About to board our flight back to Goa from the comfortable and delectably quiet “announcement-free” terminal at Mumbai Airport, we were both gearing up for a long weekend of ultimate frisbee.
We made some friends through the relatively small yet tight global community of Ultimate when we were in Bangalore and managed to score an invitation to be part of one of six high quality teams, competing for a cash prize at the inaugural Holi Goa Sixes. The format of this tournament was that each team would bid for a spot at the competition, where mixed gender teams would field even 3:3 (male:female) gender split lines throughout the tournament. The pitch would be slightly reduced accordingly, as ultimate is generally played 7v7.
It was time to board our IndiGo aircraft (unofficial sponsor of our team, called Hello6E) so we joined the queue, without a “bing, bang, bong, can I have your attention please” to be heard. The short flight to Goa was smooth and uneventful, getting us to Vasco de Gama airport around 3pm. After collecting our bags we opted for a “pre-paid taxi service” as Goa is the only state in India that is without Uber, and we had a colourful interaction with our taxi driver in Mumbai the night prior. We wanted this to be smooth. Turns out the pre-paid taxi service simply gives you a receipt and you pay the driver anyway. Not to sure how that is “pre-paid”. But never mind…
When our driver tried to tell us that he was “tired” and “was going to go home, dropping us off with another taxi, he was met with a harmonious blast of disapproval, anger, and of course, attitude from Sam and myself. He did not push the fact, and very delicately and silently drove us to our destination in Margao with no further incident.
That night, Sam and I went to see Black Panther in 3D. The film was fantastic! Fun plot, epic costumes and overall highly entertaining - everything you want and more from a super hero film. It was interesting that before the film started, the Indian National Anthem played out loud over a sweet 1990s computer generated graphic of the Indian flag waving in the breeze - we all stood at attention in honour of this momentous occasion. Even more entertaining, however, was when approximately halfway through the film, in mid sentence, the film jerked to an abrupt stop without-.
INTERMISSION - 15 Minutes
After the ample intermission, the film continued as per usual, with expletives and false gods all being censored for our protection (although they were perfectly happy to show us a softcore condom commercial during intermission, where a topless heterosexual couple engaged in some pretty heavy petting). After the film, the short 1.5Km walk along the half-finished footpaths back to our hotel was surprisingly illuminated with fairy lights.
In the morning we made our way to fields via roadside breakfast to meet out team and start the tournament. The tournament was being held at the Chowgule College of Arts and Sciences campus in Margao. The facilities were really spectacular, especially the full sized AstroTurf (tiger turf) soccer field where we would play all of our games. There was already a small troop sizing up and marking out the fields, filling large water bottles, and getting geared up for the tournament when we arrived. We met Mel, one of the two main organisers of the tournament. She is a US ex-pat who married a Goan and has been living in India for 19 years. Mel and her husband Nathan were responsible for dreaming up the tournament, and making it a reality in just 3 short weeks. They were responsible for the awesome facilities, the free tournament, as well as the cash prize on offer. They were both lovely, welcoming and passionate about Ultimate Frisbee.
Our team arrived in small groups and we got to meet everyone. Just like in any other tournament, you felt as though you were all old friends. It’s always amazing how a shared interest in chasing a plastic disc around a paddock can pave the way for instant, long-lasting friendships. Our first game was at 10am, and temperature was just starting to rise. It was a warm, yet comfortable 24 deg C when we started our game. But by half time, it was closer to 34 deg C and still rising. The black rubber beads on the turf soaked up the heat and boosted the on-field temperature even higher. I didn’t have a thermometer, but the on-turf temperature was probably close to 60 deg C! We comfortably won our first game and retreated to the shade.
I was really struggling with this heat, and was largely unable to eat a hot curry meal following our game, and this was just the start. The food was provided by the college canteen and it was really spectacular and cheap - just 120 Rs per meal (~$2.50NZD), but I just couldn’t do it.
After lunch, we were all bused to a nearby location to have some FREE BEER and celebrate the Holi festival of colour. They provided us with packets of colourful paint dust, loud music, and a large field, and the colour war commenced! It was about as much fun as you can imagine, running around throwing paint at each other with reckless abandon, however, it was definitely more aggressive than I was anticipating. So, Sam and I thought it best to hold back slightly and not go full hulk at the nice people we met only a few hours prior (although they were perhaps not as restrained with their treatment of us in all cases - I spent some time in the shower afterwards cleaning quite a lot of paint out of my shorts. Thanks Varoon...). Overall, a memorable experience and a lot of fun.
Two of the teams that had not played in the morning drew the short straw of having to play a feature game at 4pm on the grass fields where we had the Holi party. We all watched, heckled, some drank the free beer in excess, but generally we got to know our teammates a bit better and watch the two teams we would face next in the competition.
