Tuesday, June 18, 2013

As many of my Whitecaps teammates can attest, I’ve been in a continuing love-hate relationship with the Innova Pulsar.  For starters, I was definitely intrigued that the MLU was using a different Frisbee.  At first touch, I was pleasantly surprised by the increased lift and smooth release of the disc.  It was new and different, which was exciting -- like throwing a brand new disc golf for the very first time.  This feeling lasted for maybe two weeks, before I had accrued enough touches to realize, that this Pulsar was very different than the Ultrastar.  During the early practices and scrimmages, multitudes of throws careened out-of-bounds, missing their targets by 30 yards.  During one particularly windy deep drill, there were at least 10 straight throws that floated, turned and veered away from their target.

My suspicion grew.

But after several weeks, the throws began to straighten out and play appeared almost normal again.  Initially, I was intrigued at the prospect of being able to throw the Pulsar farther than the Ultrastar – something that appealed to me greatly.  For another several weeks, I was whole-heartedly convinced that the Pulsar was a superior Frisbee – a big boy disc that held its edge and was destined for max distance.

However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that this was a foolish conclusion.  Thus, our relationship flipped-flopped and flipped again.  I had to re-crunch the numbers.  It wasn’t until I was able to get onto the turf with a bag of Ultrastars and my 2-3 Pulsars that I came to several horrifying realizations.  For most throws, ranging from 5-15 yards, the difference in flight is barely noticeable.  Once the range hits 20-40 yards, there is a technique change, but nothing revolutionary, as long as there is enough spin.  However, anything over 40 yards is completely reverse – and this is my biggest gripe.

When maxing out the distance on an Ultrastar (which is under-stable), the initial edge must be Inside-Out (IO or hyzer).  But to max the distance on the Innova Pulsar (which is over-stable), the initial edge must be Outside-In (OI or anhyzer).  Splitting hairs on the angle of release sounds tedious, except when the flight plan is aimed for 80-100 yards.  Even the slightest difference on the release, can yield a yardage difference anywhere from 20-40 yards.  Still, changing the angle of release is normal in ultimate, depending on the target and distance – so nothing THAT revolutionary right?  If you're new to the basics, then this difference is minor, if not completely irrelevant, to you.

However, I make my money on big throws – rocket launcher with a sniper scope.  I can huck it 80 yards on the money, either way, boomheadshot.  The key to my success is having the biggest throws any way – upwind, downwind, crosswind, no wind.  Despite almost any conditions, I had the biggest throws on the field – especially upwind.  And here is the biggest difference and my pet peeve:  The Innova Pulsar was designed to max its distance when thrown like a disc golf.  Anhyzer edge, laser straight, S curving and tailing left on the backhand.  For going downwind, great – it goes 100 yards and floats forever!!  But now try throwing the Pulsar upwind.  Go ahead – straight upwind.  And… Oh, it only goes like 60 yards before it blades and dies.  That is my issue.  When throwing against the wind, the OI (anhyzer) edge is naturally pushed down – and therein lies the problem.  The Pulsar was designed to max out with the OI edge, which coincidentally doesn’t happen when going straight upwind.  The difference for the Ultrastar is the versatility and ability to turn/aim/airbounce the disc – moving it around targets more effectively and the ability to control the flight plan all the way through the S curve.  When throwing upwind with the Ultrastar, the edge has to be severely IO (hyzer), which is the way to max the distance for an Ultrastar regardless. 

Obviously, this is a big difference when trying to throw hucks with a Pulsar and Ultrastar – because the angle of release is completely opposite.  Not a little different; it's completely 100% opposite.  This realization was cemented several months into the season, when Ironside tryouts and MLU games were in direct conflict.  Suddenly, I was hucking Ultrastars like a Pulsar and Pulsars like an Ultrastar.  Neither disc agreed – and my rage and frustration with the Pulsar grew.  This Pulsar is a fake, beginners disc with a fat rim and extra float.  You could grip it like a cantaloupe the rim is so deep and every pass is destined for extra air time.  I didn’t care if I could throw it farther than an Ultrastar anymore.  I had lost my total control of the disc and my muscle memory.

At first, I started getting angry with the disc and just trying to throw it harder.  I had been just killing it in the weight room, so why not just go beastmode on the grip?  If there was enough spin, the Z’s could turn the edge naturally...  So, I started squeezing harder.  This had two immediate effects.  First, the rim was soo deep, it began bruising my hand from how hard I was gripping the disc.  Second, the massive rim was changing my grip to such an extent that I was now missing my power point (the very last point of contact with the disc before release).  Perhaps my friction gloves could be the solution?  Not remotely.

