The games they play

By Smriti Daniel

Ultimate Frisbee

Kalpika Abaysakera’s alarm goes off at 5 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Though he puts in a full day’s work as a recruitment executive at a prominent telecommunications company, Kalpika saves his mornings for lighter pursuits. Some days he goes surfing or running, but Tuesday and Thursdays he catches a bus to Vihara Mahadevi Park for a game of Ultimate with a frisbee.

Underestimate the art of throwing a frisbee at your own peril – there are forehands and backhands, overhands and ducks; there are throws that skim the ground, and others that arc high in the air. Players form teams, tossing the Frisbee to each other in a mad dash toward the end zone. Both offence and defence are determined to thwart each other’s strategies – blocking passes and knocking the frisbee out of the air.

Kalpika has only been playing for a few months, but Howard Hollingsworth is an old hand. “Throwing a disc is easy. Just takes a little practice, but everyone gets the hang of it,” he explains, adding “the thrower has to judge the defence, the wind, the speed of the team-mate and throw the pass he/she thinks is the most ‘catch-able’. Masters of the art are in complete control of the disc, sometimes simply curving it around the person blocking them.

Chenoa Stock was among the group that first organized an Ultimate session in Colombo back in 2006. They began with games on Saturday afternoons (there’s one at 4 p.m. on Saturdays, which anyone is welcome to join) and gradually branched out to weekday mornings. Chenoa says her fellow players have formed a community of sorts for her. “Though we don't see each other every day, there is a sense of camaraderie in sharing the sport.” That’s handy since with no referees or umpires Ultimate relies on the sportsmanship of its players to keep the game fair.

It’s a happily mixed crowd, not only in terms of nationality and gender, but also in age. While Richard is in his fifties, Kalpika is in his early twenties, and there are several others who fall in between. Though it can be physically demanding, Kalpika says it makes for a great start to his day. “The great thing about Ultimate is we do not talk about work at all. No networking, no exchanges of cards, none of that. We'll share water bottles, smiles and handshakes, that’s about it, oh, and discs too,” says Howard.

Kite Surfing

Keshini Hapugoda might be Sri Lanka’s first female kite surfer. The 28-year-old IT consultant loves to surf and dive, and kite surfing is her latest passion. A few weekends with an instructor in Negombo have helped her learn the basics of kite surfing and while she’s sticking to the shallows now, she’s hoping to head into deeper water soon.

Dilsiri Welikala is already comfortable out at sea. “It’s an amazing feeling, harnessing the power of the wind to propel yourself along,” he says. He talks of skimming along the water for hours at a time and of chance encounters with pods of dolphins. Though he needs a little help getting his 10 square metre kite up, once that’s done and the lines and harness are secured, he’s good to go.

“Your kite becomes like an airplane wing,” says Dilsiri, explaining that he controls the direction of his kite by changing the angle of his board. Kite surfers are slaves to the winds and will drive many hours to catch the right kind. As a result, this group has been all over the island, from Puttalam to Arugam Bay.

Despite the commute, there are few things Julian Bolling enjoys more than kite surfing. The champion swimmer says that after years of tame laps in a pool, he loves the adrenalin rush the sport provides. The forty-three year old bought his first second-hand kite for Rs.10, 000 a few years ago. Today, if you choose to buy instead of rent new equipment, it could leave you poorer by as much as 100,000. Still it seems worth it when you pull off your first “jump”. Recently, with a 25 knot wind filling his kite, Julian jumped a few feet in the air himself.

Dilsiri who has jumped as high as 20 feet describes the sensation as akin to flying. But emphasis on safety is a must. Tangled lines and strong currents have claimed the lives of several enthusiasts over the years. “You need to take precautions,” says Keshini emphatically. Their group, around 20 people strong and from many different nationalities is one of the big draws for Keshini – she says she’s come to rely on the friendly tips and enthusiastic cheering every time she clambers onto her board.
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Role Playing

Every now and again, death stares you in the face. Ruven Daniel jumped off a skyscraper and Harean Hettiarachchi turned his gun on himself. Melisha Yapa was nearly blown up when she found herself on the wrong side of an alien portal. But they’re not complaining – this is the stuff good weekends are made of.

It’s Melisha’s first go at a Role Playing Game (RPG) but the 25-year-old gets right into her character – Tara is a razor tongued fighting machine. Sitting across from her are her allies – Dinuka Fernando is a trigger-happy F.B.I agent with bullet-proof skin. Harean has lung disease, a gadget packed box and a satellite (a.k.a Jeffrey) for a friend.

Robin Low is the archetypal mad scientist who may be the only one who knows what’s going on. And then there’s me. I can pilot anything. In this case a V-22 Osprey that’s going to take us all to the isolated town of Elmira, where something has gone frighteningly wrong.

Rogue nanotech might have caused an outbreak, says Navin Weeraratne, the Game Master, and mastermind. The dice is rolled, character sheets consulted and mayhem wrecked on alien forces as Navin guides the game.

Today’s session is a “home brew” and the rules are few. Still, this single session game ran for 4 hours and took a week to plan. To nudge his players in the right direction, a Game Master might reward a particular line of inquiry or have a Non Player Character (NPC) drop a few hints. If that doesn’t work, he goes for the dramatic – “I can have someone run in and start shooting, drop a nuclear device from space, or start a swirling cloud vortex in the sky.”

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