The day Tom and Vicki Schot tied the knot in 1983, a puppy lay on top of their wedding cake. Not to worry; it didn't slobber or shed on the icing. This was an inanimate puppy, circular and purple—a Super Puppy flying disc. More than anything else, you see, discs brought Tom and Vicki together.
Each August since 1978, Tom has organized a flying disc tournament. The first year Vicki helped out by selling T shirts. In '80 she became the tournament "comptroller" and kept the books, never one of Tom's strong suits. Two years ago they became husband and wife.
This year's tournament, christened by Schot the World Disc Championships, was the best meet that Santa Cruz, a.k.a. the world's Frisbee mecca, has seen in years and drew disc-iples from seven countries. For six days the air over Monterey Bay was thick with polyethylene, and Tom Schot was in his element.
Actually, the U.S. Open, held in La Mirada, Calif. in July, fielded more world-class talent than the Worlds because the Open offered $35,000 in prize money. Winners at the Worlds received trophies and all the glory they could handle, but no cash—however, to the 450 discers in Santa Cruz it didn't seem to matter. Surprisingly, after the '81 championships there was actually black ink to drink—Schot made four dollars, and those clams are framed and on display in his office. Despite the money he has lost—$80,000 in eight years—Schot is proud of the tradition he has established. "You think these guys play for the money?" he asks. "They show up because they care for the sport. This tournament has a reputation," he continues. "I make it happen. This is my thing."
It seemed silly, after such a lecture, to ask disc pro John Brooks why he had come to Santa Cruz, since there would be no dough. Brooks, 25, known in disc circles as Crazy John, inspected his questioner through mad scientist glasses for a moment. "Read the posters, man," said the Craze. "World Championships. World Championships! And besides, every time I come here, it's the best time I've ever had."
It certainly doesn't hurt that Santa Cruz, with its Pacific palisades and skyscraping conifers, is a way station to heaven and could probably make a hit of a cow-chip invitational. Preliminaries were held at the UC Santa Cruz athletic fields on a verdant plain that slices into Mount Hermon. Each noon the mist burned away on cue, exposing Monterey Bay, a distant, shimmering amethyst. To make the package all but irresistible to disc fans, Schot, a present-day Barnum, threw in bicycle breakdancers, skydivers and a 200-foot-long sandwich.
Over coffee at the Santa Cruz Holiday Inn early Thursday morning, the third day of the Worlds, Brooks, a member of the Bud Light Pro Frisbee Team and arguably the country's best overall player, debunked some myths about disc pros like himself, pausing every so often to stifle a yawn or knuckle sleep out of his eyes. "Hey, this is not a party," he insisted. "We take this seriously. I train all year round, you know. I was in early last night."
It appeared that Crazy John was wearing Wednesday's socks—unless he owns two pairs with identically arranged dirt. Also, he was sporting yesterday's sweat shirt. Key difference: On Thursday it was inside out. As he pointed out, a minimalist wardrobe can work to one's advantage. "I pack in half the time."
Brooks had a chance to test his packing skills that very afternoon. He was evicted from his hotel along with nine disc buddies with whom he had been sharing a room for two. Not to worry—the 10 were quickly absorbed into the local disc community. "We see a lot of each other at these tournaments," says Brooks. "We're sort of a big, extended family."
So they were. An unmistakable flavor of misplaced '60s, a kind of neo-groovy bonhomie, pervaded the week. There were more men in ponytails than might be found in all of, say, Waco or Green Bay. Tie-dyed clothes made a modest comeback, as did flower power: Carnations sprouted mysteriously from the end-zone cones on the Ultimate fields. VW microbuses with Grateful Dead stickers filled the parking lots. Someone actually called Frisbee "a nonaggressive personal development tool."
Disc has, however, like acne medicine and the soft drink, undergone specialization since the halcyon '60s, and the athletes at Santa Cruz fell in three distinct phyla: Freestyle, Golf and Ultimate.
The effete elite of the fraternity are the freestylers. They are partial to leg warmers and are sometimes referred to as Frisbee dancers. Freestyle pairs keep the disc airborne, or spinning on a finger, to music. Colorful fake nails help minimize friction. Disc dancers are judged on presentation, execution and difficulty, and their maneuver repertoire includes esthetic treats like the digitron, the flamingo, the body roll and the "the." They leap, they twist, they contort themselves in astonishing ways.