I can recall the exact instant when my loathing for the Pulsar climaxed.  During a long scrimmage at Ironside tryouts, I threw my fourth flick huck to a wide open deep target and for the fourth time, the disc turned, bladed, and fell.  Incomplete.   I was throwing the Ultrastar like a Pulsar.  Suddenly, I felt like a beginner again, frustrated with my inability to adjust and angry for playing so poorly.

Coincidentally, USAU has been exploring new disc options for the last several years.  Apparently, the original Discraft Ultrastar mold has fully depreciated and lived its last days, spurring the need for a new plastic mold to fill the shoes.  Originally, USAU sent 5 test flight discs last year for feedback.  I was impressed with some more than others, but generally hesitant to approve just any old Frisbee for championship use.  I wasn’t the only one, as 43% of testers failed the current Ultrastar (one of the five test flight discs) for championship use!  So for the second round of testing, I was more receptive to change and passed the next 3 discs with relative ease – as they were adequate enough.  However, one more disc came up for testing and I immediately recognized it as an Innova Pulsar-esque, which I relished denying for championship use - although it was just as adequate as the others.   

Overall, the MLU is awesome and clearly top dog over the AUDL.  The professionalism and excitement created for the sport of ultimate is amazing.  The new sponsors and increased competition make sense, but from a handlers point-of view, at least choose a Frisbee that doesn’t compromise play in the sense that I have to relearn how to huck the darn thing.  For 90% of players – who like to run lots, chase players on defense, make under cuts and throw dumps – this will hardly affect you.  But my favorite part of ultimate is throwing the disc, and overall, this disc is completely different to throw deep. 

Lately, I’ve decided to take that Pulsar where it really belongs-- the disc golf course.  I nailed some trees, but also some birdies.  It's actually a very effective mid-range disc.

It’s mid-April and I’m already 9 weeks into the season.  My first game is this weekend against NY, but I can already tell it’s going to be a long season.  Every Wednesday evening for two months now, I’ve battled traffic and stormy weather just for the opportunity to murder my legs on a gigantic ultimate field.  The extra 10 yards of length and 13 1/3 yards of width are surprisingly large factors on the professional stage. There is no shortage of space anymore.  Defense is nearly impossible.  

But the biggest travesty thus far, is changing the Frisbee.  Good intentions aside, this new disc will undoubtedly affect the level of play.  It’s no wonder the Innova flies like a golf disc; Innova is a leader in disc golf discs.  The rim is huge, bulky, and abrupt in comparison to the Ultrastar rim.  But the biggest difference is that the Pulsar holds its edge, despite the spin on the disc, making IO throws stay IO.  Even a flat IO will fade away, making the majority of huck drills unmanageable as disc after disc strays out of bounds.  At first, due to the Pulsar's ability to hold its edge, I thought it could be thrown harder and farther.  That was foolish optimism.  There is no S curve.  Throwing IO with the intention of turning the edge over isn’t an option.  With an Ultrastar, ripping the hyzer and playing out the S curve makes for the biggest throws.  But with this Innova, the only option is anhyzer.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Never with head in sand
In order to describe to you Brian Hart, and explain why he's a candidate worthy of the award, I need to first tell you about two other people: Henry Callahan, an Oregon player; and Kevin Crowley, a Wisconsin player.

If you belong to the tiny subset of humans that play competitive Ultimate you've heard of the former and if you belong to a small subset of that subset, players from Wisconsin, you've heard of the latter. There's a reason for that, and for all the on-field heroics both were, in their time, famous for, you'd be hard-pressed to find mention of some specific play. Talk to people who knew them, and you're a dozen stories deep before some play either made on the field comes up. They're known now as ambassadors, as people, and are remembered not for their plays but for the way they carried themselves and they way they treated others. These are people now remembered by those who never met them, because the ripples of effect they had on so many created a wake of influence behind them.

This year the Hodag program is inaugurating the Kevin Crowley Spirit Award, our in-house version of the Callahan, to be voted on by the outbound seniors to give to a returner; the one who carries the fire of the team within them, who can not only make plays but lead others to elevate along with him; it's the person you entrust with the future of the program. This being Hart's last year, it comes too late. And, "the Callahan trophy is presented to the man and woman who combine superior athleticism with outstanding sportsmanship, leadership and dedication to the sport of ultimate. In the eyes of his or her peers, the Callahan winner is the personification of the ideal ultimate player." Both awards ask their recipients to live up to incredibly lofty standards, and in order for them to mean anything, to act as a relic for the people they're named after, we must uphold those standards as voters.

