Disc Review: Vibram O-Lace

For me, the Vibram O-Lace fulfills more than four years of eager anticipation. It is the disc I’ve been itching to have in my bag since the first time I held a disc made with Vibram’s X-Link rubber compound in my hand.  Before I get to my full review, though, please indulge me by first reading a little history:

When I got to throw Vibram putters for the first time, part of my initial reaction was ‘the grip is fantastic. I can’t wait to see how the midrange discs and drivers perform when they come out!’

When the Ibex, Trak and Ascent were released, I liked them all, and asked Vibram Disc Golf head honcho Steve Dodge when they would have a long range driver. He explained that Vibram was methodically releasing discs on a regular basis, focusing on having a disc model for each category and sub-category within a couple years. I found the Ascent to be very useful as a stable fairway driver and the Trak as a versatile midrange/fairway driver finesse disc and roller. But I dreamed of throwing a long-range, fast, strongly overstable driver with the grip and ‘grab’ of the current models.

The updated Vibram flight chart
The updated Vibram flight chart

A few months later the Obex arrived in the mailboxes of us testers, and I loved it (and still do). It had all the stubborn stability I hoped for, with unusual forward glide for a disc that stable. That satisfied me for a little while, but we always want more, don’t we? I again inquired about a long range driver with the same qualities, and was patiently and politely reminded that it was coming, in due time.

Fast-forward to the release of the Lace, Vibram’s first long range, high speed driver. It quickly earned a permanent spot in my bag with its ability to go very, very far on just about any line I gave it, but I still yearned for a version that could handle ridiculous combinations of power and anhyzer angle. I said as much in my feedback to Vibram after testing it, and based on the next prototype I received, six months later, their response seemed to have been ‘be careful what you wish for!’

After the release of the Lace, Vibram sent us two models, one which resulted in the UnLace, and the other a disc easily more overstable than any I had ever thrown before. That thing had practically no glide whatsoever and seemed to almost fight the anhyzer angle I tried to give it before it even left my hand, like two strong magnets of opposing polarity. Ok, that last part was probably my imagination, but you get the picture.

I must not have been the only tester who felt that way because when the production model of the O-Lace came out -much like Baby Bear’s porridge, chair and bed – it was just right.

The Vibram O-Lace is a fast, very overstable driver. And while it doesn’t break through any barriers in terms of its speed or stability it is nonetheless a breakthrough disc.

Side view of the Vibram O=Lace
Side view of the Vibram O=Lace

There are a couple characteristics all Vibram discs have in common; first, the rubber compound provides a grip that is superior to any plastic blend, and it also tends to skip less or at least not as far. Second, the the stability-to-fade/glide ratio tends to be better as well. By that I mean that compared to other discs there isn’t as much of a tradeoff between stability and glide. The overstable discs in the Vibram lineup don’t fade as quickly as you’d expect for discs that can handle power the way they can.

All of these factors are present in the O-Lace, and that is why I consider this disc so special.

Think about it: the fastest drivers are normally the hardest to throw and typically involve the most extreme effort on the part of the thrower. What better time to have a sure, reliable grip? And which discs tend to get away at the end of the flight due to a sharp fade? Just check the flight charts. The answer is fast, overstable drivers, of course. But the O-Lace is notably different.

When I took mine out to Pinto Lake, where the holes in the upper meadow all have fast fairways and OB lines left and right on every hole, that difference was remarkable. Thanks to that grip I felt I had full control as I put it through its paces. It handled both low flat screamers and big power anhyzers, always ending with reliable fade at the end. It netted just as much distance as any other similar disc in my bag. And probably the most useful feature on that course where discs so easily skip-and-slide out of bounds was the way it bit and stopped quickly even when landing fast on a sharp edge. I was able to throw much more aggressive drives on those open but dangerous holes, knowing that my disc would not skip fast and far on the hard terrain- unless the shot was designed to do so.

