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Frisbee: Beyond Catch and Throw

by Craig Simon © 1982

Flat Flip Flies Straight. Tilted Flip Curves. Experiment!

These were the fabulously straightforward instructions that were molded onto every one of Wham-O Manufacturing Corporation’s earlier disc models. Ross Klongerbo, writing for “Frisbee disc World” pointed out that attention to just two words– SNAP and ANGLE–is all it really takes for a novice to throw a disc effectively. That said, I will now resume my usual verbosity.

Grip. Most of the throws in frisbie boil down to four grips, each of which has upside-up and upside-down variations. Two of these grips have the fingers placed inside the disc, pressing against the rim while the thumb presses on the slope. The other two grips locate the thumb inside the disc, pressing against the rim while the fingers lay across the slope. The juxtaposition of these four grips on the next page portrays an interesting set of differences and similarities: The two fingers-inside grips spin at opposite directions to each other, as do the two fingers-outside grips. As you might expect, the position of the digits along the rim is directly related to the direction you intend to spin the disc.

Before proceeding with a case by case survey of the throws, it would be best to review some aerodynamics and some frisbie jargon.

Hyzer corresponds to aerodynamic roll–rotation along the linear axis–which runs from 6 to 12 on a flying disc. Positive Hyzer means that the skip shoulder is down and Negative Hyzer means that the roll shoulder is down. The term Hyzer seems to have originated with Stancil Johnson, who emphatically insisted that more of it was the fix for almost any poor throw. This was quite often the case in the early seventies, when many discs were terribly understable. A disc thrown flat would tend to turn over and roll. Releasing the disc with strongly positive Hyzer was the logical way to counteract this.

Disc stability is now much improved and the serious player should experiment with both types of curves, as well as flat throws. Executing straight flights is much easier once you understand the characteristics of curving flight. Moreover, facility with Hyzer gives the thrower the opportunity to put the receiver in interesting and challenging situations, like setting up skips, chops, rolls and macs.

There are two books available that illustrate throwing techniques quite impressively. Charles Tips’s Frisbee by the Masters was published in 1977 and Mark Danna with Dan Poynter published Frisbee Player’s Handbook in 1978. My book has pointedly stressed the other two elements of freestyle–catching and continuation–so this section should not be taken as comprehensive.

Those of you who have read Charles Tips’s Frisbee by the Masters and Ultimate: A Manual for the Sport, by Tom Kennedy and Irv Kalb, may notice that those authors use an opposite scheme. For them, negative means that the skip shoulder is lower. There are two reasons I believe my scheme is preferable. First, it is more logical from an aerodynamic point of view. We have already seen how a positive pitching moment (a tendency for the disc’s nose to come up) affects the discs rolling moment (forcing the skip shoulder down). Positive in one plane should translate to positive in the other. Second my scheme is in better harmony with Johnson; “more” Hyzer implies a positive quantity.

Mung is the term Johnson created to refer to pitch angle–the extent to which the disc rotates around its lateral axis from 9 to 3. (We have already seen that, strictly speaking,pitch angle is not the same as angle of attack,but for now they are substitutable.) This is the critical factor for throwing airbounces and hovers as well as Hyper Z throws.

An airbounce is thrown straight forward and sometimes slightly down, but with a high angle of attack (positive Mung) so that it appears to bounce up on a cushion of air. This dramatic effect is due to the disc’s large initial velocity, which causes the disc to lift suddenly after release. A hover has a slightly positive angle of attack so that it can be thrown an intermediate distance also with great initial velocity. By the time the disc reaches the receiver, drag has slowed its speed considerably and the disc appears to float gently forward. It soon stops altogether and seemingly parachutes to the ground. Hyper Z throws may both airbounce and hover, but they are typically short distance throws released with tremendous power to maximize spin. The powerful throwing effort that makes such a high rate of spin possible also tends to increase the disc’s forward velocity. Without adding Mung to such throws, the thrower might accidentally hurt his or her partner. If youre trying to learn these throws, experiment with throwing the disc with an angle that allows your partner to see the disc’s bottom as it arrives.

