by Liam McKenna
This is the busy season down at the shore, and the paper is no exception. My workload has swelled. Because of this, creating a “clip-worthy story” can be challenging. As I state in the video at the bottom of this post, I just found this story while hanging out on the beach. There’s a surprising amount of (good) work that can be done while out of the office, away from the computer and off of the phone.
7.7.2015 — Pink, yellow and blue discs quickly soared skyward and hovered above Beach Haven Crest on July 3. Just as quickly, they cut back to the beach. Pierre Pierre Blais of Ottawa snagged the discs and then spun them back up one by one. The tosses were quite a peculiar and captivating sight, as the flying objects flew into the air and, each time, swung back to Blais.
Finding someone with similar abilities to practice with, especially after traveling 500 miles from home, can be a challenge. While his daughter, now 14 years old, will toss with him using decent spin, he hasn’t always had that buddy.
So in pure isolation, the wind became a playing partner.
Blais began throwing against the wind. Quickly, he found the wrist motion for getting the disc to come back to him as a boomerang would. It’s “all in the wrist.” Yet, even finger placement, how one holds the disc upon its release, creates the necessary spin for an awesome throw.
He got good with one disc. Then, he added another … and another.
“I can do five sometimes, depending on the wind conditions,” the 58-year-old said. “But I’m more at the four-disc level.
“If you get a nice, constant wind, it’s perfect for practicing throws. Given that I don’t have anyone to practice with, I just practice with the wind.”
A constant wind, as LBI aficionados can attest, usually blows from the south here. Blais loves this. The beach offers him a consistency other areas just can’t match.
To start, he cheats. Blais will stand parallel to the lifeguards’ flags. This allows him to see the wind and its movement. From there, the process is a precise one. He must put the discs in the air exactly right — too high, and the wind flips the disc; too low, and the wind smacks the disc down.
His precision was on display just after noon on July 3. Blais will get some applause and be commended for his talents. He appears to take it in stride.
That afternoon, Blais held four discs — Daredevils, not Frisbees. People watching assumed a juggling act was coming. However, Blais was quick to say this pivoting action is not juggling. To him, juggling is tossing an odd number of items from hand-to-hand. His activity is more of one-handed toss-and-catch.
“What I’ll be able to do with three is to keep catching, throwing, catching, throwing, catching — kind of a juggle and keep them up,” Blais said. “With four, I’ll throw all four and catch all four. But keeping them up and in a loop, I haven’t achieved that yet.”
Nearly every throw is natural: backhand, forehand, power, long distance and even upside-down.
“As a kid, I was just throwing with my dad in the street,” Blais said.
Growing up, he spent his summers on Cape Cod. Once his sister began working for Canada’s external affairs in Washington D.C., the family heard about LBI. Cape Cod was quickly dropped for the Island.
“The water’s warmer,” Blais said. “There’s fewer crowds on the beach. Here you get the people who live or rent here, especially in this area around 77th where there’s no hotels or motels. It’s very residential. It’s the same families we see every year. We see the kids growing up. They go out to college. Then we don’t see those families after a while. Then you see younger families come in. For us, it’s just a nice place to come to.”
Even as the Island was doused with a seemingly endless rain on Thursday, July 2, Blais was still outside, tossing those discs, according to his daughter. As long as the winds do not stall, Blais send up discs like they’re on an elevator.
His love for the smoothness of the disc-throwing motion led to his involvement in the sport of ultimate. In 1984, an ultimate league started in his home of Ottawa. Now that group is known as the Ottawa Carleton Ultimate Association, or OCUA. Currently, the association has over 4,000 members.
Blais’ competitive career lasted for about 35 years, leaping across various teams and levels of the sport over that time. Though he said he played in some of Canada’s top competitive tiers, he was never a professional.
“It got to be too competitive for my taste,” Blais said. “It started to get more aggressive, and I was getting older.”
This is not to say Blais has big issues with ultimate in its current form. He says the flow is as on point as it was 35 years ago. Because of that, he says it is a great sport for television. He made a quick comparison to football. Both sports have the same basic goal: get into the opponent’s end zone. However, where football has downs, ultimate is in constant motion.
A “ripped” ACL cut his competitive career shorter than he would have liked.
“Ultimate is supposed to be non-contact and, like basketball, you’re supposed to be really jumping straight up as opposed to forward. Not everyone can play at that level, and someone jumped straight into me,” Blais said.
Since that injury, Blais has been coaching for some time now, teaching kids that without good form (having that spin), arm motion and power is worthless. He fields lessons in formal settings or places as simple as the sand of Beach Haven Crest, where crowds clog his throwing lane. Overall, that injury has sent him to friendly confines.
“Since then, (the ACL has) been repaired. It’s fine. But it’s all in the head,” Blais said. “So I’ve slowed down a bit.”
“Slow down a bit” is a relative term. Blais’ ability still appears boundless.