That's why I want to tell you about Hart, who's so unassuming that you might walk by him tomorrow on your way to work or class and not even know, not have any idea how he lives his life.

roostering at his 1st PDs
But I want you to know, because it's worth telling, and for our program (and yours), worth emulating. Hart missed his first year with the Hodags because he accidentally showed up to the C-team's practice and didn't know any different until it was too late. He was about to get cut from the club team the following summer because he tried out as a handler. My fellow captain Seth and I threw him downfield on a whim and couldn't get him to stop scoring goals. In those years, he was a kid with staggering promise who had no idea how good he was, nor how good he was gonna be. It's only been three years since and the same holds true, only now at the level of the very acme of talent in our sport. In a time when we're bombarded with messages telling us to take credit and get ours and suckle beams of spotlight for attention, you would never know how good he is by the way he carries himself.

I guess that's because aside from incredible talent and panther instincts, he also has humility, which day in and day out seems to be the most difficult thing to cultivate and nourish in ourselves. And he's that rare person who figured out how to interweave humility and leadership into the same concept. Hart has been an exemplary teammate and friend to all the Hodags in his time here, leading by words and example. There are plays his teammates make that can be attributed to 9 months of being challenged by Hart in practice, always encouraging his match-up, and always winning it.

And there's another rare gift he shares with Crowley and Callahan, simple but elusive to so many: consistency. If you know Hart you know Hart. He's as respectful to people on the field as he is off of it, calls games the same from beginning to end, will give you props for making a play on him when you best him, and retain your respect the overwhelming majority of the times that you don't.

I love Hart and I'm thankful we had the opportunity to work together like this. He's a brother that I've adopted with a spirit I hope my son will have. When I think of Henry and Kevin and the legacy they left for us, which we nurture and grow every year by awarding an honor in their name, no more fitting a person than Hart comes to mind. It's not so much that his skies and layouts and hammers and catch Ds will fade with time, only that the shine of contributions to us as people will blind us to them.

Hodag Love,

Hart For Callahan 2013

"Click on me to see what i do on the regular," Hart said never.

Monday, April 29, 2013



If you are really interesting in "becoming a more complete ultimate player," then get better at handler defense. That is where you are lacking, Muffin, and that's what the team needs from you this year.

I'm disappointed that my defense was not able to dictate today and bring a higher level of energy, feeling, aggression, intensity.. flat out enthusiasm, be that my body language or team talk.

I can see the plays I missed today, the ones I want back.  Two possible bid opportunities, and I was not able to pull the trigger.  I put myself in position to make a play, anticipated the throw, wasn't in danger of being exploited, and missed the opportunity to hit the B button and get a layout D.  I came off the field, clearly mad at myself for not being "ready" at the moment, and Brenden scoffs, "Man, I dream about those D's."  I reflected, do I dream about those D's? Am I going to bed every night still wanting to get that D?  Still motivated to make that single play which shifts the momentum of a tied game?

I need to make those plays. I want to make them.  I need to see myself making those plays.  Expecting that level of play.  Knowing that I am going to execute next time. Not just anticipating the throw, but anticipating the layout block -- totally ready and committed to giving it a shot.

For the first time in my life, I no longer enjoy ultimate.
It's slowly evolved from being an outlet of energy into to a source of stress.
Playing on two teams has left me at times conflicted and certainly frustrated.
Is a game more important than practice?  Depends on who you ask.

The AUDL kinda sucks.  At first it was novel, exciting and mind-blowing.  Slowly it turned frustrating,  intolerable and finally indifferent.  That's when I doubled-down.  Half the team quit, but I invested more energy into each game.  When I commit to something - I see it through.  I never quit anything once I've started and now I wanted to win.  I made the long road trips, sometimes with barely 13 players and played both ways in the summer heat.  I'm struggling to convey how difficult each game is, but I'll leave it at this -- it was normal to leave my heart on the field.  I tried to do everything, and sometimes that wasn't even enough. Not disappointment, rather resigned to our fate.  Frustrated.  Powerless. Pissed.

Pissed. That's the one emotion I can relate to. When I get mad and focus on a target, everything else disappears.  Anger gives me the ability to focus my passion and use it to my advantage.  Extra energy when I'm tired, an adrenaline kick, a bite your tongue big throw.  It allows me untapped strength and certain conviction.  I received a stronger dose than usual of criticism so far this season, and I'm ready to pop the lid on that can of whoop-ass. Sometimes I'm able to use that negative energy to evoke more emotion and raise my level of play. But when it passes my threshold of tolerance, it begins to weigh on me.  I disconnect, get stubborn and eventually lose confidence and break down.  Sink or Swim? Fight or Flight?

I'm ready to fight.

Losers stop when they get tired..winners stop when they win.

Unrelated, I believe I finally maxed out my throws.  90 yards either way, except for my hammer, which I can't figure out how to throw bigger than 55-60 yards.  Show me the 80 yard hammer.  I wanna add that to my bag of throws.