Illustrations by Ben Campbell
For ultimate players on the East Coast, there is only one weekend during the summer that truly matters. One weekend in which weddings, work, the birth of a newborn, and other distractions that tend to get in the way of ultimate are universally disregarded. With the Series still months away, the summer reaches its peak each year in late July on the beaches of Wildwood, New Jersey.
Wildwood isn’t the nicest place on earth. The tournament isn’t the most extravagant event. It doesn’t have the highest level of competition—or, to be honest, the highest caliber people. But as anyone who has attended can attest, none of that matters. Wildwood takes factors that on their own seem horrible and combines them into something wonderful, just as white bread, runny cheese, overly sweet sauce, and a ton of grease can create the perfect slice of boardwalk pizza at 3 AM.
Wildwood isn’t filet mignon, but it’s just about the best damn drunk pizza of an experience you could ever hope to have.
For first timers—and veterans!—I have compiled a little how-to guide for the weekend. These are the most important 48 hours of you summer. Don’t mess it up.
IN AN IDEAL world, you take Friday off from work and begin your pilgrimage on Thursday night in order to avoid Jersey weekend traffic. Not only does getting to the shore on Thursday night give you more time to hang out, but getting stuck in traffic on the Garden State Parkway is a similar experience to baking yourself in an oven that smells of body spray, overcompensation, and garbage.
For those of you who either can’t get the Friday off, pay for an extra night of hotels, or expose your body to an additional night of Wildwood revelry without fear of serious medical repercussions, do your best to get out as early as possible on Friday afternoon.
There are a couple good tricks for this, but I have always been a fan of telling your boss around 3:30 that you need to “check if my car is parked in a red zone,” hustle out before he or she asks what exactly a “red zone” is, and then leave early for the weekend. By Monday they will probably have forgotten about it, and if pressed you can tell them that the parking situation became “a whole thing” and if necessary flash them the parking ticket you probably got at Wildwood.
Getting stuck in traffic on the Garden State Parkway is a similar experience to baking yourself in an oven that smells of body spray, overcompensation, and garbage
Once you are out of the office and on the road, the trip has officially started. It’s time to get hyped up with your crew, talk about all the craziness of tournaments’ past, and anticipate the insanity of the weekend at hand. Once that plays itself out after an hour or so, I guess just go crazy on Snapchat or whatever.
It is important to fuel up before you get to the shore, so make sure to stop on the way. For those coming down from the North, I highly recommend the Cheesequake rest stop. The Sbarro there will help to inoculate you in advance of the dumpster dive your stomach is about to undertake in the coming days, the lemonade from Nathan’s functions as an exceptional mixer for any backseat passengers who are getting the good times rolling early, and TCBY is just a great way to treat yourself whenever.
No matter what direction you are coming from, at some point you’re going to cross over the George Reading Wildwood Bridge. This portal transports you from the physical world, where logic and laws of Newtonian physics hold sway to a magical place where all prior rules of action and reaction go up in smoke. Roll down your windows and breathe in that intoxicating mixture of sea air, fried dough, and shame. You’re home.
AS PLAYERS TRICKLE in on Friday night, it is important that you set down the ground work for a successful weekend. After dropping your bags off at the motel*, you have a few precious hours Friday night to get the festivities off on the right foot.
Make sure you spend this time wisely. You will be tempted to hang out in your room and catch up with old friends you haven’t seen in ages. This is a mistake. There will be plenty of opportunities to hang out with that one guy from your college team — let’s call him Steve — who wants to retell the story about how he got lost at High Tide and found an unopened handle of Bacardi. Steve will have to wait, because you have important work to do.
First, you need to secure some supplies for the weekend if you haven’t already done so. Beyond the usual tournament stuff, make sure you have small ziplock baggies to protect anything you don’t want covered in sand, beer, and unidentified viscous fluids. Make sure you stop by a Wawa and purchase some BC Powder (the original industrial strength headache reliever) and a Wawa Soft Pretzel. Consume neither of these things now, they will be important later.
There are a lot of ways to approach intake, but to maximize the experience you are going to want to diversify your assets. In general, stick with the two “C”s and you can’t go wrong: Cans and a Camelbak.
Cans are great for pull games and for sharing, as well as currying favors, while the Camelbak will save your life. A Camelbak mixture of equal parts Gatorade, hooch, and ice will keep you lubricated while out in the sun, and over the course of the day pump enough electrolytes (aka magic salt) into your bloodstream to combat the tidal wave of a hangover you have coming down the pipe.
You will be tempted to hang out in your room and catch up with old friends you haven’t seen in ages. This is a mistake.
