I had a vivid dream last night. I was packing for an ultimate tournament with Riot. The clarity in which I dreamt was diamond clear- I recognized the car I was packing, the field, my teammates. I was in a state of high anxiety: I didn't have my uniform, or the black Under Armor I used to wear beneath it; in reality I don't even own cleats any more. I was so burned out on the sport after the 2007 Finals between Riot and Fury when we lost, badly, again, to the same girls I'd been losing to for the past 6 year, that I trashed my cleats at the Sarasota airport and have never wanted for them since. Still, I had the distinct feeling in my dream that I was wobbling precariously between lives- I wanted to play with Riot, simultaneous knew I had no chance of getting there prepared, or being in shape enough to even keep up for one point.
To make matters all the more symbolic, I was packing my ultimate gear in my NRS Drybag, the one I am living out of now. When someone inquired as to why I was using a drybag instead of a Gaia Gearbag, I got irrationally livid. "Because this keeps everything dry! This is what I use now! Remember all those years of playing in the rain and soaking wet gear? Why did you never think to use a drybag?"
In college and the year that followed, I let ultimate completely consume me. It was my identity:
To use an extended metaphor in my current jargon, if the sport was a river, than I jumped in head first, without a personal flotation device. I endured many years of increasingly technical rapids, had the time of my life, went over a few waterfalls I definitely should have portaged, got worked in the hole at the bottom until I was nearly a goner, and finally was jammed into an undercut, out of which I finally extracting myself by simply standing up, taking a breath, and walking away.(C) Zoe Ross
Now this may sound painfully melodramatic, but when something consumes you, it consumes you, whether its drugs, or work, or bad men, or illness, or a sport. For me, ultimate was all these things (if you will be lenient and allow me to consider ibuprofen, legally prescribed painkillers and Poweraide as drugs.) When you are consumed, something else has taking over you, and is dictates your goals, your friends, your wardrobe, your plans for every evening and every weekend for six concurrent years.
The week after left my cleats in a Florida trash can, thereby making my divorce final, I was faced with my first evening off in years. I realized I'd better find something to do, quick, so the recirculation of the ultimate hole didn't suck me out of my mirco-eddy were I floating, clinging to the rocks. So I revisited a sport I had once been part of my life when I was 15, just out of curiosity. I went to a Seattle Raft and Kayak roll session in the Meadowbrook pool and sat there in an Everest, too scared to try a wet-exit.
The truth is, the social echelon in the Seattle ultimate community is like a caste system. The only way you can move up is to be really good at throwing a 175 gram piece of plastic. Eventually, I began to see a flaw in this paradigm. Now, I am lucky as hell: ultimate gave me 6 years of friendship, travel, hilarity, a Patagonia sponsorship I still have and a ripping six pack that's merely a memory. And besides a few poor relationship choices, and the time I chose practice over taking care of my terribly sick sister, I certainly don't regret anything. But my life was so incredibly one dimensional. While I did and always will fascinate myself, to anyone else on the outside, my friends and I were a terrific bore. We talked nothing but frisbee, the positions and plays, and the banal gossip that came with it. We wore team gear and Gaia gear, lined the rooms of the our houses with discs, spent ridiculous amounts of money on plane tickets, and played through stress fractures, broken bones and pneumonia.
(C) Scobel Wiggins
To once again be enclosed in a community that determines your worth based on how well you huck a piece of plastic makes me feel like I'm right back where I started. The kayaking Greats are here for the season- sponsored by Nike and Redbull, they have written guide books, produced movies, claimed first descents, been profiled in Outside and Men's Health, pop up in international commercials. Occasionally they stop by our base and sit around to discuss their latest big-water accomplishments. Some of those runs- the Palguin, the Trancura- I've even been down myself (albeit at lower water). But I have nothing in common with the big guns of the sport, and never will, and sitting around trying to sound like someone I'll never be does not appeal to me like it once might have. I'd much rather read a book or take a nap.
Fast forward two years and here I am in Pucon Chile- the absolute epicenter of hot kayaking these days. When the sun shines, the snow melts off the volcanoes and the waterfalls are pumping, in the evening the liquor flows and the decisions are bad. Pucon he kayaking den of inequity. Or so I've heard. Even if I wasn't here teaching and taking care of a flock of teenagers, I would be too exhausted to tap into the kayaking social scene. It's not that I don't love the sport. It's that I don't love its baggage. It's many many truckloads of NRS expedition weight dry-bag baggage.
(C) Zoe Ross
Am I growing wiser- or just older- or simply more jaded towards any one group of people? I am hesitant even to dip my toe into the waters of the traveling-kayaking lifestyle, because I know its power. Someone is given a pair of shoes by a company and suddenly they're 'sponsored', which puts them on a totally different level than the 'unsponsored.' If they're sponsored by kayak company X, then it's a huge deal for them to even be in a picture standing near a kayak company Y boat.
If ultimate is a river that can sweep you away in its current, than kayaking is a steep creek that will pummel you down the rocks and suck you into a sieve- literally and figuratively. And the longer you survive in its torrent, the higher your ego will inflate, and for some, the more powerful your sense of superiority. And then you either become a total dude-bro asshole, or you run something you shouldn't and you die. At least, that's how I see it. I have been known to generalize.