5 Questions With…Patrick van der Valk

The last day of December is a moment when many of you look back at all that happened during the year and what is yet to come in the new one. It’s a good time for the New Year’s Resolutions, which will only work if you put enough effort into them. On 5th January I’ll be starting my 5th year of playing Ultimate Frisbee. Another Ultimate-related resolution gone right is this interview series. 12 months with 12 interviews! 🙂

If you haven’t read the November interview, make sure to check out 5 Questions With…Johanna von Toggenburg. Turns out Ultimate Frisbee can make the world better. If you wonder how then the answer is in that post.

This month I’ve had the chance to talk with Patrick van der Valk, who knows everything about Beach Ultimate. He was the Chair of the WFDF Spirit of the Game Committee and is responsible for those Spirit Of The Game scoring sheets! He’s one of the people behind Beach Ultimate Lovers Association. If you’re into the beach ultimate life or tournament organising, then you’ll definitely like this interview.

Name: Patrick van der Valk
Number: 1, 42, 69, 99
Height: 1.80 m
Plays Ultimate Since: 1979
Team: SeXXXpensive, and Lisbon Ultimate Club (LUC)
Cutter/Handler: Handler
Favourite throw: hammer, because it’s the easiest break and not many people expect it.
Favourite type of the tournament: beach
Favourite division: mixed
Favourite thing outside of Ultimate: Is there a life outside of Ultimate? There isn’t, right? No, seriously, I’m very much into technology and I push the limits in technology a bit. Then there is my family (my partner Sofia also plays) and I love the beach in general. I live truly a frisbee throw away from the beach. So…like today when we’ve had bad weather, we just go to the beach to see the rough sea and smell the sea, so that’s a thing that I enjoy.

1. How did you first get into Ultimate Frisbee?

At this point, gender equity is a big thing in the US and Ultimate but 40 years ago, when I was 15, I went to the international camp where we talked about the equal rights for men and women. It was interesting because the first week we learned about equal rights, the second week we made a play and the third week we went into local clubhouses and churches to perform a play about equal rights.

In that camp were a Swedish and Canadian guy and they both knew Ultimate and they taught us. They changed my life completely!

When I went back to Holland I bought a frisbee at the toy store. There was a pamphlet of the Dutch Flying Disc Federation (the NFB). I looked at it, called them and then shortly we were communicating and started a team in my hometown. I was the oldest player at 15. We became a member of the Dutch Federation and played for the National Federation there. In 1989 I moved to Canada and Portugal in 1995. I’ve played on the bunch of continents and countries. I proposed to my wife with a frisbee. It’s a big part of my life.

I have two big passion in Ultimate – Spirit of the Game and Beach Ultimate. I was the Chair of the WFDF SOTG Committee and created the Spirit scoring sheets that everybody’s using now. It’s definitely taken a large part of my life.

Photo credit: UltiPhotos

2. What does this sport mean to you?

It represents a lot of the things that are good in life and it keeps me young and happy. I’m 54 now and I’m still playing at least twice a week on the beach. It keeps me in shape and happy. I can’t think of life without the disc. It’s wonderful.

I love the flight of the disc. For example when I’m up on a mountain, I have this urge to throw the disc. I’ve lost discs because of it. Because I just wanna see it fly and then I’m just standing on the mountain and just throwing it and watching that disc just go and go and go. It’s definitely a big part of my life.

3. You’re one of the people responsible for the creation of the Beach Ultimate Lovers Association. What are the goals, values and the idea behind this initiative?

It was never a serious plan. I am a synthetic organic chemist by training, a bit of a science nerd in a way. When I moved from Canada to Portugal I found out there was basically no work for a synthetic chemist, so I started my own company (ChemConnect). That company did well. I moved it to the US and then eventually I decided to leave the company. I got a golden handshake that allowed me to do nothing for a year or so. After 6 months I was sort of bored because doing nothing is not my strong suit and BULA has just started in Paganello. There were a bunch of people that just started with the whole BULA idea as a way to get beach ultimate together. And I thought “Oh, I’ve moved to Portugal and I love beach ultimate.” We had started the Bar do Peixe tournament in Portugal in 1997 and because nobody was really doing anything with BULA – there was a logo – I basically said: “Guys um…let me just see if I can get beach ultimate on the map. I like to organize, I like to do things for ultimate.” So, it just sort of got started that way. We got the help of a lot of people that were tournament directors. Things just moved from one thing to another.