Once your weekend supplies are accounted for, it’s time to hit the town. Friday night is a great time to meet people, maybe the kind of people that will offer you a beer if you happen to run into them the next day. Buying some dude a shot on Friday night can really pay off on Saturday when you are wondering across the sands and he hooks you up with the crazy jungle juice that one of his teammates made and invites you to take a place in a team shotgun relay. In general, you are going to want to cultivate a few of these booze buddies over the course of the weekend so you can hop from field to field on your bye rounds like a frog going from one fermented lily pad to the next.
Once you’ve made your rounds at the Bolero and the surrounding hot spots, it’s time to find a house party. The best way to do that is almost always to hit up that one guy from a club team you played on three years ago who went to a big state school and always trades hats with girls. That dude definitely has a beach house and there is definitely a party going on. Use this as another opportunity to cultivate your booze buddies and scope it out as a potential spot to crash on Saturday night if your hotel room gets destroyed.
Around 3 AM, make your way back to the hotel. You’ll need every minute of the four hours of sleeping time you have left, as you have a big day ahead of you.
IT’S SATURDAY MORNING. The sun is beating down bright and hot, you’re exhausted from partying all night, and you’re realizing how much of a pain in the ass it is to lug around a cooler full of beverages, food, and absurdly expensive ice. Luckily, none of that matters because it’s Wildwood and there are no rules.
The fields are immaculate, the result of hours of hard work by the volunteers and staff running the event. Make sure you thank them at some point, especially considering what you and the rest of the locust swarm are about to do.
Before we get to the games, let’s go over a quick rundown of the players on your team and how you can use them for your own gain.
- The College Captain: They organized the team and are going to be taking things at least semi-seriously. They will probably try to do things like call lines and will look down on you for playing a beer in hand point. The key is to make sure that this guy or gal is properly served early in the day so that they loosen up and stop trying to implement some intricate zone defense. Don’t get them too smashed though, because they have your room key and know where the Biergarten wrist bands are.
- The Broke Guy: This guy (almost always a guy) still hasn’t paid his bid fee, claiming he will have the money “once he moves some funds around” which means he hopes to find some crumpled up twenties in the pockets of the cargo shorts lying on the floor of his bedroom. This guy definitely didn’t bring any of his own booze and will be mooching off everyone all weekend. This dude’s one redeeming quality is that you can put his pauperism to good use, and at some point on Saturday he will show up with most of a 30 rack of Rolling Rock that “was just lying there.”
- The Sand Socks Guy: This dude (again, almost always a guy) bought himself a nice $45 pair of sand socks just for the occasion. He went to EMS to try on a pair and everything. He is probably in pretty good shape and won’t get too blackout to play, but also almost definitely has no field sense, loves to throw super aggressive same third flick blades, and won’t want to share any of his heavy craft brew cranberry walnut sixer that he made a big deal of getting to “the ideal temp” before drinking. This guy will almost definitely be down to go report your scores at the end of each round though, so if you are stuck on fields super far away from the HQ, he can be invaluable.
- The Pull Winner: This person isn’t there to win you games, but they are sure as hell there to win whatever the pull contest is. They’ve been practicing their shotgun technique, are a monster at pokey, and despite their somewhat bulky frame can inexplicably do a backflip. They are the heart and soul of any good Wildwood team.
- The Honeypot: Pretty self-explanatory, but still essential. The hottest guy or gal on your team that breaks the ice between you and other teams as a means to get at their cooler goodies. While they may provide limited returns on the field, and their flirting holds you up after each round, they will be essential in the Beirgarten when you need them to cut everyone in line and fill up a half dozen Nalgene bottles for the team.
- The Non-Ultimate Player Significant Other: Your monogamous friend on the team can finally make it out to something fun for a weekend, but only if their boyfriend/girlfriend can come too. This may seem like a pain at first, but in some ways it is a blessing in disguise. For starters, they help to keep the costs down, and are also generally willing to handle some logistical duties. The NUPSO has probably been to an ultimate party or two before, but has never seen anything like Wildwood. Try to appreciate the wonder and majesty they are taking in for the first time, and understand that they might not get why landsharking someone is an important part of the process. They won’t contribute a ton on the field, but at some point they will (potentially accidently) make a sweet play that gets everyone really excited. This is a good opportunity to suggest a round of “Slap the Bag” to celebrate.
Once you have assessed who on your squad fits which role, it’s time to flip and start the game. That is, it is time to determine who starts with the disc, because you should never, ever, ever just flip at Wildwood. That’s like going on vacation to Vegas and doing your taxes in the hotel room the whole time.
