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.