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Wildwood Daze-Looking back on a Beach Ultimate Frisbee Wham-O of a weekend

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

A flying disc (also called a Frisbee or simply a disc) is a gliding toy or sporting item that is generally made of injection-molded plastic and roughly 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) in diameter with a pronounced lip.

*All photos Howard E. Greenberg except when noted.

A special thank you to Howard too for contributions and turning me onto Beach Ultimate!


The Beach Ultimate Frisbee line-up and positioning at the beginning of game and after each score.

Photo: David Whitman

Let's begin with a little Frisbee-tory

Walter Frederick Morrison and his future wife Lucile fought their tryptophan malaise by tossing a popcorn can lid after Thanksgiving Day dinner in 1937. Little did they know that nearly a century later people would gather from around the world on a strip of sand along the New Jersey coast to toss what the popcorn lid eventually evolved into: the "frisbee," a plastic disc loved by both human and canine alike.

What's In A Name

The name frisbee emerged in 1937 when Yale students started a craze by tossing empty Frisbie pie company tins after devouring another one of their popular baked dough and fruit, custard, or cream- filled confections. By 1958 however, Frisbie pie company was history so Wham-O re-named their Pluto platter the frisbee and we are all the better for it. Pluto platter Beach Ultimate? Umm, no...the name change was wise. All's well that ends well too as today there is room for two frisbees in the world because the long-defunct Frisbie pie company was resurrected (with their original recipes!) in 2016.

The various faces of the flying disc through the years. Share you frisbee pics or favorite frisbee story in the comments below.

Ultimate Frisbee-born in Jersey

As for Ultimate Frisbee sans sand, it emerged in the late 1960s. In 1968, Joel Silver introduced his idea of Ultimate Frisbee to the Columbia High School student council in Maplewood New Jersey, USA. The next year, the first game was played between two groups of students.

In 1969 a team had been formed at the school and they played not on soft beach sand but upon the unforgiving asphalt jungle of a parking lot. In a truly DIY manner the only lines that existed were the goal lines-marked by the telephone poles or piles of the players' coats.

The beach element was added sometime in the 1990s maybe, and in Italy, perhaps. The origins of Beach Ultimate is as murky as the Atlantic on a stormy day.

Enough of the past as we come back to the present day and my introduction to the world of Beach Ultimate

There's a great thing about having no idea what will happen when you walk out the door or into a door (that's opened of course) because that's the space where things occur that can shift an entire weekend's focus. I went live for a tour of the Lazy Eye distillery

While I was there I met Howard Greenberg and his wife, Suzanne. They enthusiastically turned me onto the Beach Ultimate event happening that weekend. Watch that conversation below:

Let's take a look at the game affectionally called Beach Ultimate:

There are normally two leagues playing: beer league and competitive. Everyone is in the same league with different divisions.

There are essentially two positions in Beach Ultimate: Cutters and Handlers. Handlers throw the frisbee and cutters catch it. Eazy-peazy, right?

The disc can be thrown from one player to another in any direction but players in possession of the disc are not allowed to run. They must establish a pivot foot (like in basketball) and throw to a teammate.

Points are scored by catching it in the goal area which is between the two back cones if the frisbee is caught beyond that it is considered out of bounds.

Defense? It's played like basketball as well: defenders try and stay close to the offenders and block the disc. Once a disc is intercepted or touches the ground the teams switch from defense to offense and vice versa. Points are scored by passing the disc to a teammate in the opposing end zone. Players are subbed out after every point.

When you dive it's called a bid (sand eating optional).

Defense is like basketball as well. Defenders try and stay close to the offensive player and block the disc. Once a disc in intercepted or touches the ground the teams switch from defense to offense and vice versa.

Interceptions, incomplete passes, and passes out of bounds are turnovers. Rain, wind, or occasionally other adversities can make for a testing match with rapid turnovers, heightening the pressure of play.

Oh, and physical contact is generally considered a foul. Boundaries people, boundaries!

Interestingly, Beach Ultimate is a self-refereed sport so when a player is fouled he/she will call ‘Foul’ and the play stops. If the opponent agrees, the fouled-upon player gets the disc and the play continues. If not, the disc goes back to the thrower.

One long blast of the air horn will sound the start of a round. Three (3) short blast will sound the end of the round. In all games except the finals (see Championship Round Games below) the games will be played to 45 minutes.