Make sure that you play some manner of pull game to start each contest. It will help build camaraderie between the two teams, and even if your crew is trash at ultimate you can still come away from the weekend a winner if you thrash a few teams at shotgun relays. Here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite games that you should try on for size:
- Shotgun for pull
- Pokey for pull
- Waterboard for pull
- Catch The Freshman
- Mke Out Chicken
- Cartwheel Race
- How Hairy
- Franzia Chug-off
- Dizzy Race
- Backflip Contest
- William Tell
Once the pull is decided and the game is underway, try to win. Wildwood is all about having fun, and winning is a ton of fun. Winning by throwing a bunch of hammers to people whose liquid courage compels them to make a sweet layout catch is the most fun. You don’t want to be that team or that guy who gets so drunk they can’t function.
Aim for the sweet middle ground, where you are just drunk enough to try some bananas shit on the field, but also just sober enough to pull it off.
At Wildwood, throwing from one endzone to the other is worth two points. Doing this should be your team’s top priority, because 2>1. Nothing is more demoralizing than getting a few two pointers dropped on your head to start a game, so come out blazing and put the other team down early. Most teams that are getting drubbed stop keeping track of the score once they go down big, so if you ease up and play a few beer points in the mid-to-late section of the game the other team will think they are so far out of it that they won’t take advantage.
In general on Saturday you want to remember the prime directive of Wildwood; win both the tournament and the party. When in doubt, remember that objective and follow your gut from there.
YOU DID IT. Your team won/lost most of their games and you are comfortably lubricated. You’re realizing that you forgot to put on any sunscreen all day, but the sun is starting to set so it’s too late to worry about it now.
Sandy, sweaty, tired, and pretty buzzed, your instinct is to go back to the hotel and grab some food. Fight that urge. There is no good reason to ever get a real meal at Wildwood. You should be plenty full from all of the liquid bread you have been consuming, plus that half a tuna salad sandwich that got in your hands somehow. You’re not sure where it came from — asking questions isn’t important, but it should tide you over.
The debauchery of the day was just a prelude for what is in store for you on Saturday night, as the unwashed masses start to make their way to the literal oasis in the sands that is the Biergarten. If all of Wildwood contains mystical elements that defy the laws of physics, this goes doubly so for the Biergarten.
For starters, no matter how early you get there, invariably there will always be hundreds of people in line waiting to get in. Of course, once you get inside it is always way more spacious than you expect. Sort of like a magical tent from Harry Potter or the interior of a Waffle House.
The number one key to the Biergarten is to just go with it; the space has a mind of its own and cannot be questioned. You might enter the party with half of your team, but you are probably going to end up sitting in a circle on the beach with two or three other people from your squad, a couple of your club teammates that you ran into, a guy from high school who you haven’t seen in six years and had no clue he played ultimate, two players from Italy who don’t speak English but are somehow holding intelligible conversations with everyone, and some guy named Cooper who no one knows but everyone thinks is a friend of someone else in the circle. That’s just the way the place works.
At this stage it is important to keep tabs on the Honeypot so that they can assist you with refills once your initial supply goes dry. If you are the Honeypot, then be a sport and help your teammates get their drink on. They have to put up with your good looks all the time, and helping them drink away their insecurities is the least you can do.
Sometimes, when you are truly chasing greatness, you need to grab that Dragon right by the tail and ride that baby all the way to the top.
Pro tip: try to load up on the hard cider from the keg trucks. If you have been drinking beer, numerous forms of liquor, and that one thing that you’re pretty sure was just nail polish, there will be some trouble brewing from all the variation. By this point there is nowhere to go but forward, so the strategy is to add more forms of alcohol to the surrealist painting going on inside of you in the hope that they all blend together to form a perfect balance in your blood stream ala Mr. Burns, and you will be miraculously hangover free the next day. This works out more often than you would think.
Time in the Biergarten is magical, but once you leave, stay left. The spell is broken, and waiting in line to get back in for a second time is a sure fire way to kill the buzz and illuminate exactly how gross you and everyone else is at the moment. There is still plenty of fun to be had at this point, no reason to look backwards, only forward. Always forward.
After leaving the Biergarten, it’s your call whether to push on or head back to the hotel and regroup.
Pros of going back:
- Showering to wash off all of the sand will make the rest of the night exceedingly more comfortable for yourself and anyone you happen to share a bed, cot, futon, or hallway floor with.
- It will allow you to take stock of your valuables (phone, wallet, flask) so you can know exactly how sand damaged your phone is and exactly how much money you can spend if you decide to go ahead with that Dragon tattoo the cutie wearing pink shades and a matching reversible tried to talk you into.
- There is a decent chance someone else on your team went back and got food that they would be willing to let you eat while they aren’t looking.
- Sometimes, when you are truly chasing greatness, you need to grab that Dragon right by the tail and ride that baby all the way to the top.
