Roller Shots, Part 2: Now we tell you How

The first thing to know about throwing roller shots is that if you can throw backhand and sidearm, you already know much of what you need to know. Roller shots don’t require learning an entirely new technique- just a new twist on your most basic throws. Whereas with most air shots the aim is to keep the disc aloft most of the way to the target, roller shots need to hit the ground early. And as opposed to air shots, where you usually want the disc to land mostly flat it won’t roll away, roller shots are calculated to not only land on it’s edge but on its edge at a specific angle so it goes the direction and distance you intend.

By the way, if you didn’t catch Part 1 of this instructional post – which covers the Who, What, When, Where and Why of roller shots, you can check it out here (ADD LINKS).

Now on to the How.

Proper roller technique requires a high release point, exaggerated nose angle, and a torso with a tilted axis.

Much of what I know about throwing roller shots comes from my personal roller mentor, Alan ‘Flash’ Friedman. I tapped into his knowledge base for this post, and even filmed a quick video and posted it on YouTube. Don’t be lazy and just watch the video, though, as all by itself it doesn’t do a great job of explaining how to properly throw rollers.

According to Flash, there are two types of roller shots- the finesse version (thrown using understable or ‘beat’ discs), and ‘high-tech’ rollers that require an overstable disc.

The finesse roller has been around for as long as people have been throwing flying discs, and was discovered initially due to the relative understable nature of early discs. As we all know, if a disc can’t handle the amount of speed and spin with which it is thrown, it turns over quickly and if the turn is aggressive enough hits the ground at an angle and rolls. It didn’t take long for experimental types to learn how to use this to their advantage, and the purposeful finesse roller shot was born. Finesse rollers are usually thrown so that the transition from air to ground is pretty gradual and smooth, somewhere midway between takeoff and the intended final destination. My favorite finesse roller is so old and understable that I often need to throw it with hyzer so it doesn’t turn over too soon. Talk about finesse!

The ‘high tech’ roller is simply a roller shot thrown with a much more stable disc. The increased stability of the disc means it won’t turn over (just like an air shot, this means curling to the right for a RHBH thrower) as easily or as soon. It also means that the technique used to get the disc to roll is much more extreme. If you think it’s hard to throw an overstable disc flat and straight, imagine what it takes to make it roll!

The ‘high tech’ roller shot involves an even steeper nose angle and torso axis, as well as aiming for a landing spot much closer to the thrower.

This brings us to Flash’s two keys to executing a roller shot: modifying your technique to get the right angle based on the specific disc and the type of roller shot (finesse or high tech), and picking a specific spot where your disc will first hit the ground.

As far as technique is concerned, as stated at the beginning of this post you’ll just be modifying the throw you’re using most of the time. We’ll just discuss backhand today, but the principle applies to forehand technique as well.

Notice how Flash’s body is arched to match the angle of the disc, creating a consistent arc that starts at pull back and lasts all the way through the follow-through.

First of all, with both roller styles you’ll want to raise your release point – as you would with a big anhyzer – to get the extreme angle required. For a high tech roller you should almost be holding the disc right over your head just before release with your back arched backward. That last point is important, too, because it’s not enough to just change the angle of the nose of the disc. To get that angle to hold, you must change the entire axis of your pullback and release as well. This requires the participation of all your moving parts.

Picking a specific landing spot is the second of Flash’s keys to a consistent and accurate roller. He says that you should first understand how your disc will act once its rolling, given the type of disc you’re throwing. This is something you’ll only learn with experience. Once you’ve learned the disc, you’ll be able to properly adjust the angle and speed required to get it to do what you want. With the knowledge  at the ready, you can make the task much simpler by focusing on the spot where the disc first hits the ground rather than the entire path you expect it to travel. In other words, it much simpler to aim for a spot 40-100 feet in front of you and make the disc land in a five-foot square at the right angle than to aim for a spot 400 feet away. Roller shots are inherently unpredictable, anyway, so it makes sense to focus on the flight (the part you can control) rather than the roll.

Dependable rollers require lots of trial and error, and then practice, practice, practice. When you’re serious about adding this shot to your bag head out to a big wide open field so you can see what various discs will do from beginning to end.  And remember Flash’s advice and focus on your angle of release and your landing zone.

Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com.

New disc review & giveaway: Say hello and so LONG to the Vibram Lace

Is there anything Vibram’s X-Link Rubber Compound disc’s can’t do?

For two years now I’ve touted the durability, and the grip, and even the consistent, reliable flight path. But I always assumed that distance was the one area where the tackier material made of rubber would not be able to match the sleekness and (I thought) superior aerodynamics of plastic.

After testing the Lace, Vibram’s first true long distance disc, I think I may have been wrong. Very wrong.

When I give it some thought, though, I should have seen this coming. After all, the Obex and Ibex can produce incredible distance for mid range discs, and the Trek and Ascent both fly pretty far for supposed ‘fairway drivers’. But the Lace takes things to a whole new level. I’ll do my best to explain, but after a couple fieldwork sessions and a stellar round at DeLaveaga today (-6, thanks in part to the Lace) I haven’t quite figured out how the disc flies so fast and long, so effortlessly.

