How to skip discs: an introduction
It took me quite a while to learn how golf discs respond to skipping. Today I hope to help you continue racing ahead on your own disc golf journey of discovery.
Firstly, I'm only talking about discs landing with hyzer angle, so spin is against the direction of movement, and the disc wants to get back into the air straight away. And for simplicity we’re only talking about Right Hand Backhand throws.
The Three Basic Skip Types
Discs behave differently based on how they touch down, as shown below in Figure No.1. Maximum skipping distance is achieved when both the inner and outer part of the rim touch down simultaneously (middle). Discs which land with just their outer wing tip tend to “spoon” or flare upwards and go more sharply left (Left). While discs which land on only the inner rim tend to go much straighter and have a very low skip (right).
Figure 1. The three Basic skip types. Innova Eagle fairway driver profile is shown.
Each type of disc has an optimal skip angle for best distance. This is easy to find; simply place a disc on a table and push down on the cantilevered part of the rim until both inner and outer parts of the rim touch the table, as shown in figure No.2. below.
Figure 2. The ideal skipping angle for a midrange (green), fairway (orange), and driver (blue). Yours will vary.
Please note: the Parting Line Height (see Figure 3.) of high speed drivers varies, so the hyzer angles drivers skip best at also vary. The Parting Line is literally where the pieces of the mould come apart when the disc is ejected from the mould. It is always the widest part of the disc.
Overstable discs have higher Parting Lines, and so they require slightly steeper angles of incidence than understable drivers when looking for maximum skip distance.
The optimal angle of each disc informs your disc choice
As each disc has a slightly different optimal skip angle, they also have different skip heights. This means you as a disc golfer will need to use your knowledge of your individual discs to throw the ideal skip shot.
Disc speed rating vs. skip distance High speed drivers can skip further than slower speed discs, due to the size and shape of the "ramp" of the wing. This is also true due to the ideal touch down angle, which is lower for a driver, resulting in skips which are lower and longer.
Controlling skip shot accuracy In general, the closer to you the disc touches down, the more control you will exert over the type of skip produced. The further away the disc touches down, the more difficult it becomes to control the angle of incidence with the ground.
Surface inclination changes skip direction
If your potential touch down area is sloping downwards from left to right, then you will tend to get what I call a “negative skip” where instead of skipping left the disc will skip gently to the right. If the landing area is quite steeply descending from left to right, then after your negative skip, you should get a forward roll across and up the hill slightly. "Should" being the operative word.
Groundspeed, hyzer angle, and RPMs control everything
Discs which touch down late, when they are hyzering out at the end of their natural flight behave differently to when they touch down with higher speeds and lower nose angles. Slow discs don’t skip far at all, but they are still quite predictable as they do not skip far.
How the playing surface affects skip shots
Ideally skipping surfaces are hard, and smooth. Asphalt is an ideal skipping surface, but is hard on discs. Hard pan dirt can produce massive skip shots. Sand essentially stops skipping, which is why they call it a sand trap on a golf course. However, discs have been known to skip out of sand trap hazards if just the right speed and angle is luckily achieved. The harder a surface is, the less energy is stolen from a disc when it skips from that surface, and the further it will travel after skipping.
UVideo 1. Courtesy of GateKeeper Media
Skipping from grass
This is when your observation skills come in handy. If you are looking to skip a disc, then you need to know where and what it will land on, so you have a better idea of the skip size and shape ahead of the throw. Grass can be extremely skippy when the ground is hard, and the grass is cut short. And of course conversely, soft ground or longer grass will actively prevent skipping. This can also be very useful to a disc golfer.
Wet grass skips In wet conditions, skipping from grass is reduced somewhat, and the angle of the resulting skip is usually lower than you would expect. Water on grass robs a disc of a little momentum as it is transferred to the disc, but if the skipping surface is slick, you may experience a spectacular skip.
Super steep touch downs This is when the disc is plunging out of the sky on a hyzer-bomb, or grenade line. These usually result in a Tombstone where the disc is wedged upright in the soil, if soft enough. Or a savage (but typically short) bounce if the soil is hard. But if a disc is landing on a steep hyzer angle (above 60 degrees or so), while approaching on a low line, then the landing is unlikely to produce a usable and reliable forward skip shape, although Weird Things™ may happen.
Touching down too flat
These don't produce skips ordinarily, unless the disc gets accidentally deflected into a nose-up attitude by colliding with something on the ground (see Nose Angle, below). Below a critical angle great skill is required to control a skip, and the more luck is required to get the intended outcome.
The effect of spin speed on a skip shot The more spin, the better, yeah? This is true for most throws in disc golf, and I intentionally exclude putts from throws. Skip shots are the same, in that a low spin speed can negatively affect how a disc skips. Skipping requires touching down with rotation opposite to the direction of travel, and a low spin speed means less gyroscopic stability, and hence a higher chance the resulting skipping angle will be different to the intended angle. The more spin a disc has, the more gryoscopic energy it has and the less it will be perturbed by its encounter with the ground. This is especially true for... Skipping on water
This is really crowd-pleasing stuff when pulled off, either by accident or by design. In order to successfully skip from water you're going to select the widest rim driver in your bag, and usually something that's stable to overstable, something which resists turn during the high speed phase of its flight. It should touch down with the full width of the rim contacting the water - as shown in Fig.2 above. AND, it's got to be rotating quickly, AND it's got to have enough airspeed to overcome the drag of touching down on water. These are not easy things to achieve simultaneously. But you can do it! Water skips can be made to work when the discs touches down late in its flight, but the later the disc 'lands', the more nose up it will be (see below) and it will skip a shorter distance, and go a little higher.
Video 2. Courtesy of @smallborediscgolf
Nose Angle: how it affects skipping Nose angle (AoA or Angle of Attack, in aeronautic terms) has a huge effect on skip shots. One of the reasons late touchdowns do not skip far is due to the way the disc behaves as it slows down - both in airspeed and RPMs: the nose angle rises. The lower groundspeed produces shorter skips, and the increased nose angle shortens them even further. Nose angle is most important when a disc is landed on its inner rim only, with the intention of making the disc skip long, forward, and pretty flat, without swinging hard left. There are two ways to go about doing this; use a disc which only has a small and very gentle fade, like the River (7 7 -1 1), or intentionally touch a faster disc down well before it runs out of airspeed. This is a useful tactic when facing a low ceiling; throw the disc intentionally low, and have it touch down with a very low hyzer angle, early in its flight, so the touch down speed is high, and only the inner rim touches the playing surface. Many great disc golf shots involve the disc skipping further than it flew before touching down. The dog-leg skip In order to make a disc take a sharp left turn, you can use a high speed driver, on a steep angle, landing quite close to you. This causes the disc to skip strongly upwards and go hard left. It is not a long shot by any means. But it can be a great get-out-of-jail type shot when needed.
Plastic types The stiffest premium plastics tend to produce the most prodigious skips, with the highest level of control. There are two reasons for this; the extra softness of most base plastics means more deformation of the disc when it touches down, and this takes energy out of the disc, altering it's post-skip flight shape. Base plastics usually have more friction when they touch down, as well. Ideally you'll use pretty firm premium plastics for maximum control.
Weird Stuff Just as discs often do some weird stuff in the air, they can also do some unexpected things when they collide with the ground. Controlling skip shots well requires skill and practice. You should expect for discs to do unexpected things for a while as you learn how yours perform. When it happens, take a good look at what it landed on or in, to understand properly why it went wrong.
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