Portland team wins at the American Freestyle Open Frisbee Championships

Matt and Lisa at AFO 2014The American Freestyle Open (AFO) Frisbee Championships took place in Austin, Tx on the weekend of November 14 – 16. The competition attracted some of the world’s best mixed pairs Freestyle Frisbee teams. Among them was the team of Lisa Hunrichs and Matt Gauthier from Portland, Oregon. Lisa and Matt are the current mixed pairs world champions, having won in Medellin Colombia back in July. Also on the roster were the wife and husband team of Amy and Dave Schiller.

A Freestyle Frisbee competition is similar to doubles figure skating. Teams choose music and then perform their best acrobatic tricks with a Frisbee for four minutes. Judges will award a score in three categories: Execution, Difficulty, and Artistic Impression with a perfect score being 73.

Amy and Dave have been performing in Freestyle competitions for over 20 years together and it shows. They know each other so well that they know when to stay close, when to back off, and they do it all with extreme grace and poise. They took the stage at AFO, ready the dethrone the current champs, and performed a beautiful routine. Their final score was 51.4. Video Replay is here.

Lisa and Matt were not deterred. They have been competing together for for 10 years and have multiple world championship titles as a team. While they may not have the grace of Amy and Dave, they certainly make up for it in the complexity of their tricks and in choreography. They combine technical disc work with humor and perfect musical timing that always grabs the crowds attention. After a near repeat performance from their world championship win the judges awarded them the win with a score of 53.1. Video Replay is here.

Tell us if you think the judges got it right in the comments below.

The Journey to a Championship Begins with a Phone Call

Lori Daniels catches an Under the Leg.

Lori Daniels Catches an Under the Leg.

Lori Daniels, one of Portland’s World Champion Freestyle Frisbee players feels a tingle of excitement and a little nervous as she dials the phone. Ring…ring…

”Hello?” On the other end is James Wiseman, one of the up and coming stars in the sport who hails from Austin, Texas. James and his crew are also the hosts of the first annual American Freestyle Open (AFO) taking place on November 14-16, 2014.

James Wiseman Catches a Gitis.

James Wiseman Catches a Gitis.

“So, there’s this tournament coming up. You know, AFO?” (as if he didn’t know)… “I wonder if you have a partner for Mixed Pairs yet?”  she asks, sheepishly. Dialogues like this happen time and time again for Freestyle Frisbee players looking to form a competitive team. If they agree to partner, it signifies the beginning of a complex and emotional journey.

A Freestyle Frisbee competition is a little like pairs figure skating or a dance competition. Players form teams of two or three and perform their Frisbee tricks in front of a judging panel of their peers.

“I don’t have a partner yet. Are you asking?” asks James.

“Well, when we jam together it’s always to easy to read your sets. We have a great connection. I think we could ‘spon’ and do really well.” responds Lori.

During a “Jam” (non-competitive Freestyle play) all the tricks are spontaneous. However, one of the central strategies for competition is whether to plan out and practice each and every trick ahead of time, or to just go on stage and be “spon”taneous.

“Plus, we both play Clock.” adds Lori.

Another unexpected concern for Freestyle Frisbee players is the direction the Frisbee is spinning while doing tricks: clockwise or counter-clockwise. A Frisbee spinning clockwise tilts to the left, counter clockwise tilts to the right. This phenomenon means each trick must be learned twice, once for each spin. Or, more accurately, a player will have a dominant spin; clock or counter. Finding a match can be key to success.

“Wow, I’m excited that you’re asking me. OK, what about music?” asks James.

During competition, players perform their tricks to music. Agreeing on a music choice is considered by many to be one of the most difficult parts of preparing for competition. This choice often sets the tone for the rest of their partnership. Music creates the basic structure of a freestyle performance since Musicality (how the tricks and music are integrated together) is one of the major aspects being judged.

“I’d think we should play to something upbeat and modern. I’m really open to ideas, but I have a few a I can share too. So what do you say? Do you want to be my mixed pairs partner for AFO?”

“Of course. I would love to partner with you. I think we will make a great team. In fact, I think we have a great chance at winning.”

And with that, a new team is formed and a journey begins. They will choose their music, decide how much to practice and choreograph, and then attempt to win the Mixed Pairs title at the first annual American Freestyle Open. But, with the tournament happening in less than a month, there’s not much time to prepare.

In the next article in the Portland series we’ll talk more about the American Freestyle Open, what it means for our home town Freestyle Frisbee Players, and what it will take for them to bring home gold.

Today I Learned – Freestyle Frisbee

Freestyle Frisbee SignImagine this. It’s a beautiful autumn day. The leaves are just beginning to turn yellow, but the grass is still lush and green. You’re out for a stroll on the riverfront trail in Willamette Park, Portland Oregon. A jogger runs by. A family is picnicking on the big grass field while someone else is playing fetch with their dog. A little further. Some folks are playing catch with a frisbee. What a beautiful day to be outside. And, oh, what is this? A home made sign…”Freestyle Frisbee”. What is that?

You look back at the Frisbee players. One of them is holding an orange disc, while the rest are standing, looking very focussed. They seem awfully close together to be playing catch. Then, ZING, he unwinds his arm and the frisbee flies at high velocity a few feet toward a woman. She lifts her leg and puts out her hand and catches it.  No…wait, it’s still spinning… balanced  on her finger, perfectly level. What!? She is clearly in control of the disc as she swings it behind her back and then shoots it between her legs to another player. He kicks it to someone else who lets it roll across her chest then performs some sort of aerial trick catch.

Okay, what is this Freestyle Frisbee? In a nutshell it is both a pastime activity and a competitive sport. It was born from players doing tricks and trying to “one up” each other nearly 50 years ago. “I can catch it under my leg.” “Oh yeah? I can tip it twice and then catch it behind my back.” To this day, players of all skill levels get together to “jam” and show off their tricks to each other, always in search of the next big trick. It’s a unique sport to play as an amatuer with no score keeping, and no rules. Just creative, supportive playtime with friends.

Lisa Hunrichs, world champ, doing a back roll at Willamette Park in Portland, OR.

Lisa Hunrichs, world champ, doing a back roll at Willamette Park in Portland, OR.

As you watch, you notice that they are constantly moving. As one person is in control of the disc, two others will take off running. Then, the one in control will slap disc so it flies toward the running group. One will make a hoop with their arms as the disc flies through toward the next person, who does a trick catch. On another series of tricks one player will control the disc on her nail and set it up in the air, under another players leg. As he takes control, she moves to his back side and waits. He turns the disc on an angle and sets it to her and she finishes by spinning around once and catching it by her ankles in a single, fluid motion.

Freestyle Frisbee really is just a sophisticated game of throw and catch. In your short time observing you recognize at least four different throws and an unquantifiable number of catches. But what separates Freestyle Frisbee from other disc sports is all the stuff that happens between the throw and the catch. You observe their various maneuvers with the Frisbee: nail delays, tips, air brushes, body rolls, and cuffs. You also notice that they constantly play into the wind, allowing the disc float up and away until the wind gently blows it back towards them. In some ways it’s like juggling, in others it’s like dance, yet it has an extreme bent to it.

You watch the Frisbee players for a bit and then chalk up another “Today I Learned” – Freestyle Frisbee. But what you don’t realize as you continue to down the path is that Portland is home of four of the best Freestyle Frisbee competitors in the world who are actively working to push their games, and the sport, forward. What is a competition like? And how did these Portland players get so good? What’s next for them in their careers? And why Portland of all places? Stay tuned as this is the first in a series on Freestyle Frisbee in Portland, Oregon.