Whether or not you clean yourself up after leaving the beach, the rest of the night could go just about anywhere. I’m not going to tell you exactly how to let the magic out of the bottle, but here are a few ground rules
- Do NOT buy anything from a store on the boardwalk after 10pm UNLESS the plucky salesperson tells you they had a dream you would walk in and buy a shirt that says something like “Black Out With Your Rack Out.” In that case, it is fate and you need to immediately buy the shirt, wear it for the rest of the night, and then give it to some random person the next day, telling them you are “passing the magic on to them.”
- DO make sure to hit up the tournament party at the Bolero, dance your way to living your best life, and then get out before things get stale. Anyone still at the Bolero after 1am is either having a fight with their significant other, waiting for someone they made out with in the Beirgarten who isn’t coming, or REALLY wants to hear “Uptown Funk” for the sixteenth time that night.
- DO try to find some place selling a weird late night food option that only exists in an orgy of capitalism like Wildwood. You don’t need to eat a full meal at any point, but don’t pass up the chance to drunk eat something like a waffle-shelled wasabi ice cream taco.
- Do NOT under any circumstances go under the boardwalk. For any reason. Ever. Just don’t do it. You will witness things that can’t be unseen down there during the uncouth late night hours.
When the night finally winds down, do everything in your power to make it back to your room. Things will be much easier in the morning if you do. Day one is over, but day two will require your attention very soon.
HOW WELL YOUR Sunday goes will pretty much come down to how you handle the first 30-45 minutes after you wake up in the morning. You can either double-jump off the already astounding amount of alcohol in your system into a clearheaded state, or wallow in hungover misery all day. Assuming you want to go with the first option, there is a fairly exact process you need to undergo.
First things first, take stock of your room. Is there anything on fire? No? Great, you’re good to go. If someone on your team is missing, don’t worry about it. They either had a great night or can’t be saved. Either way, it is outside of your control at this point.
The next step is very important. Pull out some of that BC Powder you stashed away yesterday, but don’t take it yet. Drink a glass of water, suit up in your playing attire for the day, pop on some sunglasses and leave the hotel, ignoring all shouts from your team about needing to “check out,” “clean up,” or “find Steve.”
Make your way down to the boardwalk, going towards the northern field entrance. The hangover will be creeping up on you now, and you’ll start to feel like you need to just curl up under the boards all day with the other crustaceans. Don’t give up though, because your salvation is at hand. Find Franconi’s Pizza, walk up to the counter and say exactly this “May I please have a bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich, with ketchup. And a yellow Gatorade. Thank you.”
Despite the fact that the joint is nominally a pizza place, Franconi’s makes a breakfast sandwich so potent that it snatches the life right out of your hangover. After a few bites of the greasy ketchup filled morass, it is time to wash down that mouthful of south Jersey culture with some BC powder infused Gatorade. Yellow might not be your favorite flavor of the big G, but it’s the one you will want on Sunday morning as you prepare yourself for another day of sand and sin.
If you followed those instructions to a T, you should be good to go for the rest of the day. We all know that champions are forged on Sunday, and Wildwood is no different. With your new hangover-proof body, now is your chance to crush a bunch of depleted fools who didn’t treat their Sunday morning routine with the same vigilance.
SUNDAY AT WILDWOOD, or any summer party tournament, is a bittersweet experience. You’re still having a blast chasing the disc around in the sand, yelling at strangers to chug a half empty bag of Franzia they found under the boardwalk, and happy to find out that Steve did not die last night when he stumbles to the fields around noon.
Despite these antics, your awareness of the fun’s mortality casts a veil over everything. The thought that all you have in front of you is a sandy ride home followed by another work week can take the shine off the last few hours of bliss at the fields, and you might find yourself counting down the seconds until your life turns back into a pumpkin.
It will be a whole year until you are back on these not-so-pristine shores, so savor every moment.
I say fuck that noise and do Sunday even bigger. Win all your games, ultimate related and otherwise. Really get personal with some heckles while watching your college teammate play during a bye. Probably don’t drink any of that questionable boardwalk Franzia, but make sure to give yourself something to sleep off on the car ride home. Remember, the goal was to win the tournament and the party. After Saturday you should have at least one of those things within your reach, so seal the deal on Sunday.
When the last round of the day is in the books, take your time and bask in the scenery, which most likely resembles the last scene of Rollerball. It will be a whole year until you are back on these not-so-pristine shores, so savor every moment.
Also, take that Wawa pretzel that you forgot about out of your bag and chow down. It will still be good; there is enough sodium in that sucker to preserve something from the Cretaceous Period. Trust me, you’ve earned it.