basic disc terminology

Building the Perfect Bag | Basic Terminology

basic disc terminology

First things first…

I realized as I was writing the next couple of articles on building the perfect bag that there was a post that needed to be written first. It’s just a bit of housekeeping, but a very important one at that. If I am going to be able to communicate my ideas effectively, we have to lay down some basic definitions. We have to define the terms we’ll be using when talking about those little round pieces of plastic in your bag.

This is not intended to be a full disc golf glossary. I have no interest in inciting arguments over what a scooby or grenade really are. Honestly, I have no interest in inciting arguments at all. Some of the definitions I’ll put forth may be different than what you have heard. If that’s the case, I’m not asking you to change your definition. All I’m asking is that you keep my definition in mind so you know what the heck I’m talking about in future posts.

Also, just so I don’t have to constantly call it out, all flight descriptions of discs in this series of posts will be as if the disc was thrown RHBH. That’s the most common type of throw and that’s also how I throw. I’m not trying to alienate anyone, but articles get way too cumbersome when trying to address all possible throwing types. As a general rule, keep in mind that RHBH and LHFH are pretty much the same. LHBH and RHFH will be the opposite of my descriptions. If you are a lefty or forehand player you are probably already used to this type of translation.

Flight and throwing angles…

Hopefully no definition is needed here. The one note I’ll make is that recording yourself on video may show you that what you think is flat is really not. What many people would swear is flat is often anything but. What your throw feels like and what it is in reality is often two different things. Do yourself a favor and record one of your throws. You might be surprised!

This often misused term simply refers to the angle of the disc when thrown. A hyzer angle is when the edge of the disc that is furthest from your body is lower than the edge that is nearest your body. It is NOT a reference to fade or overstability.

The opposite angle of a hyzer. The outermost edge of the disc is higher than the edge that is closest to your body. It is NOT a reference to turn or understability.

Hyzer and Anhyzer are angles the disc can have when thrown or in flight. They are not a type of flight or throw (that should raise some eyebrows). I understand that many people “throw a hyzer” or “throw an anhyzer”. I am not going to try to get you to change that. For the purpose of these posts, I will be saying “throw with a hyzer angle” and “throw with an anhyzer angle” instead.

Types of discs…

This means that a disc is just that, stable. It holds the line you put on it. It holds the angle you threw it at to the end of its flight.

If you throw a stable disc…

Flat – It goes straight.
With a hyzer angle – During its flight, it keeps that hyzer angle.
With a anhyzer angle – During its flight, it keeps that anhyzer angle.

What is most important is that stable does NOT mean the disc fades.

That also means that one disc cannot be “more stable” than another. Discs are either stable or they aren’t. Typically when you hear someone say to get a “more stable” disc, they mean get a disc that fades more at the end of its flight. They are really telling you that you should get a disc that is “overstable”.

Examples of stable discs:

These are all discs that when thrown with a lot of speed (and with proper form), don’t tend to turn over (turn to the right) easily. They also tend to have minimal end of flight fade (low speed stability) when thrown at their intended speeds. Almost all discs want to fade, but stable discs tend to fade less than most. When a stable disc does fade, it likes to stay closer to its release and flight angle when it does. Stable discs typically don’t change their angle (hyzer, flat, or anhyzer) very much while in flight.

Innova Teebird

The Teebird is the perfect example of a stable disc.

This means that a disc has a tendency to turn right early in its flight. Some understable discs will turn more easily than others. Some will have more overall turn. Some require a harder throw to see the turn. But in the end, understable discs all go right in the right circumstances.

If you throw an understable disc…

Flat – It will turn right. The more understable it is, the faster and more pronounced its turn will be.
With hyzer – It will “flip up” to or past flat. This is where the term “hyzerflip” comes from. If and how much a disc flips past flat is determined by a combination of throw speed and the amount of understability.
With anhyzer – It will hold the anhyzer line further to the end of it’s flight than a stable disc and will often increase its anhyzer angle in flight.

One misunderstanding is that many people think an understable disc does not fade at the end of its flight. That is not true. Some understable discs can still have a good amount of fade at the end of their flight. All discs want to fade left in the low speed portion of their flight and understable discs are no exception. Some discs never get to a slow enough speed to show the fade. Other discs start showing fade very early in their flight. But just because a disc fades after it turns doesn’t mean it is not understable.

Another major misunderstanding is when players see a disc go right and immediately assume it is too understable for them. What they don’t realize is that that particular throw didn’t go right because the disc was understable. It went right because they threw it with an anhyzer angle, rolled their wrist, or otherwise used poor form. Many a disc has been mislabelled because the thrower doesn’t want to take any responsibility for the flight of the disc. To prevent this, please revisit our previous article, “It Starts With Your Throw”.

Examples of understable discs:

The Sidewinder was the first understable driver I ever owned.

The Sidewinder was the first understable driver I ever owned.

This means that a disc wants to go left. At a low enough speed, all discs want to go left. That does not make them overstable. Overstable discs have a more pronounced and earlier fade than their stable counterparts.

If you throw an overstable disc…

Flat – It will turn left. The more overstable it is, the earlier in its flight it will fight to go left. A very overstable disc will also fade more aggressively (sometimes called “dumping”). That means that they turn sharply towards the ground in their fade instead of simply gliding to the left.
With hyzer – It will fly with a hyzer angle and often increase that angle through its flight.
With anhyzer – It will fight out of the anhyzer angle back to flat and beyond. How much it fights back and fades is determined by a combination of throw speed and the amount of overstability.