We returned to turn field at Chowgule, where we played a night game, under the lights at 7pm. Unfortunately, our captain, Veera, had fallen ill and couldn’t play with us, smartly opting to rest in the hopes of feeling better for our games the following day. The temperature was much more reasonable by this stage. We won this game, which was great for our team’s confidence. Afterwards, we all went for another catered dinner at the college canteen. I was reeling from the day in heat (and probably being so unfit!) and could barely eat again… This was starting to become a problem. At around 10.30pm the bus took us all back to the hotel for the night, where we all had showers and went to bed… Day two’s games were set to start at 8am!
Our first game on Day 2 was against the tournament favourites - Dirty Half Dozen - aka “the all-star team”. It was made up entirely of Indian national representative players, all young, athletic, fast and highly skilled. They had easily won their previous games and were gelling exceptionally well for a group of players who had not necessarily played with each other before. Veera, our captain had gone to hospital in the middle of the night, with concerns of accute appendicitis, so we were without her for the day (and would be for the rest of the tournament). There was not time for breakfast in the morning, missing our captain, and up against the best team. However, despite the odds, we found ourselves leading at half time! It was an epic game where both teams went on scoring streaks, and it eventually made it to a score of 14-14 game to 15. We were on offense and just needed to keep possession. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do it and they took the game on golden point (often called Universe point… we have a tendency for drama in Ultimate).
We had game immediately after our tough loss, and this one was going to be hot! Our game the day before started at 10am and by the end I thought I was going to pass out. This game wasn’t starting til 10.30am! Early on we had a nasty injury, where one our players took a knee to the back of the neck. There was concern about a spinal injury so we were extra cautious and waited for one of the players on another team, who is doctor, to come and check him out. While luckily, our team mate was fine (and in fact he came back to play later in the game), this meant an ~10 minute delay, pushing our game further and further in the midday heat. This game also ended up 14-14, game to 15. However, we were able to do the hard work and score the final point, securing our victory. At this stage our team was starting to really come together and our record was 3 wins and 1 loss.
It was at this stage that I was starting to feel the signs of heat exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition. I knew I needed to eat some lunch, so I forced myself to do so - but only managed to choke down a token amount. At lunch time, I managed to escape into an air conditioned room that Mel showed me for a nap to try to regain some energy and generally escape the heat, and came out for the later game feeling ever-so-slightly peppier.
Our third game of the day was an evening game, starting at 5pm. We were playing a team that had the same win:loss record as us and in the scheme of the tournament, the outcome didn’t matter. This was our last round robin game, and no matter what, we would be playing this same team again tomorrow morning for our semi-final playoff match. Despite this, both teams came out with high energy and for the third time in one day we ended up on universe point. This is a testament to the high quality and calibre of the teams that attended the tournament. It is very rare to have so many high level, close matches in one tournament. Again, we did what it took and won this game! We were going into the playoff round with a record of 4-1, playing the same team again the next morning in order to secure a spot in the final.
Day three was set to start at the soul-destroying time of 7.30am, game on. Alarms set for 5am, to have time to pack all our gear, and catch a 5.30am bus to the fields.
The morning was a serious battle, and I was worse for wear. Adding sleep-deprivation to the list of excuses, I was not feeling particularly flash. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in 3 days, and couldn’t stay hydrated no matter how much water and Gatorade I drank. I was in a bad way. I started the game, and pushed through, but about halfway through the game my body started to give up. My head was spinning, I had pins and needles in my hands and forearms, and blurred vision. I had to stop, and I had to get out of the sun. It was a really difficult thing for me to do, as I hate, more than anything, letting my teammates down. But I knew in this instance I had to listen to signs my body was giving me. I pulled out of that game. We lost that game, which meant we were eliminated from the championship game. I felt and still feel crappy about that, but all things considered, I think I made the right choice.
I managed to find some shade and have a sleep, drinking as much as I possibly could whenever I had the energy, and the rest of the team started our final game of the tournament, playing off for 3rd and 4th place. I managed to muster the energy to come down to the field about halfway through the game, but was told in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to play. I watched from the sideline, and we won our last game to place 3rd overall in the tournament. Not bad at all!
The tournament final also went to universe point and proved to be an outstanding game to watch. As much as the competitor in me wanted to be in that game, I knew, while spectating that I realistically would not have coped with the midday heat. Nevertheless, it a great match to watch. Dirty Half Dozen, the top team on paper, somewhat predictably came away with 70,000rs cash prize (~$1500NZ). Afterwards, as a team, we all went out to a restaurant called Martin’s Corner, where we ate and drank and hung out together. This was really fun and highlighted how little time there was, with this tournament structured the way it was, to relax and chill with one another. We all agreed we would need to do it again sometime soon!
That night we caught an overnight bus to Mumbai, where Sam and I recalled the stories and amazing people we had met during the tournament. The post tournament depression was swift and real.
Lots of love,
Z & S