This disc isn’t available in stores until November 23rd, but if you want a chance to win the tester they sent to School of Disc Golf, read on.

Those that have read my reviews in the past know I’m not big on the technical aspects of discs. I don’t flightplates diameters and all that jazz. If you need to know that stuff it’s on Vibram’s site. And while you’re there you might read their description of the disc, which says in part that it’s “like a faster Trak with a ton more glide thrown in as a bonus.” I don’t totally agree with that assessment.

While it is indeed much faster and goes way further than a Trak, this disc is way more stable. In fact, I think it’ll act like most other super-fast discs do for players without a surplus of power. I grudgingly let me friend throw it once today (hey, by the time I realized what it could do I needed it for the long holes at DeLa), and he is an accomplished player. Even after I told him it could handle all the power he wanted to give it, he still underestimated it and let it hyzer out way too soon. It’s happened to me a bunch of times too. But even when I didn’t get the gradual S-turn I plan for when going for maximum distance, I still ended up longer than expected, time and time again.

A couple times at DeLa I even discovered new possibilities- and I’ve been playing that course for almost 20 years! It’s hard to put into the right words, but when I watch the flight of my Lace I expect to find it in one place and I end up finding it somewhere else, usually further down the fairway and closer to the hole. Case in point was hole 20, a dogleg right over and around tall trees. It was my first hole of the day with the Lace and I didn’t expect it to be so stable. It hyzered way sooner than I wanted, and I started plunging into the trees thinking it went in way short and maybe even trickled down into the canyon. Nope. It was on the right fringe, but barely, and only 40 feet short of the hole. A good throw would have blasted past the basket. It’s that glide that Vibram touts.

As far as feel is concerned, the Lace has that superior grip that just makes you feel like you’re in control. Some power discs just feel in my hand that they’re uncontrollable, but not this disc. It fit into my hand comfortably and came out smoothly.

Another thing related to the rubber compound that I like: as with the other Vibram discs, it tends to stop pretty soon after touching down, which I consider a bonus with a long range driver in certain cases. There are times when you need to get 400-plus feet yet you need that disc to stop quickly afterward. Until now that really hasn’t been an option. If you wanted that distance you had to be willing to risk the possibility of skipping and/or sliding at the end of the flight. Now, with the Lace, you can have your cake and eat it too.

I don’t hide the fact that I love Vibram’s rubber discs, and I’m mildly surprised that the rest of the disc golf world hasn’t yet gone ga-ga for rubber. I guess these things take time. But I have a prediction. In golf there is the well-known saying, ‘Drive for show, putt for dough’. Distance and power gets the most attention, and now that the Lace is here, expect Vibram to start getting LOTS more attention.

Now for the contest. Since I want West Coast disc golfers to wise up to the Vibram vibe, I’m gonna do a live contest at the next DeLaveaga club monthly, December 1st at DDGC in Santa Cruz, CA. Participants will get the chance to test drive Vibram’s other drivers or mid range discs (Trek, Ascent, Ibex and Obex) and then pick one to take one crack at a CTP contest on hole 6. Winner gets the Lace. NOTE: To get in the contest, you gotta RSVP via the comments section below.

And since I don’t want to leave out readers that can’t get to the DeLa monthly, I’m also gonna give away another Vibram disc with a School of Disc Golf hotstamp to a random person who comments on this post. Let us know your thoughts on rubber vs. plastic, or something else relevant to the topic. Good luck!

Roller shots: Who, What, When, Where, and Why

When I’m teaching or playing with people new to the sport and they see me execute a roller shot for a long, accurate drive, it’s only a matter of time before they say “Can you show me how to do that?”

They are correctly deducing that quite often a disc can travel farther rolling along the ground than spinning through the air. Actually, if the terrain and conditions are suited to the purpose – and the roller shot is thrown by someone who knows the right way to do it – that is usually the case. Pretty enticing for someone who is having a hard time getting the kind of distance he sees everyone else getting.

Some people eschew the roller shot as a violation of an important aesthetic element of disc sports (“it’s supposed to float through the air, man”), but to them I say “get over it”. At one time I was in that camp myself, but then I realized that as a person who loves the competitive golf aspect of disc golf, I was just jealous that others who could execute rollers had an advantage over me. So I began to figure out that whole other world of getting discs from point A to point B.

In fact, roller shots are not nearly as inelegant as they might first appear. The same science of selecting just the right combination of release angle, armspeed and aim that goes into a good air shot applies to rollers as well.

What follows in this post is a summary of some of what I’ve learned between that time and now. In this case, slicing it up using the journalist’s tried and true who-what-when-where-why, and of course, how categories makes lots of sense. Just so you know ahead of time, the ‘How’ will follow in a Part 2 post to follow shortly.

Who

The people who throw rollers tend to fall in one or two groups- or both. Some are players that really love the sport and regularly play, but for physical reasons just can’t get much distance through the air. Age is often a factor, as players of Boomer age often find that their bodies won’t generate the kind of armspeed and whip action that is needed for long flights through the air.