There is only one thing I don’t like about the O-Lace, and this goes for pretty much all Vibram discs: The variegated (definition: exhibiting different colors, especially as irregular patches or streaks) coloring of Vibram discs create two annoying problems. First, any disc that is not one solid, bright color is harder to find on the course. If you play in an area with lots of rough this is an issue. Second (and this is more of an annoyance than anything else), when you go to pull one of these discs out of your bag you naturally look for a disc of the predominant color on the disc. But if it has a different color on part of its edge, you may forget to look for that color as well and wonder why you can’t find the disc you’re looking for. I assume Vibram does the multi-color thing as a distinguishing design factor, but I’m hoping they someday soon give players a choice of solid or variegated coloring.

My suggestion is to try a Vibram disc if you haven’t already. And if you have room in your bag, consider an O-Lace for the unique qualities I’ve described. Sometimes you want that long skip, but just as often you don’t.

Lost discs: practical preventative steps to avoid that void in your bag

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Discs ain’t cheap- especially if everything you throw is premium plastic or rubber that runs $15 or more a pop. And we all own some that would fall into the category of ‘it’s not the money’; discs that are worked in just the way we want, discs that are out of production, in high demand, hard to replace, or have sentimental value. Equipment is part (albeit, in my opinion, a minor part) of what enables us to perform our best, and if our most important tool is suddenly gone, our game is likely to suffer.

For all these reasons, it makes sense to have a strategy to reduce the lost disc factor. Below is a collection of observations I’ve made over time and some changes I’ve made based on those observations.

Brand your discs like cattle

There is an unwritten rule in disc golf that a person is less obligated to try to find the owner of a found disc when it is completely devoid of a name, number, or identifying mark. So it naturally follows that unmarked discs get reunited with their owners far less often than those that are marked. But lets dig a little deeper. Everyone approaches labeling their discs a little differently, so what type of markings produce the best results in terms of getting back the lost little lambs?

This collection of discs from the author's bag show the consistency and readability of his 'personal branding'. Look closely, and you notice that some need a fresh coat, and the rare gummy Beast on top has the brand written backwards on the bottom so it shows correctly on top. Photo by Jack Trageser.
This collection of discs from the author’s bag show the consistency and readability of his ‘personal branding’. Look closely, and you’ll notice that some need a fresh coat, which they received right after the photo was taken. Photo by Jack Trageser.
  • Name and Contact Info- People who find your disc that are inclined to try to contact you personally can’t do that if you don’t put down some contact info. I used to list my email address in addition to my phone number but no one ever used it, so I just stick with the phone number. That way they can call or text, hopefully right when they find it. Both name and number should be large and clear on the top or bottom of the disc (not the inside rim). Make it big enough so it won’t get erased or obscured through wear-and-tear, it’s easy to read, and also discourages finders from becoming keepers (those who may be temped to erase it or write over it). In this photo of multiple discs, the lighter orange disc was lost, and a friend noticed my faded JACKT on a photo on eBay. The perpetrator had attempted to erase it but wasn’t quite successful (I re-did it, in a more creative manner for fun). Good thing, as I got that disc from Steady Ed himself and it still serves active duty as a finesse roller.
  • Personal Branding- This one has gotten me back numerous discs I would not otherwise have seen again. The key is to make sure the way you brand your discs is very consistent, and fairly large. People I play with even occasionally remember the way I write JACKT on the underside of all my discs, and get them back to me. I’ve had them spot my discs on the course, in Lost-and-Found, and even in the hands of other players! My favorite story along these lines was when someone I don’t know approached a friend of mine (RIP, Slingshot Steve) and asked “What do you think of this disc?” Steve, quickly spotting the JACKT, replied “I THINK it belongs to a friend of mine,” and snatched it out of the guy’s hand. The key is to come up with a way of writing your name that is readable, unique, and simple enough to replicate on each disc.
Even pretty see-through discs must be branded. The author writes backwards on the bottom so it reads correctly on top. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Even pretty see-through discs must be branded. The author writes backwards on the bottom so it reads correctly on top. Photo by Jack Trageser.
  • Practical over Aesthetics- Golf discs in your bag are there to do a job, not look pretty. I know it mars the beauty of a translucent disc to write your name on it in large, bold letters, but you gotta ask yourself what’s more important- Keeping the disc pristine, or keeping the disc . . . period? It’s like not wearing a helmet riding a motorcycle because you don’t want to mess up your hair. And no, I don’t think I’m over dramatizing (much) with that analogy- we’re talking about our discs here!

