A Glimpse Into the New York Freestyle Frisbee Scene

Alex Cornwell

Alex Cornwell

For this post we have a guest writer, Alex Cornwell. Alex is one of the many, long time Frisbee Players in New York City. Anyone who attended FPA Worlds in 2016 probably met Alex. Being in the New York Jamily has touched Alex’s life. In 2016 he was inspired to learn that the Jamily extends far beyond New York. In this article, Alex shares his love and appreciation for Frisbee with us and the world. Thanks, Alex!


Frisbee: just the word invokes feelings of summer, beach, camp, park, etc. We picture a Frisbee and imagine it soaring in the sky. What makes it so magical? Dr. Stancil Johnson, who wrote one of the classic treatises on the sport of Frisbee: “A Practitioner’s Manual and Definitive Treatise”, declared, “When a ball dreams it dreams it is a Frisbee.” Freestyle Hall of Fame inductee, Dan “The Stork” Roddick, riffing off Dr. Johnson’s comment, declared “when a Frisbee dreams, it dreams of being Freestyled.”

This article will delve into how I got my start and my personal reflections about the Freestyle Frisbee scene in general and particularly in New York. I have been very blessed to be part of this wonderful community for about 10 years. I have been playing Frisbee for over 40 years, but the last 10 years have been just a revelation.  

When I was in high school, I played quite a bit but we never had anybody that was that good. Collectively, we had 5-6 throws and 3-4 catches and that was it. There were no other moves. We did play all the time however. Consequently, we got the “Heaver Bug” as opposed to the “Jammer Bug.” I, for one, was hooked. I played on and off through college and beyond.  

For years in Hastings where I live, I have been known as “Frisbee” or “Frisbee dude” or something similar. I was the best Frisbee player, or close to it wherever I played. Now, that is not always the case! Occasionally, I’d join in an Ultimate game at SUNY Purchase or play at the Clearwater Festival. There, I was in my element – just another ordinary good player! 

I started going to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park, New York about 15 years ago just heaving with anyone who was decent. The Meadow is one of the Meccas of the Freestyle Frisbee World. The Sheep Meadow is located on the West Side of the Park and is about 15 acres; so named because sheep roamed in the area years ago. Central Park’s website notes, “In the 1960s and 70s, Sheep Meadow became the scene for large-scale concerts, the televised landing on the moon, peace rallies and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. But these events, and the lack of management and maintenance, led to the lawn becoming severely eroded — a virtual dust bowl. In 1980, it was restored and has been maintained by The Central Park Conservancy ever since”. The New York Park’s Commission, in its infinite wisdom, refurbished the area.  Now it’s beautiful.

It is here, by the manhole cover, in the middle of the Meadow, where we congregate every Thursday for a gathering called “All Star Thursday” (A*T), as long as the weather is nice and the Meadow is open. When I first started going to the Meadow, I didn’t even feel comfortable being in the same space as the legends. They were so far beyond me in ability I was astonished. Now, I am one of the gang, albeit less skilled.  

On any given day, the Meadow is filled with hundreds of people. Many groups bring a picnic or just hang out. The sport that people play the most is…you guessed it…Frisbee. Yet, as one who has witnessed the elite in the sport, it is still amazing to me that they not more recognized. Not many even pay much attention to them, although the level of play is consistently astonishing. In 2016, the Freestyle Frisbee World Championships were in Brooklyn, and the Meadow had one of the greatest assemblages of freestyle Frisbee talent. At one point there was a jam of about 15 people which was EPIC. Yet not many non-freestylers watched. If, on the other hand, freestyle Frisbee was a more popular sport and the crème de la crème were out, there would be a larger number of fans watching and the players would be much more recognizable.  That doesn’t stop the freestylers from coming out though. They are diehards – even in bad weather.

One thing I have noted many times and others have commented on is the closeness of the community.  The spirit of inclusivity is an important component. There is a phrase that the jamming community uses, “Jamily.”  Jammers are all around the world, and anywhere there are jammers, there are family members.  It is really one big family.  Most people who attended the 2016 FPA Worlds were not staying in a hotel or even an Airbnb. They stayed in people’s homes.  

I was in Virginia recently for the Virginia States and the whole family concept was really brought home. The love for the people who set up was palpable. And the love of the organizers towards the participants, some of whom were the same, was also obvious.

The community is the same at the Meadow. Freestylers encourage each other and push them to bigger and better feats of Frisbee madness.  If someone has made several unbelievable moves in a row – but hasn’t either caught or passed the Frisbee – a common refrain is, “Now what?”  Another common refrain when someone pulls a new move is, “Look at you now!”  Another one is, “waka-waka” for an especially incredible move. Other expressions of support and/or challenge are prevalent. This sense of encouragement is a very important component of the whole scene. 

One important occasion is the awarding of the Gamboa.  It is a small statue with a hand holding a Frisbee in the nail-delay position. After a consideration of a few regulars including the previous winner if present and a brief ceremony, the Gamboa is presented to the person who displays the best technique following a brief speech. This feeling of spreading the jam not only is translated to the veterans but, more importantly, to the newbies. The concept of Spread the Jam is crucial.   

