As the ferry pulls up along the shore of Koh Phangan, our thoughts were centered on the upcoming main event of our trip to Thailand, the Full Moon Party.
After months of planning, research and anticipation, it was only a couple of days away. We dropped off our packs at the guesthouse and began exploring the island and the beaches where we would be partying with thousands of people soon enough.
When you plan a trip months in advance, sometimes you feel like you almost know what to expect. You fantasize and live out in your head what it’s going to be like when you get there. When we first stepped foot on the beach that hosts the infamous Full Moon Party however, we were presented with a scene that was both unexpected and intriguing.
A game of beach soccer was just kicking off. There were refs, scoreboards, uniforms and even announcers. Being that we both grew up playing and loving the sport, we had to check it out. After watching for about 20 minutes, we looked at each other with a bit of uncertainty. We wanted to play, of course, but these guys were good. We hesitated, debated and hesitated some more. Finally we said let’s do it. We are good too. Nick was the goalkeeper and in many ways the backbone of our varsity team in high school. Vito was a captain of the team and a leading goalscorer and play-maker. Sure that was 11 years ago, but let’s show these people what these two Americans are made of. We went to the registration table and signed up.
Our squad, “In The Area”, was the last to be formed, consisting of teammates from every corner of the globe. But no matter where you are from or what language you speak, futbol is universal and the goal is simple…put the ball in the back of the net. It was game time. The build up and pregame jitters were over as the 1st period begun. It was game time. Once we were on the pitch, nerves quickly faded and we were in the zone. We soon learned beach soccer is a whole different ballgame than playing on the traditional grass we were used to. It could have been the slight hangover lingering from the night before or the fact that we couldn’t remember the last time we ran around on the sand, but this was going to be a challenge and we were ready to take it on. We sweat out the Chang’s from the night before and Vito put in a goal within the first 10 minutes of taking the field. This is what we have been doing our whole lives. We were in our element. The only thing on our minds was getting that first win and win we did. In The Area coasted with our first victory, defeating “Halal Haad Rin” 6-2. Now we were having fun.
Despite never having spoken to any of our teammates until 5 minutes before kickoff, we found it easy to bond after a win. It felt like we were a group of old friends playing again. The camaraderie and teamwork that is a product of competition is why we participate in sports. We stepped up, naturally filling the leadership roles of the team as we battled the opposition to squeeze out a second win. After playing 2 games in a row with no break, fatigue was starting to set in and were running off adrenaline. It was time to dig deep because one more win would put us in a top playoff seed and game 3 was ready to begin. But that wasn’t the only thing that was starting. Clouds loomed overhead and a torrential down-pour was headed our way. A rain storm unlike any other we’ve experienced before made it almost impossible to see and the referee had to call a rain delay. After almost an hour later, the monsoon had passed, rain subsided and it was time to resume play. Only thing missing was about half the team who bailed, opting for burgers and beers instead…assuming the game was called. We had to take the sand against “The Assholes” playing 2 men short and were defeated by a few goals, handing us our first loss. Spirits sank as we were unsure how we were going to finish out the tournament without enough guys to even put on the field. But that worry soon dissipated because today was too much fun and it was time to celebrate over a Chang to get ready for the playoff tomorrow.
Luckily we were able to recruit a few players from another team who got knocked out of the tournament and we were back in business. “In The Area” suffered a tough defeat in the semi-final against “The Mafia Boys”, but there was still a pivotal 3rd place match-up to be played. A medal, prize money and glory would all be on the line, and the loser would walk away empty handed. Vito came through once again when the team needed him the most, putting in a key goal with only a few minutes remaining. The team was gassed and running on fumes, leaving the opposition “The Assholes” firing off shot after shot at Nick, who put the team on his back stopping every shot he faced. Usual business for the bros from Long Island who were dubbed the unofficial captains of the team. The crowd cheered on as we watched the clock tick down. 2 minutes to go. One more crucial diving save by Nick as time winded down secured the win and In The Area took home 3rd place, 3000 baht to split between the team and bronze medals to boot. Nick was crowned the MVP and took home a few extra baht.
Tired and exhausted, we sank our feet in the sand, with cold Chang’s in hand as the sun went down over the Gulf of Thailand. While the full moon reflected off the ocean, we took a minute to reflect on the decision we made the day prior. To many backpackers, taking the mecca to Sunrise Beach for the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan island is a rite of passage. Our legend would be different, as the experience of overcoming doubt and timidness handed us a far deeper lesson in traveling.
Just say yes. Sometimes the greatest experiences are the ones you least expect. Say yes and participate. Don’t be afraid. Get out there and say YES. Only good can happen from it.