In 2003 somebody in Portugal said, “Hey, has there ever been a world championship in beach ultimate?” And I said “No”. He said, “I have an event organisation. If you want we can organize it.” I said, “Great. Let’s do this”.

That’s when the first world beach ultimate championships started. But then three months before it was supposed to happen the event organizer bailed out because he couldn’t get enough sponsors to cover the event. He did it of course as a business and for me, it was never a business. It was something that I did for fun. And so suddenly we had at that point maybe 30 frisbee players in Portugal and so we had to organize the championships ourselves, which we did and it was a great event.

From there I was just spending weekends trying to figure out who is interested in beach ultimate, who wants to do something sort of activating people, helping people to get things done. It was more me helping people get things done than me doing a lot. I mean, I did a lot of stuff, but it’s helping others. It’s always been the motto.

The main thing that we did was organize World Championships and Continental Championships. We have done now 5 world championships and the same amount of continental with European’s in 2008, 2013, and 2019 next year. Asia in 2009 and now 2019 as well. And those just keep on getting bigger. At the world championships in France we had so many teams signing up that we’ve had to say “Sorry, we have too many. We have to cut down.” Of course, that’s luxury problems having 180 teams want to play and we had to narrow it to 120.

So, everything has been dependent on the year. Sometimes we’ve had years that we’ve planned things ahead, but most of the time it was just whatever came we moved it forward and always the main thing was to grow the sport. Get more people to play. If we could do that then we maintain the spirit of the game, as that was always a very important part of me.

It’s always been a labour of love. It’s not a full-time job. I do this in my spare time, at night, on weekends and so it wasn’t really planned. It just continued to grow because I kept on adding fuel to the thought. I always enjoyed it and just seeing how the sport has grown over so many years. I mean, we have 90 national teams for the European’s in Portugal – that’s large. We’ve got 8 divisions. We’ve got a great-grandmaster division with 8 countries. I mean, these are all people my age. The Dutch team that I might play for has a lot of people that I used to play with back in the 80s and they all are coming back now. Beach is great for the older ultimate players. Apart from spending time by the sea and not having the cleats on, it’s just easier on the bones. Hey, you run, but it doesn’t hurt the next day.

I’ve always said that beach ultimate is going to be something that is for the older generation. I start to see it happen now. The European Championships will have 8 great-Grandmaster teams (for those who are 50+), 10 grandmaster teams (40+), 14 Master Men teams, 12 Master Mixed, and 6 Women Master teams. That means there are more master teams than the normal divisions combined. I think that’s significant and it keeps on growing. And that’s a good thing right? The sport is growing and you have all these grass players. They eventually get into their 30s, 35’s and then start to go “Ok, the beach is nice. It’s a nice vacation.” You go to Portugal, you go to Spain or you go to Bali or wherever you play.” They continue to play on the beach. .

4. What does it take to prepare a truly great and memorable beach ultimate tournament?

Always think about the players. That’s the first thing. Make sure that you do everything with the players in mind. Make it memorable. You have to stand out. One of the problems is that there are a lot of tournaments. If you don’t think about the players, then things go wrong. Think Paganello. They were very popular but they kept on increasing the price and not increase the experience. That, in my opinion, cost them the respect of the players and now it is a small event again. They refocused and are now catering to the younger players. That is their focus. I think that is great and hopefully, they will come out stronger than before.

I suggest you create a story and a special sort of atmosphere for a certain group of players who will be attracted to it. Then it has a higher chance to become successful. If you have a tournament that doesn’t have anything special you might get influx but not too many people will talk about it. It might work but with all the competition around you really need to figure out what your focus is for it to be a long-term success. That can be many different things.

For example one of the things that we’ve had within BULA we called the beach ultimate travelling tournament. Every year BULA would help one tournament in promotion. They would come to us and say, “We want to do a new tournament. Can you help us?” What is now CFC used to be called the Dream Team tournament. We allowed players to invite their friends through a website, and we allowed them to make their dream team. That wasn’t done very often at the time. It became a very successful idea and then people start to bring their own teams already to the tournament and that’s how CFC started to grow.

So I think it’s a bit of an imagination that you have to have and make sure that you focus on the website. You need a decent website or Facebook page. But Facebook is almost on the way out. So, it’s still good. I used to get a lot through it, but I think lots of people are starting to get away from it. So, the website is definitely key to have. As long as you keep that focus in mind one, maybe two years of doing that and then people start talking about it. Allow people to talk about it. Give them photos afterwards, give them videos. I think those are the things that really help. Stay focused on your story. What do you want to be known for and work on it.