The other group includes players that insist on mastering every possible way to throw a disc further and past obstacles that block high-flying hyzers and anhyzers. Players who are obsessed enough with disc golf to incessantly experiment will eventually discover the roller shot- either through intention or by accident.

What

Well, the ‘what’ is pretty self-explanatory. A roller is a disc golf throwing technique wherein the disc rolls along the ground rather than flies through the air. But wait! Sometimes it’s not quite so cut-and-dried. Depending on the situation, some roller shots don’t actually hit the ground and start rolling until more than halfway into their total distance covered. What’s more, as far as the technique is concerned roller shots are really just backhand or forehand throws with modified angles or release so that the disc will hit the ground mid-flight at an angle that will cause it to roll on it’s edge rather than stop, slide or skip.

A good example of a roller in mid-roll, and also of ideal terrain for a roller: short grass on smooth, flat ground. Stock photo.

Another thing about roller shots to keep in mind is that the rate-of-rotation effects the path they travel just as much as airshots. Maybe more. So just like a shot through the air will have the highest spin rate just after it’s released, then towards the end the spin will slow down and usually cause the disc to ‘fade’ (to the left for a right handed back hand shot), a roller is effected by this principle as well. More on this in the Part 2 where we’ll discuss the ‘How’.

When

Not a whole lot to discuss here beyond what’s already been mentioned in the ‘Who’ section and what’ll be covered in the ‘Where’ section next.

When you need a little extra distance and your airshot doesn’t quite get you there, the roller may bridge that gap. When there is a stand of tall trees that also have low-hanging limbs between you and the basket that would otherwise be reachable, a roller can zip right past those tree trunks and under those limbs.

Not when (or When Not) is also important to keep in mind, and the one thing to remember is that wind can greatly effect roller shots. Since the disc is vertical rather than horizontal most of the time with rollers, the wind can push it around that much more. Just picture a sailboat in a strong storm. Don’t take this to mean that you can’t throw rollers when it’s windy. Just be aware that the wind will make a big difference in the results. Sometimes the change is good, and sometime baaaaad.

Where

Roller shots work best on terrain that is hard and smooth, or as close to that as possible. Grassy fairways that are mowed often and not too bumpy usually produce good rollers, and hard-packed dirt is even better. Obviously ground that is fairly free of bushes and debris is more conducive to a successful roller shot than otherwise, but players will often roll the dice and hope for the best when there are rocks and roots to be navigated. When a small obstacle on the ground is encountered the chances of the disc hopping over it and continuing on it’s intended path are about the same as the disc being re-directed away from the target- sometimes far away. That’s just a risk that is present that obviously isn’t an issue with shots that travel through the air.

A roller would not work on this hole for many reasons. The ground is covered with brush, and the soil- although you can’t tell from the photo – is soft and loose. Photo by Jack Trageser

When using a roller to get past a stand of trees, it’s good to remember that you’ll be rolling past the bottoms of the tree trunks and not dealing with any part of the trees above six inches or so (once your disc hits the ground and begins rolling). That combined with the fact that the disc itself will be mostly vertical and therefore presenting less opportunity to hit something should enable you to see more chance for a successful roller.

One other thing. As you experiment with rollers, you’ll learn that a certain amount of space is required to execute this shot. It’s generally tough to pull off a roller in a place where you need to hit a small gap directly in front of you. The disc usually needs to travel a bit before hitting the ground, and getting it to land at the correct angle often requires some lateral (side-to-side) space. The only way to know your own limitations is through experimentation, and the only lots of practice can reduce those limitations.

Why (and Why Not)

As a recap, the reasons to throw a roller are the potential for more distance than you’re able to get using any other technique, and the ability to get past obstacles that block all options through the air. Sometimes, when those limitations are present, the roller provides an option where there otherwise would be none. And rollers aren’t just useful off the tee. They can be lifesavers as rescue shots where you need to get under obstacles, have a lie that restricts your normal throwing motion, or need to get around tight corners.

But there are plenty of reasons why you should NOT throw a roller .

As mentioned in the ‘Where’ section above, some terrain is just not conducive to roller shots. No matter how much the shot otherwise calls out for a roller, if the ground is full of rocks or gnarly brush, you’re  more likely to get a hopper-and-stopper.

When you’re assessing whether to use a roller, another thing to keep in mind is the fact that a roller gone awry can get far, far away from it’s intended route. The flip-side of the extra distance rollers can provide toward the target is the extra distance they can wander away from it. For this reason, you should not attempt rollers in a round you care about until you’ve gotten enough practice to be able to use them with confidence.

Finally, remember (as mentioned above) that roller take a different path from the time they leave the hand to the time they hit the ground than airshots. They usually require more lateral space and often more clearance as well. You’ll only know when you’re in a place where your own personal roller won’t work through trial-and-error. Best to do that experimenting when the money/victory/bagtag/bragging rights aren’t on the on the line.

Coming soon, a post where I’ll discuss the mechanics of the different types of roller shots. I’m hoping to get the direct input from my own personal roller coach, so stay tuned!

Jack Trageser is the founder of School of Disc Golf and the instructional writer at RattlingChains.com. You can reach him at jack@schoolofdiscgolf.com.