College Campuses Turn Harry Potter Sport Into Reality

By Lynda Lopez
December 29, 2009

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – When JK Rowling debuted her Harry Potter series, the sports world added a new game to their list: Quidditch. The sport has often been regarded as a game only imaginable in the mind of the author. However, several college campuses across the U.S. have transformed Qudditch into a real sport. Without the flying, that is.

collegecampusesquidditch2David Bridgman Packer, a sophomore at Vassar College in N.Y., has been playing Quidditch for a few years now and has fallen in love with the game. “Quidditch tends to start out as a hobby and quickly consume your life,” he says. “Our team started out with 2-3 hour practices twice a week and then grew to include team dinners (lovingly titled quinner), movie nights, bake sales and matches with other schools.”

College Quidditch is played almost identically to the Harry Potter version. Students must stay on a broom throughout the game and play their position of beater, seeker, or chaser. Juan Pablo Munoz, a beater on Harvard’s Quidditch team, explains his role in the team. “As a beater, you’re playing against the opposing team’s beaters for control of the bludgers, against the chasers and keeper of the other team for control of the quaffle,” he says. “Being a beater is tough, but it is so much fun.”

Quidditch first became a viable sport within the college community when the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association was founded by Xander Manshel and Alex Benepe of Middlebury College in Vermont. It officially began when the first Quidditch match took place between Middlebury and Vassar in 2005.

“We worked hard to emphasize that this game is not just for Harry Potter fans,” says Benepe. “Anyone can enjoy it, whether they love Harry Potter or have never read a single word of it.” Over 300 colleges in the country participate in Quidditch in some manner.

Despite Quidditch’s popular appeal, some people don’t think it’s a serious sport. “My problem with the rise of Quidditch in real life is simply with the brooms,” says David Lee, a 2007 graduate of Vassar College. “With the singular exception of making its players look like idiots, there is no athletic or sport–related function to running around with brooms between their legs,” Lee says.

Molly St Clair, a sophomore at Middlebury, says Quidditch is not supposed to be a serious sport. “That’s what makes this sport so different from any other competitive sport, and I think people are starting to catch on to the good-natured fun of it,” she says.

Looking for the Ultimate Ride? Try Your Nearest Desert

By Ans Khurram
July 04, 2009

lookingfordesert

MUSCAT, Oman – Looking for a new vacation site? How about trying your nearest desert for some dune bashing, which involves driving 4x4s SUVs over 30-80-feet-high sand dunes at around 50-60 km/h?

Dune bashing has become one the most popular activities that people in the Middle East plan over weekends and holidays. I was in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates when I got a chance to to go for a desert safari. (In Oman, the premier location is the Wahiba Sands.)

“It’s an amazing ride. The adrenaline rush one gets during the drops is unparalleled,” said Mark Stein, a 35-year-old accountant who had traveled from New Zealand to go on a desert safari. “I was sitting on the front seat and mind you there can’t be many scarier scenarios than to see a vehicle going into a nosedive,” said Ali Cheeda, a 22-year-old Pakistani engineer.

Dune bashing requires a lot of skill as, maneuvering in these sandy terrains is easier said than done. There are also strict safety standards that need to be followed. When our ride began, our driver, Nair Sidhu, first reduced the tire pressure. “This is done to improve traction on the sands,” Sidhu explained.

He said that he been driving tourists out for desert safaris for five years and was passionate about it. He had been specially trained to drive on these terrains. “The vehicles are equipped with roll cages to prevent the roof from denting inwards into passengers in case the vehicle turns over,” he said. We were asked to put on our seat belts before we started. “Unless you want your head sticking out of the roof,” Sidhu said, grinning.

“It’s an insult to be driving one of these 4x4s on asphalt roads,” said my cousin, Salman Jameel, who drives a sedan. “Their power is incredible.”

Another safety procedure is that dune bashing is always done in a group. This way, a single 4×4 car does not get lost, and in case a vehicle break downs, other drivers can help.

While dune bashing usually is the star attraction of a desert safari, it can also include sand skiing, hennaing (temporary tattoos using a dye made from a plant) and other activities. “In the evening and overnight safari packages, dune bashing is accompanied by traditional barbecues served with classic Arabic coffee to make it a true Arabian Night,” said Sidharth Basu from the Desert Safari Dubai agency.

People of all ages enjoy the experience. “I want more,” was all a 10-year-old member of our group screamed. “It was amazing to see the sand spraying on the window as if we were driving through water,” said Jane Townsend, a teacher in her 40s from Britain.

Dune bashing is, however, not for everyone. People who get carsick are advised to stay away. “We do not recommend anyone below the age of three to take part in dune bashing” said Basu. “The same goes for pregnant women.”

“It’s a great tourist puller. We will pick you up from your hotel or wherever you reside in Dubai. You can go for a desert safari either in the morning or evening. If you are a little bit more adventurous, we also offer packages that include night stays in the desert,” he said. “And for people who would rather just enjoy the desert rather then bumping around in it, we have packages which do not include dune bashing.”Plenty of tourism agencies offer a variety of packages, with prices ranging from $40 to $60 depending on the expedition type.

According to a recent study on tourism effects, dune bashing barely has any environmental effects because the deserts in Middle East are sandy and therefore there is no plant life to damage. However, the report, “The Ecology of Transportation: Managing Mobility for the Environment,” states that CO2 emissions and sound pollution do remain a concern.

After the ride, we were taken to a camp where the aroma of barbequed chicken and freshly baked khoobs (traditional Arabic bread) made our mouths water. “The barbecue under the stars in the middle of a desert is a fine example of the famous Arabian hospitality. I enjoyed a truly unique cultural experience. The Arabic salads and sweets were delicious,” said Rabi Al-Saleh, who had come from nearby Saudi Arabia.

So, if you are planning to visit the Middle East, the desert and dune bashing are just around the corner.