Five minutes from UC Santa Cruz is the DeLaveaga disc course, Schot's Golf venue. In disc golf, the saucer is thrown delicately at a post, rather than into a hole. Also called folf—Frisbee golf—it affords the nonathlete a chance to excel. Etiquette in disc golf, as in the traditional game, is painfully correct. The argot is different, though. Folfers do not slice, they flail. To leave a shot short is to be wimpy.
On Wednesday, DeLaveaga's course designer, none other than Tom Schot, stood on the fifth fairway—we should say fair-to-poorway—peering into a dusty crater deep as an old bathtub. Concerning the crater's origins, he explained, "Goddam four-wheelers!"
To prepare the course for championship play, Schot first had to reclaim it from nature and vandals. He spent dozens of man-hours hacking brush, clearing illegally dumped rubbish and smoothing ruts gouged by off-road vehicles. Lo, from three acres of dense woods, boulders and poison oak Schot carved a fair but unforgiving 2,064-yard par 54.
The next morning at DeLaveaga, 40 golfers sniffed the breeze, gauged the course and the wind and sifted through their disc bags with Zen-like attention. Suddenly, a maniacal howl shook the needles of the Douglas firs. Most everyone recognized the howler, and someone noted, correctly but unruffled, "Crazy must be cookin'." He was. The Craze scorched DeLaveaga Thursday for a course-record 50, all but sewing up the Golf portion of the Worlds.
Grazing at the tournament's lunatic fringe was the Ultimate crowd, the L.A. Raiders of disc. In this game—made up of roughly equal parts soccer, hockey and devolution (players sometimes paint themselves for battle)—teams of seven move the disc upfield until a pass is dropped, intercepted or caught over the goal line. The winner is the first team to score 15 goals. Nothing could be nobler, in Ultimate, than to dive headlong, to go horizontal—ho for short—and plow earth with one's sternum, to fill one's nostrils with grass and dirt and come up victoriously clutching the errant disc. For a pastime so pleasing to the eye, the profanity at Harvey West Park was startling, though frequently novel and ingenious.
"When we watch baseball, the most exciting plays are when an outfielder makes a diving catch," says Mike Glass, an options trader from Chicago whose team, Chicago's Windy City, was national Ultimate champ in '83. "Lots of times balls bounce in front of them that we think we could have had." None is a member of the George Foster Fan Club.
There is peril inherent in going ho. On Wednesday, Erin Hart, a comely lab technician from Fredericksburg, Va., snapped her left clavicle cleanly while diving after a throw at UC Santa Cruz. Later, her arm in a sling, Hart wondered how she would get her rental car back to Santa Barbara.
Several thousand friends of disc drifted to Harvey West Park for Sunday's finals. They saw Annie Kreml nip Vicky Satterlee for the overall women's title; Doug Corea run away with the accuracy event; Frank (The Bull) Aguilera win the distance throw. "It's all wrist," said the Bull, "and I played a lot of Fussball before I found disc."
All day the audience thrilled to parachutists, disc-playing humans and disc-fetching dogs. After eating wedges of the monster sandwich, many were considering a nap, when nervous riffs of electric piano began to spill from the loudspeakers—the intro to the Who's Eminence Front. The crowd perked up. Necks strained. Crazy John and his freestyle partner Chip Bell appeared at the park's perimeter.
"There are better technical freestylers," said Schot of Brooks. "Chip, for one. But as far as just sensing what a crowd wants and giving it to them, he's way out on his own."
Brooks was at the crowd's edge, clapping, whipping his audience into a more vocal state. Electric bass walloped everyone and naps were postponed. Brooks chased down a high throw, went way up to make a backward, between-the-legs grab and got good hangtime. People began oohing and ahhing as though they were in an evangelist's thrall. Bell skyed, took a high throw behind his back and landed, twisting like a drill bit, into a split worthy of a Solid Gold dancer. Feverish applause. Crazy worked the amazing Toothbrush—keeping the disc spinning on its edge, on his front teeth—for half a minute. Jaws dropped.
Was this really happening?
Bell and Brooks's score for difficulty in Freestyle was 9.94, the highest anyone had ever heard of. Brooks won the men's overall title flying away.
As folks made ready to go, the popular salute was "See ya next year!"—music to Schot's ears, you can be sure.
Crazy John dedicated his freestyle routine to the injured Miss Hart and offered to help with her rental car. She was going to Santa Barbara, right? Well, he lives there, too. Brooks, though crazy, is not stupid.