High Tide Planning Tournaments for May 2021

With new regulations in place, the college party tournament series hopes to restart this spring after getting cut short last March.

The long-standing spring break college party tournament High Tide was forced to abruptly cancel half of its 2020 events when the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the United States in March of last year. 10 months later, the tournament’s organizers are preparing for a possible return in 2021.

“We are going to push things out and try to do High Tide in May this year, kind of moving from spring break to summer break,” said High Tide founder Ed Pulkinen, who has been operating the tournament for 25 years. Although COVID-19 cases and deaths are at all-time highs in both South Carolina and the US, Pulkinen is hoping that, as the vaccination rollout continues, conditions will improve enough by late spring that the tournament could operate with precautions in place.

“There’s no harm in planning to play,” he said. “The problem is if you look up and say, ‘Oh, we can play,’ but we never planned.”

The tournament has already outlined increased COVID-19 safety measures for their potential tournament weeks: all players will be required to wear a face covering including during competition, bring and use their own personal water bottle, and check in with a far stricter registration system than is typical at the event. Teams will have reserved team slots for arriving to and departing the fields to avoid crowding. Teams may be placed into “pods” that only play other teams in their pod throughout the event, in order to restrict contact between players.

These rules meet the guidelines issued by both South Carolina’s government and the North Myrtle Beach Sports Complex, where the event is set to take place. Outdoor events of more than 250 people have to be approved by the South Carolina commerce department.

But the challenge for High Tide isn’t likely to be at the fields; it will be to ensure COVID-safe behavior from players and teams after-hours. It’s no secret that High Tide is a party-first destination tournament, and teams often pack into beach houses for the week.

Pulkinen is aware of the issues — indeed, in the past, there have been plenty of noise complaints and police encounters outside of the tournament’s official housing options — and says that there will be more stringent rules this year.

“The City of North Myrtle Beach has housing restrictions as far as the number of people that can stay in houses,” he said. “That will be strictly enforced. We will get a count from teams for who will be staying in each house.” Parties will not be allowed, he said, though enforcing that rule could be impossible.

Players will be required to be individually registered and accounted for, and everyone will have to sign a COVID-19 rules compliance agreement.

“If they’re going to ignore what we ask them to do, there’s nothing we can do about that,” said Pulkinen.

RELATED: High Tide’s Mission is to Grow Ultimate and Christianity Over Spring Break. Can it Do Both?

Even as the tournament moves forward with registration and preparation for the event, it is still possible that it will be canceled if conditions call for it. The tournament is offering full refunds through April 1st, the decision point for whether or not the event will take place starting on May 3rd.

The tournament organizers plan to use quantitative metrics like positive cases, ICU capacity, and vaccinations along with qualitative assessments of how the country is fighting the pandemic to make a decision. “One of the things that I’ve learned since March 12th — when we had to shut everything down at High Tide — is that we may end up looking at totally different variables than I’m assuming that we’ll be looking at,” said Pulkinen. “We should put ourselves in a better position to evaluate the data by moving to May.”

He expects that many college teams will be eager to have an opportunity to play ultimate together at some point this spring, particularly since the USA Ultimate 2021 spring season has been canceled. “This may be an alternative for all of those people to get one last hurrah,” he said.

Currently, South Carolina is facing record-high COVID-19 cases, and the 10th highest per capita 7-day case average in the US. Vaccines are available now to South Carolina healthcare workers and those over 70 years old. The general public is not expected to have access to vaccines until the summer of 2021, according to the SC Department of Health.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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