Boomerang Throws aren’t used in freestyle, but the principle involved deserves mention. If the disc is high in the air and has no velocity, it will tend to fall downwind (if it is horizontal), or in a specific direction (if tilted). As it gains airspeed (due to gravity’s acceleration) it will begin to generate lift again. Shelving is the term which refers to what happens as the disc flattens out and slows down. Since this lift reduces velocity, the entire process will repeat itself if the disc is still high enough. In such a case, the disc will tend to change direction slightly with each successive shelving (if the disc has a pitching moment), performing a maneuver known as helixing.

Snap & Angle. In The Inner Game of Tennis, Tim Galliway points out that players often tense many more muscles than necessary in order to perform a particular movement, whether it be swinging a tennis racket, golf club, or a baseball bat. His techniques for relaxation are the main focus of the book, and are well worth looking into, but I want to reemphasize the importance of thinking about snap and angle, relating these concepts to what Galliway has to say about muscle control.

It takes very little muscular effort to position or aim the disc. I suggest that you do it with your eyes, visualizing the disc’s trajectory, thinking it toward the target. Of course, a few wrist muscles are involved in angling the disc, but snapping is where the muscles work hard. Since angling is the more intuitive side of the game, when you’re learning a new throw, don’t let snapping overwhelm your practice. Start out with a new throw at shorter distances and lower Z’s, working up to power in steps. Exercise your eyes by experimenting with different kinds of trajectories. This way, you can learn how the disc “wants” to fly. Holding the “perfect image” of a throw in a corner of your mind, you will be able to coordinate your body and aim the disc without concentrating too hard on one aspect of the throw to the exclusion of the others.

A positive flight, in which the skip shoulder is closer to the ground, will apparently fly to the right of the center line between the thrower and the target when the spin is clockwise and to the left of that line if the spin is counterclockwise. This scheme is reversed for a negative flight in which the roll shoulder is closer to the ground. Remember that positive throws are easier to skip and negative throws are easier to roll.

Engineers should keep in mind that a positive throw is generally more stable in the wind and with fewer Z’s, so it is usually a good angle to start with. Just the opposite is true for upside-down throws; in this case, negative flights are more stable.

Grip at the Roll Shoulder. As a general rule, if the spin is clockwise, the disc was gripped at 3. If the spin is counterclockwise, the disc was gripped at 9. (The only exceptions are the negative airbounce, and the Backhanded Backhand, which are gripped at the tail.) It may not seem that the grip is distinctly at 3 or 9, but this is because curling the hand around the disc during the windup obscures matters.

Grip, as was mentioned before, is limited to four basic types: Backhand, Thumber, Hooked Thumb, and Flick. The most efficient way to impart torque onto the disc is along the rim, so it is not surprising to find either the fingers or the thumb press right against it from the inside, along the ditch or the cheek.

As with the scheme I used to describe self-limitation, I will describe throws based on a right-handed perspective. For left-handed values, transpose references to right or left and 3 or 9.

The Backhand grip has the fingers underneath the disc and the thumb on top. Grasp the disc as if you are about to give it a traditional handshake. The upside-up, horizontal disc is gripped at 9. Many people make the mistake of keeping the index finger outside the disc along the lip. This practice creates a lot of friction between the edge and the middle finger, thereby slowing the disc’s spin and leading to a malady called “Frisbee Finger” which can be a very painful blistering and cracking of the skin. A brief description of the different backhand throws follows

Crossbody Backhand. This is the most well-known throw. The heels are in line with the target, with the throwing arm’s side closest. The arm swings slightly above the waist, crossing in front of the body, releasing on the right side (supinated).

Underhand. Place the heels slightly more square to the target and release the disc low on the right side. Swing the arm at the side this time, moving from back to front. For added power, shift your weight to the right foot. This is sometimes called the “Gunslinger” throw an apt name because of the way the hand snaps up from the side (supinated).

Behind the Back. The heels are fairly close together and the thrower is square to the target. Swing the arm around the waist going clockwise in one motion so that it actually whips as it hits the left side of the back. Breaking the swing into two parts as you begin to go behind the back is a typical mistake. Keep the hand waist high as it reaches the left side and concentrate on adding spin and velocity. This can be done behind both legs as well by bending at the waist (supinated).

Overhead Airbounce. The arm reaches behind the head and then swings forward. The player steps forward with the left foot, but keeps square to the target. Lowering the Skip Shoulder while in such a contorted position tends to raise the nose, giving the flight positive Mung and a strong tendency to airbounce. This can be even more dramatic if thrown quickly from a crouched position while the thrower faces the ground. A variation of this throw is released from the player’s right shoulder (supinated with pronated follow through). The most common mistake here is to release with too much negative Hyzer, causing the disc to roll instead of fly.

