What is Understable vs. Overstable?
When you are new to the game of disc golf, you hear terms like “overstable” and “understable” and “flippy” thrown around quite a bit when describing discs, but it probably leaves you more confused than enlightened. So, before we look at some of the great understable distance drivers, let’s clarify what the term means and why it might effect your game for the better.
The simple way to think of understable vs. overstable is to consider the direction in which your disc naturally fades when thrown either backhand, forehand, left-handed, or right-handed. Whatever your throwing preference, just take any disc from your bag and throw it somewhat gently (don’t throw it hard for this test). It will naturally fall to one side at the end of its flight. If you’re right-handed throwing backhand, then you’ll see pretty much every disc naturally fade to the left. With right-handed throwing forehand, you’ll see pretty much every disc fade to the right when thrown lightly. Left-handed throwers can just reverse those fades. That shows you the natural fade side.
Should I Throw an Understable Disc?
Now that you know which way your discs fade when thrown lightly using your own preferred style, you know which side is the “overstable” side. An overstable disc exaggerates the turn to the natural fade side. An understable disc fights that natural fade longer, pulling to the other side before it finally fades.
Since our focus here is on the understable distance drivers, let’s address why a player would want an understable disc. When you are a newer player, or even a seasoned player with a slower arm speed, it can be difficult to get much distance with an overstable disc that exaggerates the natural fade. A disc that is designed to be overstable will turn and end its flight sooner than you want, or perhaps turn away from your desired target. When you’re a new player, you’re always trying to fight the natural fade of the disc anyway, because it seems like every disc wants to go that way rather than obeying your bidding. So, an understable disc that fights the fade will give you a few extra feet of distance without that sudden turn, crash-and-burn.
Distance Drivers need a higher speed to stay in the air as it is, so you still need to throw them with some power to get the desired distance, but realizing the benefits of an understable disc when you’re striving to increase that distance can revolutionize your game off of the tee. Once you begin throwing with more power, you’ll eventually start to overpower your understable discs, which can make them “flip” and crash to the ground on the understable side prematurely, or they might fly to that understable direction and just keep going without coming back (not necessarily a bad thing if that’s where you want to go). As players begin to throw their distance drivers with more power, they basically “graduate” to more overstable discs to keep their distance and flight path in line. So, don’t assume you’re losing your touch if you suddenly start throwing your understable discs into the ground on the understable side. Just smile and move on to a more overstable disc.
Here are some of the top understable discs on the market to help you get more distance as you develop your distance driving:
UNLACE by Vibram
When it comes to achieving extra distance as a moderately new player, I’ve seen a lot of people shocked at the results after throwing an UnLace for the first time. The first difference they notice when compared to other discs is that the texture is different. That is because Vibram makes rubber discs rather than plastic discs, and that results in a very different feel. Some people are bothered by the unexpected texture at first, but after throwing it, that concern usually vanishes in an instant. The UnLace is considered a higher-speed distance driver, but honestly doesn’t need very much power to get it going. New players can still use the disc regularly, even without releasing it perfectly every time.
The Nemesis is considered a very understable distance driver, pulling hard to the understable side before coming in with a strong fade at the end of its flight. So even though the disc may pull hard to the understable side upon release, it is designed to come back toward center upon losing velocity so the net result should be more distance with an S-curve pattern landing dead ahead.
When looking at flight charts for a lot of these understable discs, you’ll see something like this, reflecting a right-handed throw, backhand.
Again, you can reverse that pattern for forehand or for left-handed throws, etc.
The Sail is a wonderful disc for both beginning and experienced players. New players will often find themselves throwing distances they haven’t achieved before, while experienced players will love throwing this understable disc for anhyzer bombs that intentionally need to turn to the understable side and continue sailing on through the air with very little fade. Whether a staple distance driver for beginners or a utility disc for experienced players, the Sail is a solid, dependable disc.
With a numeric flight rating of 11 / 6 / -5 / 1 it is easy to see that the Mamba is designed for understable distance. But since it is a speed 11, you do need to put some power behind it to get the desired flight path. Yet that -5 turn is about as understable as disc flight ratings get. Every disc feels a little different for each, individual player. Give the Mamba a try and see if you fall among those who love it.
If MVP were to release an equivalent to the Innova Mamba, then the Orbital would be it. MVP has a unique feel and appearance to their discs with the black GYRO rims. They also tend to have a flatter profile than other brands. The feel of MVP discs has made them popular with players who throw forehand, but they can of course be thrown any way you desire. However you throw an Orbital, it will pull to the understable side upon release, allowing for easier distance without as much power. You’ll see that effect amplified if you select a lower weight disc, and the Orbital is easily available in the 150-160 gram range.
Prodigy lays out their discs very logically with the disc names. Rather than names of animals, electronics, mystical beings, and whatnot, Prodigy simply designates a letter and a number. The “D” is for “Distance Driver” and the numbers simply progress from 1, being the most overstable, to the highest number being the most understable. Thus, the D6 is the most understable distance driver offered by Prodigy, until such time as there is a D7. However, with a speed rating around 13, you still need to have sound technique to get the desired result. At the same time that Prodigy released the D6, they also released their new 200S plastic, which is their low-cost, base plastic. So now you can try out a D6 for a very reasonable price in basic plastic. If you’re looking for an understable fairway driver, rather than distance, then you can try out the lower-speed F7 disc.
Like with Prodigy, Discmania has started naming their discs with letters and numbers. The TD2 stands for “Turning Disc #2”. This disc is designed as an understable distance driver so that more distance can be achieved with much less power. The glide is also high, so it hangs in the air quite nicely along the flight path. It also has minimal fade at the end of its flight.
Though there are other good options for understable drivers, we’ll wrap up this run-down with a look at a very popular distance driver for new players by Discraft.
The Avenger was a popular distance driver by Discraft, originally PDGA approved in the summer of 2005. With the disc’s popularity came an outcry for a version of the Avenger that was more friendly for the novice or recreational player, and so in early 2008, the Avenger SS was approved by the PDGA for disc golf play. Though as a new player, you may not see the Avenger SS pull as hard to the understable side as some of the other discs on this list, but you’ll find yourself able to throw it straighter for longer distances before it finally makes its end fade. The Avenger SS is a disc that often finds itself in basic “starter sets” for that very reason– because of the ease with which it can be controlled and go the distance. New players will eventually graduate from the Avenger SS, but until that point, it will make distance driving an easier task.