You get all that? I hope so because there will be a pop quiz later.

For more on Ultimate Frisbee:

For the lowdown on Beach Ultimate:

A diagram of the sandy field of Ultimate play:

The Wildwood Beach Ultimate breakdown:

Wildwood Beach Ultimate is the largest beach ultimate event in the world. Over 209 teams came from all over the world to compete and while this sounds impressive according to others I talked to that is 1/3 of the pre-Covid totals for Ultimate Frisbee. This is a big deal.

Sideline interview with player

7 games: 4 on Saturday and 3 on Sunday, Sunday one loss elimination.


3/1 Beer – 3 Male, 1 Female players on the field for each point. Beer Divisions are for teams who care more about fun than winning.

2/2 Beer – 2 Male, 2 Female players on the field for each point. Beer Divisions are for teams who care more about fun than winning.

2/2 Competitive* – 2 Male, 2 Female players on the field for each point (*Minimum 8 teams).

My game day experience:

Arriving at the beach on Saturday morning it was filled with row after row of beach frisbee courts for as far as the eye could see. Team's playing, cutters diving after frisbees, making bids, and leaping into the air to catch or block airborne discs. Handlers grabbing the frisbee from mid-air and flicking it skyward towards the waiting hands of their cutter teammate.

It was somewhat like a ballet on the sand and in fact some were were wearing tutus like the finest ballerinas and diva-esque tiaras.

They came to play and "play". My destination was court 51 according to a text from Howard earlier. The problem being I was somewhere around court 23 and nowhere riding a broken pedal bike with laptop bag slung over one shoulder while holding a thin camera tripod in the other rubber tires slipping and sliding through the sand. It was hot and I had a ways to go so off I went towards Mariners Landing pier and the Pig Dog (their court was in that general direction).

I found the court but no one was there. That's what happens when you're sent a text at 11:30am and arrive about an hour later.

Wait a minute. I forgot that I had the bike-cam fired up for the journey to the beach. If you want to know more about bike-cam join my Guy On A Bike Facebook group Whitney so graciously set up on The City Pulse Facebook page for my hi-jinks and mischief. So all of this is viewable if you want to really dig into the Guy On A Bike experience.

So anyways, there I was sweating bullets in the midday sun arriving at an empty tent so I parked the bike, grabbed the tripod and headed off to shoot some images and video of all the Beach Ultimate Frisbee action.

These are NOT those photos!!!

Shots of the action

Photos: Howard E. Greenberg

As you can see from the images above how couldn't I find the experience to be a lot of fun? It's funny because I'm sitting facing the Runaway Tram Car ride here at Surfside pier as I am typing this and the gyrating twists, sharp turns and reminds me of the Beach Ultimate action.

Camraderie is a key element of the Ultimate game

There is a great family-like feeling coming from everyone I talked to their passion for the ultimate frisbee of course, but also the chance to once a year hang out for a couple of days with their kindred in the Beach Ultimate worldwide universe sharing a laugh, beers, trash-talking, future costume ideas. Everyone was just grooving on the presence of each other and enjoying playing in the sand for a weekend.

It's a combination of serious competition and loose, fun irreverence.

Below are some select clips of the action to show the thrill of victory and the sand eating agony of "da bid".

It was impressive to see the speed and dexterity of the players especially considering they were running around, making cuts and leaps in sand, which doesn't exactly have a lot of give. The sand was not packed down either which would have made it a little bit easier. Everyone I spoke to and observed, including the team from Scranton, PA (who had this really sweet Electric City tent that I unfortunately didn't photograph) was just so damn excited about being around their Beach Ultimate brethren and sistertren after not playing last year.

A wide array of looks and fashion statements in Beach Ultimate. 2nd photo first row by me, all others Howard E. Greenberg.

Live action on the sand complete with play-by-play with Howard and Suzanne.

It was also great to see my favorite NA craft beer company with a presence here too. (So a big shout out to Athletic Brewing!)

After the action on Saturday there was a big Beach Ultimate blowout complete with live music, revelry, a bit of trash-talking and truck full of free craft beer, complete with individual taps.

Oh, and what would a Beach Ultimate party,or any soiree for that matter, be without a little limbo action.

As the party wound down I was able to catch up to one of the players who summed up what Beach Ultimate seems to be all about.

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