Examples of overstable discs:

The Firebird is the overstable disc of choice for thousands of disc golfers.

The Firebird is the overstable disc of choice for thousands of disc golfers.

In Flight Behaviors…

This is the movement of a disc from right to left, typically at the end of its flight.

Fade is NOT the same thing as Hyzer.

A hyzer angle can also cause the disc to turn left, but that kind of left turn is not considered fade. See “low speed stability” below.

This is the movement of a disc from left to right, typically early in its flight.

Turn is NOT the same thing as anhyzer

An anhyzer angle can also cause the disc to turn right, but that kind of movement to the right is not considered turn. See “high speed stability” below.

A Better Way to Look at it…

We have saved the best for last. If I could go back and define disc terms from the start of our sport, I would make every effort to get people to use and understand the following two terms/descriptions. They are much more flexible and a far superior way to describe disc flight than “stable”, “understable”, and “overstable”.

This is because disc flight is dynamic. It changes from start to finish. It is also impacted by several external variables. Because of these things and more, the traditional descriptions are too general and are not suited to describing a disc’s full flight potential.

So during this series of posts, I’ll also be using the next two terms a lot. If you take a minute to really grasp what they mean, they can benefit you in both selecting discs and making those discs work for you.

To understand these two terms, you first need to understand that a disc’s flight has two parts. The high speed (early) portion and the low speed (late) portion. If you think about it, this is common sense. The disc leaves your hand at the highest speed it has for its entire flight. The moment it leaves your hand, it starts to slow down. It continues to do so until it hits the ground.

If you have ever thrown a disc flat, watched it turn, and then watched it fade back, you have witnessed both parts of a disc’s flight in action. The turn was the high speed portion. The fade kicked in when the disc reached its low speed portion.


It’s all about the speed

The two terms we will be using define the flight characteristics within those two portions of a disc’s flight are:

High speed stability.
This is an indication of how resistant to turn a disc is during the high speed portion of its flight. The more high speed stable a disc is the harder it can be thrown without it turning over. Bigger arms tend to prefer discs with a lot of high speed stability. With these, a lot of power can be put on the throw without fear of the disc turning right or flipping up too far out of a hyzer angle.

Keep in mind that the amount of high speed stability a disc has will change based on who is throwing it. It is a function of throw speed and disc design. Some discs show a different amount of high speed stability based on how fast they are thrown. Other discs, like those listed as “stable” above, show similar high speed stability across a wide range of throwing speeds.

This is a big part of the reason that the “turn” number published as part a disc’s flight ratings doesn’t mean a whole lot. A disc could easily be a +1 for one player while being a -2 for another player. It changes based on the power of the throw. Other discs could be a solid 0 for almost all throwing speeds. This is one of many reasons not to use flight numbers as a gauge of what discs you should try.

Low speed stability.
This is an indication of how much the disc fights to fade during the low speed portion of its flight. In general, the higher the low speed stability, the more fade a disc will have. Bigger arms also tend to like discs with good low speed stability. When you hear someone say a disc is “reliable” or they trust it to “always come back”, they are referring to a disc’s low speed stability.

This flight characteristic also varies by player. With low speed stability what changes is where in the disc’s flight it kicks in. If you think about the example I gave above of you seeing a disc go from turn to fade mid flight, you’ll know where the low speed stability of a disc kicks in. The faster a player can throw a disc, the longer it takes for the low speed stability of that disc to show.

Combining the two.

If you think about these two terms, you can now see how they can describe a disc much more effectively than just calling a disc “understable” or “overstable”. It is with these two terms that we will make most of our disc recommendations. When looking to fill certain flight line slots in your bag, it is extremely helpful to know these traits.

They will also come in handy in selecting discs that you can grow with down the road. One of our goals will be to put together a bag that serves you well into the future without having to constantly change things as you grow as a player. These types of descriptions will help to accomplish that.

keep it simple

To recap for simplicity…

Stable, Overstable, and Understable are generalizations as to how you can expect a disc to behave in flight.

Flat, Hyzer, and Anhyzer are the angles at which the disc is thrown as well as the angle of that disc in flight.

Straight, Fade, and Turn are the paths the disc flies in the air.

High speed and low speed stability describe the two discrete portions of a disc’s flight.

Again, I’m not trying to change your definitions. I simply want to make sure we are all on the same page. If I recommend that you add a stable disc to your bag, I don’t want someone to go out and buy a Firebird because their definition of stable is actually what I would refer to as overstable. Hopefully we are all now speaking the same language. If you have any questions, or would like any clarification, please let me know in the comments.

I also want to thank Tero Tommola for his help with this article. What started as a quick post to define a few terms turned into a 2500 word beast. That meant I had to call in reinforcements from Finland! I know of few, if any, people who understand this subject better than Tero. Tero, thank you for your help and I’ll see you at the GBO my friend! I owe you a beer!

And with that, we can get on with the rest of the series. Stay tuned for our next article in the “Building the Perfect Bag” series: “Disc Golf Companies are NOT Your Friends”. If you don’t want to miss that or any of the other upcoming articles in this series, make sure you subscribe to the blog by entering your email below!

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