Natural (Disc) Selection

Whereas the first point dealt with retrieving discs from others who find them, this one concerns being able to find them after an errant throw. The color of a disc significantly impacts the chance of spotting it on the course. You players who frequent wide open courses, or courses where the terrain is all manicured, regularly mowed grass might feel they can ignore this section- but read on. Disc golfers love to travel to new courses, and chances are you’ll at some point play courses like the ones I frequent in Santa Cruz and Monterey, CA. Thick bushes and ground cover, tall grass and dense, gnarly trees abound, and that’s just on the fairways!

Seriously, though, playing here has forced me to take ‘spot-ibility’ into consideration when selecting discs. Whenever possible, I choose discs in solid, bright, unnatural colors. That way I can search for the color more than the shape of the disc. Kind of like those old natural selection experiments we read about in textbooks using white and dark moths and white and dark trees- except in reverse. The discs that stand out most are the ones that will survive.

Quick- how many discs do you see? Which one caught your eye first? Enlarge the picture if necessary. Especially when only the edge is showing, bright colors really make a difference. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Quick- how many discs do you see? Which one caught your eye first? Enlarge the picture if necessary. Especially when only the edge is showing, bright colors really make a difference. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Black, dark green, and any discs in earth tones that blend in with the terrain are obvious loss-risks (although manufacturers still make them and people still buy ’em). Another kind of easy-to-lose color is more surprising; even if the colors are bright and unnatural, tie-dye and really any multi-colored discs are hard to spot as well. The variegated patterns help them blend into nearly any background. Tie-dye shirts jump out at you, but not tie-dye discs. Go figure.

Bad Habits

We’ve covered a couple things you can do in preparation of playing to reduce lost discs. Now let’s examine a few habits and activities that tend increase the separation of player and disc.

Sometimes when we throw a really bad shot and know it immediately, it’s hard to watch. I really do think we sometimes turn away or cover out eyes not to be dramatic, but because it’s painful to see a well-planned shot gone bad. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone, and it’s a situation that sometimes leads to a lost disc. If I don’t see exactly where it lands I have less of an idea specifically where to start searching for it.

Where I play, hiding places are numerous and discs can get lost on even the most innocuous of throws. So I try hard to watch my disc closely, no matter how ugly the result. I try to remember to commit where it lands to memory, and if it disappears from sight before it comes to rest, I try to note the trajectory and some type of nearby landmark as a reference point to begin the search. The word ‘try’ was in italics because occasionally I note those things but forget them immediately, making the whole exercise pointless. The trick is to pay attention to where your disc goes and retain that information until it’s time to look for it.

Here’s another one. Ever thrown a drive – maybe just before dark, or warming up for a tournament right before it’s about to start – and get the impulse, because of the unsatisfactory results, to throw one more? A little voice warns ‘Don’t do it!’ but you ignore the warning, launch the disc, and almost immediately regret it. A disc golf version of ‘one too many’, it seems the odds of losing the disc in situations like this for some reason dramatically increase. The only advice here is to listen to that little voice, and remember that as Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV, ‘discretion is the better part of valor’. Let that disc live to fly another day.

A variation of this affliction is known as ‘throwing the bag’, in which one is impelled to throw every disc in one’s quiver- usually on a particularly awe-inspiring hole. Two things can go wrong here: Either you throw so many discs that you forget one in the search-and-rescue effort, or you throw so many that the odds that at least one gets lost increases. If you can’t resist throwing multiple discs on an irresistible hole, try to note and remember the location of each disc you throw. The odds that one of your babies gets lost on its own won’t go down, but at least you won’t arrive at the landing zone with that ‘uh-oh’ feeling.

