Posts Tagged frisbee

Part 2—Frisbee Pioneer Ken Westerfield’s Competitive Achievements

Ken in a calmer moment—1977

I’ve posted earlier a number of stories, pictures and videos about the flying disc and some of the first expert players who also promoted the sport. Now here is the final part of another story sent to me by Audra Gonsalves, the wife of one of those pioneers, Ken Westerfield. It’s amazing how much of a difference just a few people can make in changing our culture and bringing the pleasures of a sport to millions of people. I posted Part 1 yesterday.

Competitive Years 1974-78

Frisbee (Disc) tournaments were beginning to attract excellent disc competitors from everywhere. What was once a top selling pastime with a toy from Wham-O was becoming a serious competitive sport. In 1975, at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto, Westerfield set the MTA (maximum time aloft) world record with a sidearm throw of 15 seconds, using a Super Pro Model Frisbee, crushing the old record of 11 seconds. Also in 1975 Westerfield invented a freestyle move called body rolls, (rolling the disc across out stretched arms and chest, or back), then introduced the move at a national tournament in Rochester, NY called the AFDO, (American Flying Disc Open). The hottest move of the day was called the Canadian Mind Blower: Westerfield would roll the Frisbee across outstretched arms and chest, to outstretched arms across the back (front to back roll). Today body rolls are an integral part of every freestyle routine.

Ken made Frisbee history—1977

In 1976, Wham-O sponsored the North American Series (NAS) Frisbee Championships across the US and Canada, to qualify players for the world championships held annually at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Winning numerous freestyle and individual events, Westerfield was voted, Best Men’s Player 1970-1975 Decade Awards

At a North American Series (NAS) Frisbee tournament in Dallas Texas, Westerfield became a member of the “400 club” with a prelim distance sidearm throw, and won the event with a throw of 378 feet, using a 119-gram World Class Model Frisbee. Only two competitors have officially ever thrown over 400 feet in competition with a 119-gram Frisbee (Lightweight disc by today’s standard).

1978, in Boulder, Colorado, while doing a distance throwing demonstration at a North American Series (NAS) Event, Westerfield threw a sidearm 119-gram World Class Model Frisbee, 552 feet, shattering the official world distance record of 412 feet.

This is how Kevin (Skippy) Givens, five time World Freestyle Champion, remembers it:

“Someone paced off the distance to a building at 500 feet. Dave Johnson (former distance world record holder) and others we’re trying to hit it. Finally Dave hits the building and the crowd goes wild. Ken Westerfield was sitting and watching. After Dave hit the building the crowd started to yell for Ken to throw. At first Ken was dismissive, not interested. Finally Ken stood up, went to the line, sized up the task then let it fly. It landed in the parking lot past the building on his first throw with no warm up. The crowd went crazy. It was the most incredible throw I’d ever seen”.

Tournament officials marked and measured the throw at 552 feet. Since the introduction of heavy weight, sharp edge disc, the world record is now over 800 feet. However Westerfield still holds the record for the sidearm throw. Read the rest of this entry »

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Part 1—Ken Westerfield’s Pioneering Contributions To Frisbee Sports

Ken was one of the best—1977

I’ve posted earlier a number of stories, pictures and videos about the flying disc and some of the first expert players who also promoted the sport. Now here is another story sent to me by Audra Gonsalves, the wife of one of those pioneers, Ken Westerfield. It’s amazing how much of a difference just a few people can make in changing our culture and bringing the pleasures of a sport to millions of people.

In fact I just learned that nearly 300 million Frisbees have been sold since their introduction, and according to Mattel, which now owns the manufacturing rights, 90% of Americans have played with this flying toy at one time or another. And Frisbee is just one brand of many flying discs!