Negative Airbounce. Place the heels in line with the target, right to left (not left to right). Throw the disc high into the air and tilt the left side down. It will carry toward the target as it descends. This throw works best when the thrower is upwind from the target. The Negative Airbounce is convenient for setting up airbrushes and body rolls (supinated).

Poseidon (Upside-down). Stand with left foot slightly forward of right foot. The hand is raised to the right side of the head, thumb down, with the palm and the fleshy part of the wrist facing back. Release forward by straightening the elbow and snapping the wrist. Note that an overly negative Hyzer Overhead Airbounce turns into a Poseidon (hypersupinated with supinated follow through).

Overhand Backhand (also called Upside-down Wristflip). Again, stand with left foot slightly ahead of right. Extend the arm out to the right, swinging at the shoulder from back to forward. Keep the hand high, fleshy part of the wrist away to the side, putting negative Hyzer on the release, leading with the back of the hand (pronated).

The Hooked Thumb grip has the thumb inside the rim on the cheek with the fingers on top pressing against the thumb through the slope. This is not the same thing as the Thumber, a much more familiar grip in which the thumb presses against the cheek also. Hooked thumb flights are equivalent to backhands. Just as right-handed backhands spin clockwise when flying upside-up and counterclockwise when upside-down, so do right-handed hooked thumb throws. It may help to consider that the motion of a simple backhand in a paddle game is in many ways equivalent to the simplest backhand and hooked thumb releases.

Staker. The thrower is square to the target or in line, left to right, for more powerful throws. The elbow is bent for the windup and the hand curls over the forearm at about shoulder height. Release leading with the back of the hand (pronated).

Backhanded Backhand. This is similar in many ways to the staker, but the thumb presses up on the flight plate rather than against the cheek. The arm extends to the side, emphasizing the swing at the shoulder and elbow rather than the wrist (pronated).

Upside-down Hooked Thumb. Stand with left foot forward, elbow slightly bent, hand about chest high. The fleshy part of the wrist faces left and slightly up. The elbow extends and the hand rises as the wrist snaps to release the disc. Although the release is not as high, the flight line approximates the Poseidons (pronated).

Corkscrew Words alone can’t explain this throw. When thrown properly, the Corkscrew starts out as a positive Hyzer upside-down and becomes a positive upside-up flight (hypersupinated).

The Thumber grip has the thumb pressing against the cheek and the fingers extended over the top. The upside-up horizontal disc is gripped at 9 and spins counterclockwise.

Forehand Thumber. Stand with the feet in line to the target, right to left. Swing the arm forward at about waist height, releasing so that the disc rolls off your thumb. For positive throws, it is necessary to give the arm room to swing by hypersupinating the wrist and bending slightly back and to the right at the waist.

Pop Thumber. Stand so that the feet are in line with the target, left to right. In one variation, the thrower tucks the disc under the armpit, with the top of the flight plate against the torso. The elbow is bent up and the wrist bent down. Release by extending the arm up, at the same time flexing the wrist into the hypersupinated position. Surprisingly, at first, the disc appears to pop up into the air, flying off to the side. The difference between the forehand thumber and the pop thumber is that the latter relies more on the wrist and the elbow extends up rather than swinging forward. The grips are slightly different too. For the pop thumber, the thumb will be placed almost vertically against the cheek, rather than horizontally as it is for the forehand thumber.

Overhand Wristflip. The player usually stands with the left foot closer to the target, although this throw works with almost any stance, or even no stance at all, if you’re treading water. Leading with the back of the hand swing the arm from back to forward at shoulder height. You can best picture this throw by referring to the Illustration of the backward pronated position at the front of the book. The hand travels from the backward pronated, to the pronated phase of the inversion cycle. The palm faces down while the thumb is underneath the disc, as opposed to the forehand thumber, where the palm faces up. These two throws derive from essentially the same grip, and release the same spin, but place the hand in very different positions. In the movie “TRON”, the disc throwers often use wristflips.

TwIster (also called In-Flip and Helicopter). This spectacular throw starts out as a wristflip and turns into a pop thumber. As you reach the release point of the wristflip, continue on through the inversion cycle, drawing your wrist toward you so that it becomes hypersupinated. This throw can produce tremendous Z’s.