The subject of playing new courses while traveling was mentioned above, but is worth revisiting. If you’re playing a course you’ve never played before – especially if you’re just passing through and likely not to return any time soon, and especially especially if you’re playing solo – consider leaving your most precious discs out of the bag. When you don’t know the course it’s much easier to lose a disc, and when you’re solo the odds of finding it go down. Having a local as a guide helps quite a bit, but if you do lose a disc on that faraway course, odds of having it returned are not great. Instead, bring some ‘stunt doubles’ that won’t hurt as much to lose. Your score may suffer a little, but that sting is temporary compared to the loss of a key disc.

As a side note, it should also go without saying that being in an altered state of mind is often a contributing factor to lost – or forgotten – discs. To each his or her own, but play straight-edge and you’ll be amazed at how many fewer discs you ‘lose’. Disc golf should be enough in and of itself, anyway.

Golfers can easily get attached ( and that’s an understatement) to their equipment. The difference is, ball golfers bond with clubs but it’s the balls that go flying away into the horizon. In disc golf, there is only the disc- and us disc golfers can bond with one mighty quick. If I can prevent just one separation of player and disc, then this post was worth the effort.

Vibram’s casual Birdie Bash events catching on quickly

Last year, Vibram Disc Golf decided to take a concept that has worked well for Discraft and more recently Legacy Discs (the ‘Ace Race’) and find ways to improve upon it. By all measurement, they succeeded, and this year it promises to be bigger and better. School of Disc Golf likes the idea so much it is hosting the first Birdie Bash to be held in Santa Cruz County. More on that below.

Birdie Bashes are designed to emphasize fun and casual over serious and competitive. Each player receives two Vibram discs of his or her choosing, and uses those discs exclusively to compete for points that are awarded for aces (3 points), birdies (2) and hitting metal on the first or second shot (1). The basic model is superior to the ace race model, in this writer’s opinion, for a number of reasons but two in particular: players get to choose their discs (rather than all getting two of the same disc); and they can score points in a number of different ways rather than just nailing an unlikely ace.

According to Vibram’s head honcho Steve Dodge, last years inaugural series included 90 events and 3,400 competitors worldwide. The expectation this year is 150-200 events and 6,000 players. The company also sent out a comprehensive questionnaire to last years’ participants, and 95 percent said they had ‘fun’ or ‘lots of fun’. And Vibram listened to and acted upon feedback on how they would be able to make it even better.

“One other huge statistic is that these events are a great way to get casual discers into the ‘organized’ disc golf scene,” said Dodge. “Over 50 percent of the players said that the VBB was their first tournament. That was a great thing to hear.”

And what specific changes were made for this years’ events based on feedback from last years participants and tournament directors?

  • The addition of a women’s division
  • All players packs will be pre-assembled by Vibram to ensure everyone receives the correct discs and shirt size (also making things much easier on TD’s)
  • A smaller grand prize in order to provide more/better ctp’s and card prizes
  • A Spirit Award

Players will appreciate all of those changes, but the Spirit Award in particular is special to Dodge. “Disc golf embodies the culture of the disc – where people compete WITH each other instead of AGAINST each other. Positive attitude, respect, acceptance and honor . . . none of these rules out some amazing competition,” said Dodge. Players will each be able to vote for a fellow player for the Spirit Award, with suggested criteria including the following:

  •     Is fair-minded and respectful
  •     Has a positive attitude
  •     Is happy when someone else makes a great shot
  •     Listens and considers
  •     Is respected by their competitors
  •     Treats others as they would want to be treated
  •     Believes there is someone else more deserving
  •     Instantly helps to find a lost disc
  •     Is happy to be surrounded by so many friends while playing disc
  •     Has fun

The Birdie Bash in Santa Cruz will be held at the Aptos High School course on March 29, 2014. Click here to sign up online for the Aptos event, and click here for additional details, on playing in and even hosting a Birdie Bash in your area. And stay tuned for a follow-up post in April with a summary of how it went.