The frisbee’s origins actually go back to a bakery called the Frisbie Pie Company of New Haven, Connecticut, established by William Russell Frisbie after the Civil War. The bakery stayed in operation until 1958, and during this period, the tossing of the company’s pie tins, first by company drivers and later by Ivy League college students (some say it was cookie tin lids), led to frisbie becoming a well known term describing flying disc play in the Northeast…Now here is Audra’s intro and Ken’s story in two parts:

I wrote this story with Ken’s referencing help. With the advancement and popularity of disc sports, Ken thought it important to make an accurate account of his history.

From the early Frisbee days in New York, Ken knew everyone from the time of Gerry Lynas, Kerry, Krae and his father Ken, Peter Bloeme, Mark Danna, Jeff Felberbaum, Mountain, and many more. Ken played in Washington Square, Sheeps Meadow and at the Band Shell, back in the late 70’s while visiting with Krae and his father.

Ken retired in the mid 80’s, but is just starting to re-connect with some of the old players at west coast tournaments. He and I have been together for 15 years and now live in Bisbee AZ, where he restores old motorcycles and builds engines for muscle cars…

Ken Westerfield (born 1947) and childhood friend Jim Kenner began playing Frisbee in High School, impressing the other students with a variety of controlled throws and trick catches. Graduating in 1965 from Franklin High School (Livonia, Michigan), and leaning towards the counterculture, they spent their days on the beach and at music festivals honing their skills. One day in 1969, spotting a little ad in a local alternative newspaper, they took their Frisbees and a VW Bug and went to a concert near Bethel, NY, called Woodstock, which later became the music event of the century. While at the concert, they would throw the Frisbee over the crowd. Westerfield later stated “it was an interesting crowd to play for.”

Early Years in Canada

In 1970 Westerfield and Kenner moved to Toronto, setting up their disc playing headquarters in Queen’s Park (Toronto). Playing Frisbee freestyle and Object Disc Golf, became a daily event at the park. In 1971 with a hundred dollars each, they started hitch hiking across Canada, stopping to do Frisbee street performance at popular annual events: the Klondike Days in Edmonton, Calgary Stampede in Alberta and in Vancouver’s historic Gastown area in front of a railroad car-turned-restaurant, oddly enough called Frisby’s. One night, while performing at Frisby’s, they decided they would try to collect money like street musicians. It was a success, and they embarked on a new career.

Returning to Toronto they lived in Rochdale College while performing nightly in the Yonge Street Mall. Night after night, thousands of tourists and Torontonians would enjoy nightly displays of their Frisbee expertise. Wanting to advance their professional legitimacy, they approached Irwin Toy, the distributor of Frisbee’s in Canada, and proposed their show to promote the Frisbee. Their first professional performance was a Basketball half-time show at Jarvis Collegiate Institute in Toronto. The students loved it; Westerfield and Kenner were paid twenty dollars each for the show, but more importantly they had proven that their show would be beneficial to help promote the Frisbee. In 1972 they were retained by Irwin Toy to perform at Special Community and Sporting Events across Canada, making Westerfield and Kenner full-time Professional Frisbee Players. Read the rest of this entry »

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Part 2—Gerry Lynas Organizes Early Flying Disc Tournaments, Creates New Disc Games, Makes A Disc Video

Frisbee freestyle by Claudio Cigna—the variety of catches is unbelievable

I met Gerry Lynas 35 years ago, and have always respected his creativity. But I never appreciated until now how much he contributed to the sport, games, tournaments and graphics involving the flying disc…which most of us call a Frisbee. So here is the second of a three part series (in Gerry’s own words) about his significant influence to this sport and recreation for millions of us. You can also see his video and two by others at this earlier post .

