In the book Ultimate: the Greatest Sport Ever Invented by Man, the author Pasquale Anthony Leonardo lists the “Ten Tournaments Not to Miss in Your Lifetime.” The seventh tournament on that list is Wildwood, which takes place in Wildwood, New Jersey. I can officially place a check-mark next to it. Why did it make the list? It is the world’s biggest beach Ultimate tournament. To give you an idea, I’ll run some numbers by you (forgive me if you’re not into math). There are four different tournament options: 3/1 Open, 3/1 Beer, 2/2 Open, and 2/2 Beer. The “3/1” and “2/2” refer to the ratio of men to women on the field at a time. While the Open divisions had about 16 teams a piece, the Beer divisions had 13 sub-sections with more than 30 teams in each sub-section. Let’s assume each team brought an average of 12 players. 12 players multiplied by 30+ teams times 13 sub-sections… That’s a lot of Ultimate players!
I learned a few things shooting at Wildwood:
- Sand makes everyone want to sacrifice the body (lay-outs, defensive blocks, tackling friends, etc.).
- Sand and cameras don’t get along.
- At large, well-known tournaments like Wildwood, there’s a chance to photograph well-known, top-grade players and teams.
There’s something about playing Ultimate on the beach brings out the best in everyone (best bids, best defense, best expressions). When I photograph Ultimate, I follow the disc around on the field. Unless someone decides to lay-out for any reason, the majority of the shots are people handling, marking, or going up for the disc. The winter tournaments had people playing on turf, which is just plain painful (the fake grass really cuts). With the soft (yet messy) landing sand provides, players of all levels were finding a reason to get covered in sand.
Whether it was flying or cushioning, the sand at Wildwood helped make my photographs look all the more gritty and intense. It also acted as my litmus test for finding the players that would give me the greatest chance of a lay-out photograph. The downside about photographing on the sand? It’s ability to get on my hands, and therefore on my camera. I did my best to keep my hands free of sand, but I still managed to find a few grains of it on the outside of my camera (not the lens, thankfully). The best piece of advice I can give you for keeping sand off of your camera while you are shooting at the beach is to keep it off your hands. I had a dry washcloth (NOT wet) to wipe my hands off if there is sand on them. I say “not wet” because it’s harder to remove sand from a wet surface than a dry one, and you’re just asking for trouble with wet hands. It’s not foolproof, but it helps. If you do happen to get sand on your camera, be careful as there’s a possibility it may also get inside your camera body or lens. Talk to your manufacturer or a camera dealer if that most unfortunate of events should occur.
The tournament is two days long with the second day devoted to finals. After our team finished their games, I went around and photographed the other elimination rounds. In the process, I managed to find the field where the games for first place were happening (the giant scaffolding and large crowd gave it away). On the field was the finals for the 2/2 Open Division. The two teams were O-Pig and Hennessy at Half-Time, and photographing them was great! Everyone played their hardest, which made for a lot of amazing photographic opportunities. I was going through my pictures later with HighReleaseHandler and he recognized some of the players from O-Pig as being on the team that went to Beach Worlds this year! My first brush with photographing greatness…