Sponsors is always a problem. We have a document on how to deal with local sponsors, and how to get it. But it’s not easy. I think that the biggest problem is that organizers think that we’re worth much more than we are. We’re a small sport. Even the WFDF at the world championships, which is broadcast on ESPN does not manage to secure serious sponsors. Yes, they have the VC, yes they have Discraft, but that’s about it.

Sponsorship is really difficult and I think most people that start with the tournament they think “Oh we’re gonna find a sponsor, they’re gonna give us 2000 euros, 500 euros, whatever.” Now, you’re going to find a sponsor who’s going to give you maybe free beer or really cheap beers – hey even beers at 20 cents each. And then you can sell them for 2 euros. That’s how you make money. I think that as a sponsor you need to think much more as what they call VIK (Value in Kind). I think very few groups will give you money. They will give you product because the product is not that costly.

At the tournament that is, let’s say, decent size tournament… you have 200 players. That’s not a lot. What do they get? We get 5,000 people watching the European Championships at most. That’s not that many. Sponsors are not going “Oh, I’m gonna spend 5000 euros on getting in front of 5000 people who are not even interested in the sponsors.” So, sponsorship is a very difficult thing to do.

One person that does it very well is Adam Levy from Sandblast. It’s the tournament in Chicago on Montrose Beach and he has, from the start, really connected well with local suppliers. A taco house, a beer brewery and each year what he does really well – he gets them in. They don’t have to pay much. They get a product and he’s really into promoting them before, during and after the event. After the event, he thanks them a lot. He has a letter afterwards with information on how many players were there and he does it every single year. And then sponsors keep on coming back and keep on increasing what they do for the event. But it’s a long process that they have to do and at very low expectations.

So, it’s very difficult to get sponsors involved, but if you think small and are willing to help out the sponsors it is not impossible. Make sure that the sponsors are treated well. That somebody meets them when they get to the field and that they get the player pack as well as the players. Then afterwards they thank them and make sure that they are happy with it. And then next year ask them again and maybe ask them for a little bit more. But it’s a longterm plan.

If people are interested, if they go to the BULA website, there is a document that was created. We had a working group about sponsorship and we got all the knowledge together and turned it into a 30-page document with examples and types of letters that you can write. You can adapt it and change it however you want, but it helps you with the basics getting done.

5. What skills are the most important in playing beach ultimate and how should a team prepare to achieve good results?

I would say an explosive start. The distances are shorter and the sand is a bit of an equalizer. The moment you have two steps on your opponent you are generally farther away than they can ever catch up. Fast start on the sand is definitely important to get open and stay open.

Practising on the full sized field also really helps. Because the 75 meters field is not that long. A lot of people can throw, if needed, from end zone to end zone. When you have practice always do it on the right-sized field. You get a real good feel of where your players can or should be. And I think that’s very important because on the grass there’s more space. There’s always a place where you can throw to. And beach… it’s actually quick to throw out of bounds on either sides.

I’m so used to the beach now and I think I haven’t played grass in 6 to 10 years, so I’m not used to having no wind. I think that if you’re not really used to wind that’s definitely a disadvantage. I don’t how you would practise for that. Find a place that is windy, because it does have an influence. On the beach, you generally have a stable wind. I think that the problems you sometimes have in the grass fields where there’s a lot of buildings around. The wind is very odd and the beach, thank goodness, frequently is very stable which has its advantages. It’s not that the disc drops.

So, for your flick, that means a really good snap. Less of the arm, more of the wrist and the same with your backhand. It’s the snap that will make a difference if the disc is stable. I suggest playing against the wind if you have the option. Unless it’s really strong I find that playing with the wind is actually a bit more difficult. The disc has the tendency of going down. So you have to throw it up and it will still continue to go. I prefer to throw against the wind because I feel that I can throw it so that my teammates can just easily get to it and catch it. That’s also because I’m a handler and I know how to throw well. For me, in many ways, it’s easier to throw against the wind than with the wind. But how to practice wind? A wind tunnel? I have no idea how you would practise wind if there is none.

PMP 2017, Gdańsk Poland

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the interview. I almost can’t wait for the start of the outdoor season when the weather is best for beach ultimate. Happy New Year and I hope that 2019 will be a great year in Ultimate for all of you!

What’s your Ultimate Frisbee story? Would you like to share it? Feel free to message me on Introverted Ultimate or via email. I’ll get back to you with 5 Questions. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

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