In my twenties I was more enthusiastic about competition, and thanks to a few loyal friends and a few willing players, I organized and ran three major disc tournaments in the 70’s and 80’s in New York City starting with the Big Apple Jam in June, 1976, in conjunction with the IFA. It was held at the World’s Fair Grounds in Queens and featured five events: Distance, Accuracy, MTA (Maximum Time Aloft), Freestyle Pairs and TRC. (Throw-Run-and-Catch is one of the hardest disciplines in the disc world. If you drop the disc, no score. If you catch (with one hand) your own throw farther than any other player, you win. It’s amazing. I think the record is more than 100 meters, but I’m not sure.) Kerry Kollmar was the reigning World Individual Freestyle Champion. The event was moderately successful, attracting 96 players from Canada and the US. Irv Kalb (Dr. I) took the overall NYFDI trophy, possibly the very first flying disc statuary.

Gerry (standing/right) with friends at Madison Square Garden disc demonstration—1976

Soon thereafter, a group of us did a halftime demonstration at a basketball game at Madison Square Garden. I wanted to do a radical element with charged (glowing) Moonlighters in a darkened arena, but we were not permitted to turn off the lights. I opened the routine with a lucky, full court basket. The rest was pretty lame with a few drops. We weren’t ready for prime time.

The second tournament I organized with the IFA was the Eastern National Frisbee Festival we called “Discover New York” in 1977.

As tournaments became more sophisticated, judging (especially Freestyle) became more complicated. Finding willing and qualified judges who were not competing was difficult and judging was still far too subjective.

dogs easily get into the flying disc act

Word spread after The Circular was passed around that I was an artist and graphic designer, so some of the players who had disc interests of their own began to ask me to design their logos and promotional materials.

Within a few years I had designed logos for Krae Van Sickle’s Disc Dance. Krae was the most balletic and creative jammer I had ever seen. He and Jeff Felberbaum rehearsed and polished complex routines to music for events at schools, clubs, resorts, parties, etc.

I created the first logo for the World Flying Disc Federation and was encouraged by the growing use of the generic term “flying disc,” which I had been using in the interest of fairness to other potential disc suppliers since my first Pluto Platter sailed through the air.

As freestyle (probably my favorite discipline) grew more popular, it was inevitable that there would be an association. Freestyling was getting hotter and judging was slowly improving, but needed a manual for competitors to grasp the subtleties.

When I was running tournaments I created freestyle judging score sheets with required tricks and such, but freestyle was so new that it was pretty subjective in those days. Players were required to do certain tricks, use both clockwise and counter spins, etc. They were also judged on grace, creativity, and good use of music. Mistakes and drops were recorded as deductions…just like freestyle floor gymnastics with a disc. Much of what we did in the early years contributed to the manual in a more general sense. Read the rest of this entry »

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Part 1—Gerry Lynas’s History About The Flying Disc And His Major Contributions To This Sport

Gerry Lynas playing with the flying disc—1978

I met Gerry Lynas 35 years ago, and have always respected his creativity. But I never appreciated until now how much he contributed to the sport, games, tournaments and graphics involving the flying disc…which most of us call a Frisbee. So here is the first of a three part series (in Gerry’s own words) about his significant influence to this sport and recreation for millions of us. You can also see his video and two by others at this earlier post .

Something changed me when I was in high school 54 years ago. The plastic disc was invented and was commercially available for the first time as the Pluto Platter. It had flight characteristics unlike any ball and better than the usual pie pans or coffee can lids. It wanted to fly rather than fall. My dad called it a flying disc (not Frisbee), because he believed in using generic names, rather than commercial brands or newly invented words.

Although the Pluto Platter was rather unsophisticated compared to modern flying discs, it was obvious to me, and a handful of other enthusiasts, that this toy had great potential as a unique sports implement. For me it was love at first flight. It replaced table tennis as my favorite recreation during college in Kansas City, Missouri and later in Des Moines, Iowa. I took discs to Portland, Oregon for Peace Corps Training and eventually to NYC in 1965.

Ultimate is like soccer with a flying disc

On the college campus in 1960, we started by playing throw and catch, but almost immediately discovered that different people threw differently. As we gathered in larger numbers, we invented simple games.

