After spending two weeks in Boracay, arriving in Auckland was like entering a different space-time. Gone was the familiar training beach in front of Casa Pilar, gone were the morning greetings by teammates as I grabbed breakfast and banana smoothies. My layovers in Darwin and Melbourne might as well have been inter-dimensional portals leaving countries, languages, days and moments of existence in their wake.
Suddenly I was in a car again for the first time in two weeks, on my way to my homestead in the suburbs for part of my time in Auckland. I chatted with new teammate Shoe about my new adopted team Magon. He spoke with conviction about Magon’s development over the years and their place as four-time reigning champion. Magon had become two squads in the last year, splitting off a development squad to better serve young players. While Nationals is important, Magon has their sights set on the World Championships this summer and the bigger picture of competing on the world stage. Nevertheless they view Nationals as home turf.
I coaxed some information about Magon’s nearest competition in New Zealand, the Victoria Wildcats. I learned about Wildcat star player (and former NexGenner) Aaron Neal, his rise in Wellington and his battles with Magon’s own Ken the Man Mountain. I was also surprised to hear how close the Wildcats came to beating Magon in last year’s final. Magon was down 3 points and clawed back to a universe point that lasted approximately 25 minutes.
By the end of the ride, I had a good feel for Magon the team, but still found myself a bit lost in my surroundings. There I was on the freshly cut lawn of another teammate, Jack and his wife Dana’s Green Bay suburban home. It was like being woken up from a dream that was Boracay and placed into some picturesque 1940s neighborhood. It certainly wasn’t a disappointing site. Having fast internet again, driving myself about in a car rather than riding in a motorized tricycle, and being in my own private room were amazing and familiar amenities, but starkly different from the life I had come to know and enjoy in Boracay. Conversations now tended toward how the majority of New Zealand cars are used imports from Japan, rather than on whether or not there is enough wind to finish my kite boarding lessons. Time too, seems to have sped up since arriving in New Zealand. Perhaps it’s just a new comfort with travel, or more likely it is the contrast of the calming and relaxed tropical island life with a comparatively bustling urban sprawl.
Some things were the same though, like the generosity of ultimate players like Jack who quickly made me feel at home by welcoming me with home-cooked meals, and team outings to an Auckland Blues rugby match. The Blues won despite being abysmal…as I’m told.
In a country dominated by extreme sports, the outdoors and Lord of the Rings, I’ve also had the time to partake in such inspired activities as zorbing, jumping off of the tallest building in New Zealand, visiting the Hobbiton set and sailing on a beautiful yacht (belonging to Jack’s friendly parents). I’m still hoping to arrange to learn some of the basics of the Maori Haka dance before departing for Christchurch and the New Zealand National Championships.
Speaking of which, I jumped off of the tallest building in New Zealand, the Sky Tower. As I understand 192 meters is a longer drop than a bungee jump and most base jumps in the world. To me it was an experience of mind over matter, from the moment I decided to make the jump, trying to trick my mind into overcoming any fears. The Sky Jump staff was quick to prod those fears constantly asking me if I was afraid and reassuring me that it was a long way down. The closest I came to doing anything like this was hang gliding in Switzerland many years ago, so my familiarity with such obstacles had long since faded.
The Sky Jump is incredibly safe, great measures and checklists by the staff assured me of that. Plus part of the jump is a controlled fall, making the free fall somewhat more manageable. Still it is a long way down, and stepping out on the edge of the platform is a harsh reminder of size against the backdrop of a city.
To execute this jump I dipped into a practice that I have been honing during my many years of competitive ultimate. A practice of dissociating your mind with the problem ahead and relying on your experience (or in this case harness and ropes) to guide you. The tingle of fear hit me several times on my way up the Sky Tower elevator, but by the time the operator was counting 3…2…1…for me to jump, I was ready to go and just jumped.
The feeling was scary at first. I did my best freak-out jogging in mid-air for the first second before realizing how incredible free-falling is. I regained my composure enough to try to say some things into the Go Pro on my hand, but quickly I was reaching ground and the drop was over, leaving me wanting more. It was a entertaining topic of discussion at practice later that day.
Playing ultimate on grass again after spending nearly every day sprinting on the beach is also a shock to the system. I felt fast — very fast — at the first Magon practices (despite feeling a tad jet-lagged initially). Having the full length of the field to throw again was also an adjustment. But Magon has been quick to teach me their system and to adapt to my skills as well.
Magon is a very different team from the Dragons. Whereas the Dragons have seen success on the international stage, Magon has seen little consistent exposure to international play aside from in Australia. Travel expenses have kept Magon relatively grounded to their region of the world.
The Dragons also have the luxury of support from an entire island, and the ability to train every day on the beach prior to a major tournament. Magon faces many challenges: in particular, finding practice space for Magon who is at the mercy of other popular sports like Rugby, and finding centralized practice spots for a team that is spread all over the sprawling city of Auckland. With most players working 9 to 5, a 6 pm weekday practice only grants Magon an hour or so of playtime after toiling in traffic for 45 or so minutes from nearly every corner of the city. Whereas the Boracay Dragons can afford to dedicate themselves to training non-stop, certain factors preclude that for Magon. But despite this limit, Magon has proven themselves champions four times over, and this weekend in Christchurch only the Victoria Wildcats may stand in their way.
Now staying at a hostel in Rotorua, I’m planning out today’s activities in mud bathing and Maori cultural tours. My thoughts are on the weekend’s tournament as the adjustment to my new travel-life settles fast.
Follow Elliot’s adventure at ultimateglobetrotter.tv