Subtraction by subtraction: Eliminating these mental errors will lead to lower scores

The term ‘addition by subtraction’ refers to the potential for improving something by removing one or more variable from the equation. In a sports context it’s normally applied to a scenario where the elimination of a negative factor (an under-performing player or negative influence on a team, for instance) results in some type of improvement. But in golf, less is more, right? We want those scores to go down, not up. Therefore, the title of this post is Subtraction by Subtraction. Same concept, but embracing the points below will result in strokes being subtracted from your average score. Got it? Okay, here we go!

Those angry, bitter second-attempt putts

When a missed putt is followed in rapid succession with another, almost always harder putt out of anger or disgust, nothing good can come of it. The thought right before that action is taken is usually something along the lines of “I can’t believe I just missed that #*$^@* putt!” The specific reason that anger translates to firing another disc at the basket has never been scientifically proven, but I suspect it has to do with the general desire to throw something at something when frustrated.

The problem is that this rash act is detrimental to one’s game in a couple different ways. First of all there is the issue of emotional control. Getting overly excited (due to negative events or positive events) is likely to take a player’s focus off of where it needs to be. Decisions then get made based on emotions rather than logic, which is not a good thing. That tendency is always lurking in the shadows if not already romping around freely, and an emotional outburst is like a size 14 wide foot-in-the-door.

It may be easier to stay calm in Hawai'i, but angry second putts are never a good thing. Photo by Al Schwartz.
It may be easier to stay calm in Hawai’i, but angry second putts are never a good thing. Photo by Al Schwartz.

The other issue at play here is the fact that players who make this mistake are in essence reinforcing bad technique- unless firing the putter with extreme malice is how he always putts. Regardless of whether the rash second putt goes in the basket or not, it serves no constructive purpose since it isn’t representative of the players ideal form and tempo. If you’re playing a casual round or a match play event where practice putts are not prohibited, and you take an extra putt or two not as an angry reflex but because you immediately recognized a flaw in your putt and want to iron it out, that’s completely different. In that case the behavior is constructive and completely fine.

Second guessing vs. analytical reflection

As a general rule, the proper thing to be thinking about during a round of disc golf is the next shot. Any other thoughts are unproductive at best, and capable of downright sabotage at worst. But we are not machines, and our minds will go where they will go. The trick is to recognize when it has wandered into the wrong zone and guide it back to the right one: the next shot.

And briefly reflecting on the shot just thrown is a good practice, as long as that reflection is brief and of an analytical nature rather than simple second guessing. Personally, I like to capture the details of the shot and the results like a snapshot in my mind, move on to the next shot, then analyze the notable ones (good and bad) later after the round. Whether you do it briefly during the round, afterward, or both, the key is to approach your review and appraisal in a constructive frame of mind. Collect information rather than passing judgement.

Why did the disc fly that way? What should I do differently next time? Second guessing is just dwelling on the past. If your reflections on an errant throw stop there they serve no constructive purpose, and worse, erode confidence in both your skills and your decision-making. Instead, use every throw as an opportunity to add to an ever-growing database that helps you benefit from each disc golf experience.

Selecting shots based on wishful thinking

A major element of playing smart golf is to know your own game. Don’t confuse confidence with wishful thinking. You may really, really want to clear that lake with your drive, but if your longest throw ever was 350 feet in perfect conditions and a 345-foot drive is required to reach the opposite shore it probably isn’t the wisest choice. Smart golf is about, to loosely paraphrase Clint Eastwood, knowing your limitations.

A big part of game management in golf is being able to quickly assess the percentages for any given shot. What is your chance of successful execution? What is the reward if you do- and the repercussions if you don’t? If you’re not able to make a realistic and sober assessment of your own capabilities, assessing accurate odds on a shot is nearly impossible.