Gerry drew this disc player for a disc publication he helped found—1976

The earliest game I remember was Circle Elimination, where we had to sit down if we failed to catch a well-thrown disc. Accuracy was probably the most natural objective in the evolution of these rudimentary games. Distance was also an early challenge. Those two skills combined naturally into a form of Golf with made up targets as we walked. An early form of Guts, evolved as a macho outlet for more aggressive types. Another game that some of us called Frisbee Football (now called Ultimate) was a natural for teams and used essentially the same rules as soccer. (Here is a link to the association’s site.) Early on, I enjoyed rolling discs on walls and skipping it on pavement. In college in bad weather, we moved indoors, playing Hall Disc off of walls, ceiling and floors.

When I got to Manhattan in 1965 I found a small group of discophiles on “Frisbee Hill” in Central Park, and in spite of having a full-time job and eventually two small children, I spent all my free time with the young “Frisbee freaks” in the park. I had been doing simple tricks for a few years (behind the back, under the legs, behind the head, and inventing different throws, sometimes with multiple discs). This was not popular with the “Zen” players who preferred “Flow”, (a smooth, no drop, no trick style). I was called “Circus” for my unorthodox behavior. I persisted in doing simple tricks and eventually it evolved into freestyling. Read the rest of this entry »

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Beauty And Roughness Of Flying Disc, Frisbee And Ultimate Games

Gerry Lynas has been throwing Frisbees and flying discs for decades. He made the film above in the 70’s to describe the sport he loves, writes about, has helped organize, and create artworks and designs for. He will tell his story in a future post, when he explains why his disc handle is “Circus.”

Watch the first 90 seconds of the video above to understand the rules of Ultimate, one of the many flying disc sports that is played with teams on a football field.

This video of some of the best Ultimate footage captures the skill and dexterity needed in this sport.

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Using Tennis Techniques to Throw a Frisbee Better

Yesterday my son and I threw the frisbee again for 1¼ hours. He still outlasted me, and I had to say quits first. My foot was starting to hurt, and I didn’t want to strain it again when it is still weak and tender.

I can release a beautiful and well-controlled forehand, but my backhand sucks, and that is the throw that I have often seen experienced disc players send way out there. I wanted to practice it and improve my performance here.

It took me a while to guess that if I can learn to hit a bird with an arrow by using Frank Adams’s advice for tennis, maybe I can throw a frisbee backhand with the same motion as a tennis backhand. And get my body into it too. It worked. It was easy. And my throws from that side became almost as good as my forehand.

I wonder how much else I can accomplish with a few principles from tennis? What other successes can I realize? Would it help me walk a tightrope or dive off of a cliff? Just joking. But it would be ideal to have one simple set of rules that lead to success in all pursuits. Can you think of any others?

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A Week of Casual Conditioning—Frisbee, Tennis, Squash, Beach Running, Hiking After Turkeys

It’s been a busy week. I went to NY City last Wednesday (the 6th) to pick up my son from the end of his junior college year. I thought I could take it easy when we arrived home. However within five minutes of returning from my seven-hour round trip and unloading the car, I was “invited” to play Frisbee. Turns out my son wants to try out for the NYU Ultimate Frisbee team next fall and needs to practice. It was too good a chance to bond with my boy, so I re-learned how to throw and catch. I still have some bruises almost a week later.

After an hour of running after the spinning disc—no leaps, jumps and falls—I gave up and admitted I was tired. I had really been pushing hard and hoping he would want to stop first. In fact he played for another hour with his friend who happened to drop by shortly after I called it quits.

The next morning I was playing tennis doubles for 90 minutes, then an hour plus of practicing my spin serve with one person. My tennis game is really improving. Yet I am impressed that players who are not as good as I am overall are very comfortable correcting my game. And you know what—they often make good points, even if I think that I should be the one giving advice.

Then I fit in an hour of squash practice—mostly return of backhand serve. Read the rest of this entry »

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