To work with the chill surfer vibe of Crush the turtle from Finding Nemo and uphold the spirit of the game, all the while having fun and showing that the city home to the southernmost university in the world could play with the best of them…or at least have fun trying.
With D.U.D.E., I found a will and a way to travel once to Wellington and twice to Christchurch just to play ultimate. I competed at the New Zealand University Ultimate Championships and the New Zealand Mixed Ultimate Championships. I got my own personalized jersey to represent the team with. I was a part of a team.
Did I miss my college team from back in the States? Of course I did. Did I get a little out of shape without a solid training plan? You bet I did. But did I have a blast all the while? Yes. During those trips I established solid friendships with my fellow American students as well as the rest of the D.U.D.E.s.
I made friends all around the country, because people who play ultimate always house other ultimate players. I got to see more parts of the country, meet more Kiwis, and experience more of New Zealand culture by playing for D.U.D.E.
Finally, I learned to enjoy my sport in a new way. I learned how to take on the D.U.D.E. vibe and accept that playing isn’t always about trying to win. In our case, it was about the experience, the goofiness, and the whole team-loving fun.
So while the weather didn’t always agree, while the people didn’t always show, while the stores didn’t necessarily have cleats my size when mine broke, it didn’t really matter, because what I learned while I was abroad is that the ultimate community is amazing.
It’s the kind of community that is completely accepting and supportive of D.U.D.E. as a serious team name, and the kind of community that fosters community and connection. Just as I will always be an alumna of the University of Otago, so too will I always be a D.U.D.E.
Fin. Noggin. Duuuuuude.