Dream Shot. John Weyend first thought of this throw while sleeping, and was so pleased with himself he now goes by the name Dreamer. Stand with the left foot slightly closer to the target. The arm swings overhead from right to left so that the disc is released at a negative angle over the left shoulder (pronated).

The Flick grip requires more body coordination than the previous grips. Its flight lines are so similar to the Thumber’s that Charles Tips puts the two in the same category, which he describes as “Forehand Throws.” The main difference is that the fingers rather than the thumb are placed inside the ditch. The simple forehand of a paddle game is duplicated by the thumber and flick releases, except that it is usually necessary to hypersupinate the wrist in order to add spin to the disc. For the disc to spin, the fingers must snap it around, hence the name “flick.” To see whether you’re snapping properly, it’s useful to replicate the motion with a towel or some type of cloth. The towel should snap behind the hand when the movement is performed correctly.

Sidearm. Stand so that the feet are in line with the target, from right to left. As with the forehand thumber, the arm swings toward the left, but in this case hypersupinating the hand at the moment of release is even more important. (The thumber starts out hypersupinated and the sidearm starts out supinated. Even though the thumb is on top of the disc, it’s possible to hypersupinate the wrist by twisting it in the proper direction just prior to release.) Leading with the elbow and shifting your weight to the left foot will add power. In order to develop smoothness and consistency, it’s useful to think of the arm, and even the entire body, as a whip. The sidearm throw is remarkably powerful because it is so efficient. Next to the backhand, this is the most common throw for field events like Distance and Self Caught Flight. It is also the most effective throw in Ultimate.

Upside-down Flick. Throw similarly to the Dream Shot, with the feet aligned so that the left foot is slightly closer to the target. Release with the hand overhead, slightly in front and to the left. The Upside-down Flick is more delicate than the Dream Shot. Ultimate players also use this one quite a bit because it is easy to throw high and out of the reach of unintended receivers. It is popular for Disc Golf as well, because it can be thrown so that it drops straight down while horizontal without overshooting the target (pronated).

A word about upside-down throws. A common mistake for beginners is to release the disc with positive Hyzer, expecting that the disc will fly along the same path as an upside-up throw. Instead, be sure that the disc’s shoulder opposite your hand is up rather than down. The upside-down throw should be tossed fairly high into the air, since the disc’s airfoil design will cause it to sink rather than lift.

Self-mac Throws. Both skips and macs add Mung to a flying disc; the result of this tends to increase the amount of drag force, slowing the disc’s velocity. If the circumstances are right, adding Mung will cause the disc to lift also. Certain throws, especially the sidearm and the thumber, are particularly well-suited for self-macs, because the free hand has a clear shot at the roll shoulder. In either case, the thrower should throw the disc hard, straight at the target. The free hand must hit the slope firmly on the roll shoulder, striking at an angle nearly perpendicular to the flight. The self-mac is usually performed at the moment of release, while the disc is still in the qrip of the throwing hand. The self-mac can be done just after the moment of release, with the hand or with the foot. The Underhand is also suited to self-macs if the thrower can swing the throwing arm from the side to the center of the body before releasing the disc. This is slightly more complicated than the other throws because the free hand must reach over more of the disc to strike the roll shoulder.

Self-reflected Throws. By throwing the disc’s roll shoulder into the palm of the free hand at the moment of release, the thrower can considerably increase the amount of Z’s on the throw. The sidearm and the upside-down hooked thumb are best-suited for this. The disc’s lip should brush cleanly off the palm on its way to the target.

4 thoughts on “Frisbee: Beyond Catch and Throw”

  1. Hi Rob,

    Great article.  I’ve been trying to track down the origin and meaning of “z’s,” but have struck out.  Do you happen to know where it came from?  I understand it refers to the spin on the disc; the more “z’s” the more rotations the disc does.  Thanks!

  2. ehpkns I’ve been asking my friends who have been some of the pioneers in freestyle and I have had some interesting responses. Perhaps the most promising is this story:
    From what the guys are saying, it originated in NYC and there seem to be two reasons – 1) It’s spinning so fast you could shave with it, and shavers make the zzz sound and 2) It’s spinning so fast that it would put you to sleep, zzz’s also.

    Pretty cool hey?

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