Break out your sun visors, the US Open Flying Disc Championship is being held in in Santa Barbara this year – and we’re sponsoring it. We interviewed Jeff Shelton and Thomas Cole, the guys responsible for bringing this event to town.
- The U.S. Flying Disc Open is happening in Santa Barbara this year. How did you end up as hosts and what will be special about this year’s event?
Jeff- Tom and I have been playing in the US Open and World Championships for the last decade all over the US. It’s a tight knit disc community and people step up to volunteer and host the tournament in their hometowns across the country. We have often wanted to have it here and 2012 worked.
Tom- There’s an amazing long-term disc history in Santa Barbara. There hasn’t been an overall disc tournament here since the Whammo-sponsored days of the late 1970s and early 198os. Those were part of the North American Series and you qualified to play in the Rose Bowl for the World Championships. We’re trying to build on this legacy, albeit on a smaller scale, though it should be a fantastic time.
- What got you into this sport in the first place?
Jeff- I always had a disc in my hand in high school in the mid 1970s, though never realized at that time people actually competed. I just loved to throw the plastic. After Tom moved back from Mozambique in the mid 1990s he began to show me different throws and all the different events people competed in. My first overall tournament was the Arizona State championships in 2003. I had no idea what I was in for.
Tom- I started throwing the disc in grade school when I was 10. Two local guys did a freestyle demonstration for my 5th grade class at Cold Spring School and I was blown away. My mom began taking me down to Palm Park every weekend for the next few years. Palm Park was the freestyle Frisbee mecca for Santa Barbara in the late 1970s and early 1980s with some of the best players in the world gathering there to play. It was an epic upbringing, having the chance to learn from some of the most gifted and accomplished disc players.
- Do you think that someone unfamiliar with this great game would enjoy attending some of the upcoming US open events here in Santa Barbara? If so, where do you recommend they start?
Tom- I think most people would be fascinated to see what can be done with a flying disc. The sheer variety and skill level shown by the best throwers is a treat. People might not understand what we’re doing all the time, but I think they would recognize how cool it is.
Jeff- First of all, there are seven events we play during the course of the championships: accuracy, discathon, self-caught flight, double disc court, freestyle, disc golf and distance. One of the oddest and most interesting events to watch is discathon, where the disc gets thrown through an obstacle course and you are trying to be the first across the finish line. Double disc court (DDC) is the consummate disc skill game, where teams of two players try to land their throws inside their opponents court. DDC showcases all the throws, catches, athleticism and teamwork possible with a disc. It’s fun to watch. Freestyle is by far and away the crowd favorite, a combination of artistry and choreography as partners spin, roll, tip and otherwise manipulate the disc during their 3 minute routine. Most folks have probably seen someone freestyling at some point. I would definitely urge people to come out and watch any of these events, though certainly the DDC and freestyle finals happening on Saturday down at Palm Park.
- You both have exceptional ties to the Santa Barbara community. Tell us a little bit about this.
Tom- Jeff is actually my uncle in a convoluted way and we do a lot of creative things together, including running an aloe plant nursery and inventing and playing as many odd games as possible. Our families are pretty intertwined and steeped in the local history of both the Westmont and Mountain Drive communities that we both grew up in. When not in town I spend a considerable amount of time and energy as a humanitarian aid worker in Africa. My wife Linda and I started a non-profit, Community Action Fund for Women in Africa, that works to help empower women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings to rebuild their lives. Observing community and resiliency in Africa gives me a good perspective on how to approach life here in Santa Barbara.
Jeff- All good things start with a strong family and community. No matter where one lives, they should continually try to nurture the environment around them. As an Architect I try to make sure that buildings reflect the lives and people who live here. Besides working with Tom and the rest of my family and friends, this community is full of talented and caring people who make Santa Barbara flourish. We’re pulling many of them together to help make the US Open a success and a lot of fun.