New Zealand Ultimate is a bit like the country itself. Small but perfectly formed. There are regular leagues and events across the country from Whangarei in the north (home to the Ocean Beach Hat every February, New Zealand's most awarded tournament) to Dunedin in the south (whose Ultimate is influenced by the North American academia who pass through that city's University each year).
As is fitting for a niche sport in a country of four million, the player base is small but enthusiastic. The summer season runs from October to March, and we have both a series of national grass events (with mixed events before Christmas and mens and womens afterwards), and a series of hat tournaments on the beach that run all summer. There are also regular leagues in all the big cities and some of the smaller ones, university teams, school leagues, and a number of competitive indoor leagues and tournaments throughout the winter (including indoor nationals, held each September).
Club teams are based in the major cities. Historically, the best teams were scratch teams formed by groups of excellent players from all over the country. Wellington was the first city to get its act together, and it dominated the scene at national events, but then Auckland took over for a few years, and now they too are seeding the national throne to Christchurch-based teams.
New Zealand has a style all its own. Being small means that it is strongly influenced by individuals, and because New Zealanders travel so much, our game integrate styles and ideas from abroad as people travel, play overseas, and then return.
Originally the standard was set by the Wellington style (where the largest player base is and was). Wellington is blessed with a fair amount of wind hence a shortened game developed with plenty of emphasis placed on zone offence and defence. The Aucklanders tried to play a more expansive format, with a lot of emphasis on fitness and on basic building block structures and plays that could be used in many different game circumstances. And the Christchurch crowd, now in the ascendent, is reknowned for its athleticism, speed and transition offence, all things that are assisted by their relative youth.
We have an organised central administration for Ultimate that defines the annual calendar and makes key decisions, and dedicated regional bodies that make ultimate happen in their area. We do struggle a little for depth in the national game given the small player base, the costs of internal travel, and the fact that regions vary widely in skill levels and numbers.
New Zealand competes well internationally and has a small group of elite players that can mix it with the best, especially in Mixed. We were 5th in Heilbron in 2000, 7th and 8th in Hawaii in 2002, and 3rd in Finland in 2004. More recently we have switched focus internationally to play Women's and Open, with Raging Wahine (the Women's team) taking 7th spot in Perth in 2006 and Tuatara (the Masters team—a new development for us) 5th. We have Women's, Open, and Masters teams heading for Vancouver this month.
Of course we also play competitively in Australia, and we have a healthy history of us (occasionally) winning their national events and they (perhaps more frequently) winning ours.
So where to go from here? To me, structures are in place for continued growth. We have a coordinated central approach, a lot of dedicated regions driving growth in players and in skills, and a stable national calendar of regular events with their own unique identities that continue to go from strength to strength. This means a huge number of options for local players in their region: indoor, outdoor, on the beach, pickup, leagues, and hat tournaments.
Where there is still, I think, room for development is in the elite game. One option would be to look to the main regions to do more to drive player numbers and development at the most competitive level in their areas as a way to expand the size and strength of the national tour.
Hayden Glass is from New Zealand, and has played Ultimate on many other islands as well. He spends his time dreaming of Paganello, being impossible to trace, winning Paganello, and galloping around the field at breakneck pace.