NYC Jamily. Lou is Yella!

Photo by Rob Fried

Another aspect is the Yella phenomenon. Someone who is Yella has been absent from the scene for a week or more. T-shirts have been made with the inscription “Who is Yella”. There is also a heckler-in-chief, often one on the disabled list, not a fun place to be by the way. His or her role is to gently poke fun at the participants challenging them to more elaborate moves. The goal once again is to bring out the best.  

The community is way beyond all the physical stuff though. The community, as I mentioned, is really one big family. When people need a place to stay, a bed magically appears in a Freestyler’s house. Many times a guest jammer, either announced or as a “Mystery Guest”, will come to the Meadow and be greeted warmly by the people there. And then the jam gets spread! When tragedy hits, as it inevitably does, the community is there to support each other. When a beloved member of the community passed away recently, the first one to do so, prayers went up before and after. People shared reminiscences and pictures online and together. And during the freestyle Worlds in 2016, there was a brief ceremony by the manhole cover. There was someone, a 19 year old, who had only been in the Meadow a couple of times. She commented on the closeness of the community. A couple of weeks after she got her first real taste of ZZzzs. She was already dreaming about it. She’s caught the “Freestyle Fever” and now has begun competing and is doing very well in such a short time.  

My favorite thing with Frisbee is teaching. This is my small way of Spreading the Jam. Throwing is what I do best. It’s very gratifying to see a kid who at first can’t throw very well, and then with a pointer or two they improve dramatically.  When I was in VA, with the help of a jammer, we taught a kid to catch a couple of catches for the first time. And as I point out to the younguns, many of the moves that are common now were not invented yet when I was their age. Kerry Kolmar, one of the elites, states in his article, Falling into Frisbee “the truth about Frisbee is that its greatest gift is not just enjoyed by those of us who have mastered it, but also reflected in the joy that it brings to people the first time they try it. Watch a child throw a Frisbee for the first time and you’ll see what I mean. In its simple, miraculous design, Fred Morrison gave the world a universal tool for communicating.”

So where does this leave us? Back at the beginning. With the beauty of the Frisbee. Spreading the joy of Frisbee. Spreading the jam. When we dream, we dream of playing Frisbee!


Episode 65: Dave Lewis & Arthur Coddington Go Mental

  • Have Jake or Randy ever lost a nail during competition?
  • Dave & Arthur discuss their mental approach to competing.
  • We hear about the 1996 FPA Worlds journey and how they dealt with doubt on their way to their first FPA Open Pairs title.
  • Is it possible to win a bet where no one loses?
  • Hear about the rivalry between the 2 co-op teams of Dave Lewis, Arthur Codington, Dave Murphy & Randy Silvey, Larry Imperiale, Bill Wright and how they each pushed each other.
  • Was the Holy Roller planned or was it fate?

Jake and Randy love their Frisbeeguru coffee mugs. Perhaps it’s time you to fall in love as well.

 Dave, Dave, and Arthur winning co-op at 1997 FPAW.

In 1998 the co-op finals took place on Saturday. On Sunday, the winning team did a demo for the crowd. Below is their demo. Without the pressure of competition, they shredded even more than usual!


Black to the Forest 2018 Will be Live Streamed

Black to the ForestBlack to the Forest 2018 takes place on May 5th and 6th in Freiburg, Germany. Thanks to Chris Belaj, it will be Live Streamed here! The event is hosted by Alex Wegner and Sacha Scherzinger.

On Saturday, May 5ht they have an interesting format in mind that they call “Pocket Check”. Its designed to see how deep players pockets really are. Teams of two are formed randomly by drawing names from a hat. Then the teams face off against each other in a battle style format. The plays not playing the active battle pick which team played the best using General Impression. If the votes lead to a tie, the tie breaker is a battle of Speed Flow. This tie breaker will further test a team’s depth of skill.

On Sunday they will have a CoOp round. At this point it is unclear to me if CoOp will use a more standard competition format or will continue with the Pocket Check concept. We’ll all just have to tune in to find out.

All-in-all this should prove to be a fun event for both those in attendance and those spectating. Thanks so much for putting on the event and for bringing us the action! Check out the facebook page for more details.


Matt Teaches the Kerfuffle

In this video Matt teaches how to perform a kerfuffle. A kerfuffle is when the disc rolls around your hand on it’s rim, spinning on a third world axis. If that doesn’t make sense, the video will make it clear. 

To perform a kerfuffle, toss the disc up so it is perpendicular to the ground and to you. Put very little spin on it on only toss it a few inches for your hand. Now, lightly push into the rim at 3 with the side of your hand o’clock for clock or 9 o’clock for counter. The disc will pivot on it’s axis and begin to roll around your hand. Slightly lift up and then down and grab the disc as it rotates back into your hand.

The Kerfuffle is a fun move that can draw alot of attention. Still, it’s not used much in most freestyle play because it’s challenging to connect it to other moves. Sometimes it’s used at the end of a series as a catch restriction…the kerfuffle itself is a restriction. Of course, of the best reason to learn a kerfuffle, as Matt points out, is that it is a “gateway trick” to learning the cuff. The hand motion and the place you touch the disc are very similar between a kerfuffle and a cuff, so learning a kerfuffle will aide in learning to cuff.