Selecting shots based on another player’s throw

A similar and fairly common error that is even more insidious in the way it can creep into one’s thoughts is letting the shot of another player influence decision-making. This can happen on drives, putts and anything in between. Sometimes it’s seeing someone else get big distance then overthrowing to equal it. Other times it’s seeing a different approach or route and reconsidering what you had planned. And yet others it’s pure, uncomplicated ego. You were planning to lay up a tricky 35-foot putt, but the other guy goes for his that happens to be five feet longer and just as risky- and nails it.

Make a decision and stick with it- despite what the other guy does. Photo by Jack Trageser.
Make a decision and stick with it- despite what the other guy does. Photo by Jack Trageser.

In some of these situations the alternative actually makes sense, but all too often last minute changes-of-mind based on another player’s shot result in disaster- regardless of whether they make sense or not. Trust your own instincts and play your own game. It’s you against the course (and the occasional unruliness of your own mind). Sometimes actually sticking to this advice may require drastic measures. There have been times where I’ve been grouped with players that all had more power off the tee than me, and I purposefully didn’t watch their drives so as not to be influenced!

The ‘ol Over-Correct and the ol’ Double-Adjust

Everyone is guilty of this one at one time or another, and correcting it is not so much a matter of eliminating a bad habit as increasing awareness of when it’s most likely to happen.

Some ‘mis-throws’ stick with me longer than others, and I’m guessing I’m not alone. And when I am faced with a similar circumstance with that mistake fresh in my mind, the overriding thought in my mind is ‘don’t make the same mistake this time’. For example, I might have tried to throw a neutral-stable disc with an intended flight path of flying straight for the first half of the flight and then turning over the rest of the way without coming out and hyzering back at the end. Instead, the disc turns over too soon and flies right into the trees I intended to get past then curve around.

The next time I’m faced with that same shot or a similar one, I remember the earlier mistake and am focused almost exclusively on not repeating it. There are two different reactionary flaws that can result from this: the ‘ol over correct and the ol’ double correct. The over correct is a scenario that is usually immediately apparent to the player when it happens- like chucking the disc 50 feet past the basket on a short hole because it came up 25 feet short the last time.

The ‘ol double correct, on the other hand, is a little more complex. Consider the example above- the one where the disc turned over too soon. With this shot, there are a number of different ways I might try to affect a different outcome. I could start the disc on a more conservative line, or give it more elevation, or less spin . . . or even throw a different disc. Any one of these might work, with the key word being ‘one’. Sometimes rather than thinking sharply and clearly about the problem and arriving at a specific solution, I let all of those possibilities float around in my head and end up employing two or more of them. For instance, I might throw the disc a little higher and take a little off of it, resulting in a shot that never turns over at all.

The central theme in this type of mental error, and the habit to avoid, is focusing on the mistake rather than the necessary elements of the same shot executed correctly. Turn ‘don’t do this’ brain commands into ‘do this’ commands. And that brings us to one final point, the broader problem of negative brain commands.

Negative brain commands

These come in many different flavors (including the ones just mentioned), but my favorite example is thinking to yourself ‘don’t hit that tree’. The better objective, of course, is ‘throw the disc right in the middle of that space between that tree and the bushes to the left of it.

If your thought is ‘don’t hit that tree,’ the brain, for some reason can’t process it successfully. Either it just hears the last three words (‘hit that tree’), or it can’t discern the logic of not doing something. It knows that the only way to be certain to not hit the tree is to not throw the disc. Yet the disc must be thrown, so it turns more into a hope than a confident plan. Out of all the mental errors listed here, this one might be the simplest to catch and correct. Whenever you notice yourself speaking or thinking about shot selections and objectives phrased in the negative (hint: the word ‘don’t’ is almost always involved), take the time to replace it with the positive alternative.

All of the things listed here are logical and difficult to argue with, I think, but agreeing with the logic doesn’t make it easy to eliminate the mistakes. The best advice is to learn to be more conscious of all the thoughts floating through your head and find ways to replace them, or better yet prevent them from showing up in the first place. The example I gave of not watching my competitors’ drives so I wouldn’t automatically overthrow trying to match them is only one of the little devices I’ve created. For me, overcoming these mental flaws is half the fun of the game.