Episode 64: Fabio Sanna is a Smooth Operator

Fabio Sanna

  • Jake and Randy discuss original moves that they thought were great but ended up abandoning.
  • Find out how Fabio discovered Frisbee after picking up a free one at a sports show in his home town of Trieste.
  • Shortly after that, he discovered Tommy Leitner’s website and Heinsville.com (as it was in 2003), both of which he painstakingly watched, read, and practiced from.  
  • He was just a spectator at his first tournament at the 2003 World Championships in Rimini.
  • Seeing Freestyle for the first time brought tears to his eyes, and it wasn’t long after that he began practicing up to 12  hours a day, despite having few people to play with.
  • Fabio makes an impact when you first meet him and both Jake and Randy have specific memories they share.
  • Fabio talks about how Clay Collera had such a huge influence on him.  

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Catch zones

Film Strip CatchesAfter writing the poll, what is your bail catch?, I realized a discussion of catch zones was in order. As one hones one’s freestyle skills, one begins to realize that the disc can come in at any height, any angle, and any side of one’s body. As such, it pays to have at least one answer for every possibility.

This is where the concept of catch zones comes in – it’s a way to break down all the possibilities in order to reflect on what skills one may wish to develop.

I break down the zones as follows: ankles, knees, waist, shoulders, and head. Each of these has a right and left side, for a total of 10 zones.

So with that defined, the first step is to ask yourself, “what is your bail catch for each zone?” Here’s a worksheet to help:

Side of Body Left  Right

Once the list is filled out, evaluate it with the following questions:

  1. Are there any gaps?
  2. Are these catches truly bail catches? Can you make them with both spins? Any angle?
  3. Are you satisfied with the difficulty level or your form for each catch?

For example, here is my list:

Side of Body Left Right
Ankles Chair Phlaud
Knees Under the Leg Under the Leg
Waist Behind the Back Triple Fake
Chest   Scare Crow
Head Behind the Head Scare Crow

The first thing that I notice from my list is the gap at Left-Chest. A great thing for me to practice is a catch in that zone, maybe a right handed scarecrow. Next, I notice on my right side I have more difficult catches than on my left. So, I could drill my left catches; or target one of the zones and start drilling a different specific catch. For example, a left handed phlaud for the left ankle zone. Lastly, I my Knee Zone catch on both sides could be improved with more difficult catches, like a flamingo.

This “zones” exercise can be useful for more than just catches. For example, takes, sets, air brushes, against the spin, UD, really any category of tricks can be examined in this way.

What zone do you plan to work on next?

Episode 63: Chipper Bro Bell Dreams in Counter

Chip catches a Phlaud

  • Chipper shares his spin preferences and favorite throws.
  • He returns to talking about working at the Flying Disc Ranch with Joey and talks about how their routines came about and the unique way they named their moves.
  • Their first tournament together was in in Santa Cruz in 1982.
  • Chip shares how shocked  he waswhen it was announced they were the New World Champions of World Disc Games.
  • Chip and Joey continued to practice in 1983, but when Chip agreed to take some corporate gigs, his partnership with Joey was tested.

We reached our first milestone on Patreon. A special thanks to all of the FrisbeeGuru supporters out there!! You keep us going.

Word of the Day- Rerev

Rerev (verb): The act of air brushing a disc with the sole intention of adding spin. As a disc’s spin begins to slow down it ultimately must be caught or it will no longer be able stay in flight. To extend a series of tricks, one option players have is to rerev the disc. To rerev, a player will brush the disc, repeatedly, adding spin with each brush until the disc is spinning as if it were just thrown. This skill can be useful during a competition where a mistake has caused the spin of the disc to slow earlier than intended. A rerev can extend the combination to make it to the next choreography queue. While some players feel that a rerev is a break in flow and thus try to keep it out of their games as much as possible; other player seamlessly integrate rereving as a part of their style.


Matt Shows the Equipment that Freestylers Use

In this video Matt shows us the basic equipment needed for Freestyle Frisbee. This is really the video version of one of the oldest articles on this site. This video is perfect for someone who want to get started with Freestyle but doesn’t have a friend to show them the ropes. Nice job Matt!

Here’s his list:

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, FrisbeeGuru receives a small commission if you use the link and make a purchase. This helps support our mission.

  1. A disc with a smooth bottom. Many discs have raised lettering, which is bad for the nail delay. Most Freestyler prefer the Discraft Sky-Styler. Purchase here.
  2. Slick in the form of silicon spray or grease. This is used to make the disc’s plastic less sticky. Purchase here.
  3. A slick rag. This is used to wipe down and spread out excess slick. Find one in your sock drawer.
  4. Fake Nails. These provide a stronger surface on which to nail delay the disc. Purchase here.
  5. Super glue. This is how the fake nails are attached to your natural nail. Purchase some popular brands: Krazy Glue and Uhu.
    1. An alternative to glue is double sided tape. Check here for more details.