TRIED & TESTED : FAVOURITE FLINGS

King Frisbee's long reign is over. Our experts launch it among its rivals to discover which is the highest flyer
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The Independent Culture
THE ONSET of summer heralds the end of hibernation for those "fun" plastic playthings that cause even dedicated couch potatoes to use strange muscles in parks and on beaches throughout the land. We're talking multi- coloured boules sets, day-glo mini tennis bats with Velcro-like surfaces and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, the frisbee.

According to legend, the first frisbees - or flying discs, to use the correct, non-generic name - emerged in the 1920s when Ivy League students started throwing around empty pie tins from the Frisbie Pie Com-pany in Connecticut. The students would yell out "Frisbie!" to signal the oncoming flight of the tin. It wasn't until the 1950s that manufacturers saw the money-making potential of an aerodynamically designed plastic version of the flying pie tin.

These days the original plastic flying disc can boast a number of hybrids including flying rings and an updated version of the boomerang. For some flying disc fans, the game has gone beyond the chuck-about-in-the-park level. The team game "Ultimate" takes frisbee-playing to its, well, ultimate. The seven-a-side sport is fast and skilful, the aim being to get the disc into your op-posing team's zone. There are local leagues and world championships.

THE PANEL

John Purdie, national co-ordinator of the British Ultimate Association and member of Oxy-7, a north London Ultimate team; Brett Sharp of the Mohawks Ultimate team from Sussex; Ronan Turner, a play group worker who "messes about" with a flying disc on the beach if the mood takes him; Catrin Ward, a student and a complete novice.

THE TEST

The panel rated four flying discs, two flying rings and one "boomerang" for flying ability, feel and ease of use and looks. They also gave an overall rating based on entertainment value.

**AEROBIE 'ORBITER' RETURNING TRIANGLE

£9.99

An updated version of a boomer-ang, the Orbiter is a stylish and streamlined triangle with flexible corners, or "wingtips", which can be bent up or down for higher or lower flights. You throw it overhand, aiming for the ground about 100ft ahead and, if you get the knack, off it speeds at a scary pace before curving round equally speedily to return to you. Dramatic to watch but just a tad worrying too.

"Frightening flying ability. It flies faster than a boomerang and is harder to control. You feel like it could do you some serious damage if it hit you on its return," commented John Purdie.

Ronan Turner agreed: "Tricky to get the knack of but once you do, it flies incredibly fast. I'd be worried about using this in a park with other people around. You'd really need a fairly unpopulated open space."

*PRO WOOSH FLYING RING

£7.99

The Woosh is a soft, flexible ring which can bounce as well as fly. Promoted by the makers as "the world's most versatile flying ring", it didn't quite convince our panel of its abilities.

"A bit gimmicky," said Ronan Turner. "OK over short ranges but it's unstable flying longer distances," criticised John Purdie. "More of a toy than anything else," he added. Brett Sharp thought the Woosh was an interesting concept that did not quite work: "It's very light, which means the wind easily affects its flight. Maybe fun to throw around indoors in a large, confined area but not much use otherwise." Catrin Ward was a bit more positive. "Very easy to throw and probably a good choice for children."

***SKYRIDER 'FREESTYLE' SPORTS DISC

£3.50

This is the cheapest disc of the lot. Nothing fancy and although the plastic looks and feels less refined than that of the pricier discs, you can still play a mean game with it. The price difference convinced Catrin Ward. "If I was buying an ordinary disc, I'd go for this one because it works fine and it's cheap." However, the experts proved more grudging in their approval.

"Not bad overall but you get what you pay for," said John Purdie. "Easy to catch because of prominent flight rings (the circular grooves on the side of the disc) but pretty unmemorable," said Brett Sharp.

The general verdict was that the Skyrider isn't the best choice for serious players, but it fits the bill fine for casual play.

***DISCRAFT 160G SKY-STYLER SPORT DISC

£8.99

The Discraft products are probably the most widely available "professional- standard" discs in this country. The 160g Sky-Styler is the most versatile in the range. The amateur testers couldn't tell much difference between this and the rival Wham-O brand. Catrin Ward thought that the disc was "everything a flying disc could be". John Purdie was more specific: "This has good flight stability and you could do just about anything with it. The relatively hard, inflexible centre makes it good for freestyle and tricks in general," he said. Brett Sharp liked the disc but had some criticisms. "The deep rim makes throwing a bit uncomfortable," he said. A good all-rounder for disc enthusiasts.

****AEROBIE FLYING RING

£6.99 for 10-inch size (£9.99 for 13-inch)

The Aerobie ring is serious flying stuff. It looks simple enough - basically a ring of flexible, rubber-type material. But it has been carefully designed to fly to impress and holds the record for being the furthest thrown object in the world.

Our testers were definitely taken. "My favourite. Easier to throw than an ordinary frisbee and because of the hole in the middle, easier to catch. I could have a lot of fun with this," enthused Catrin Ward. "It flies really smoothly and it has a nice feel to it. Good for people of all abilities and it's a bit more interesting to play with than your run-of-the-mill disc," echoed Ronan Turner.

The experts were keen but noted some drawbacks. "Remarkable, beautiful flying ability but it's a victim of its own good design - because it can fly so far, you can get very bored walking to retrieve it if it isn't caught and it could easily get lost in undergrowth because it lies so flat on the ground," said John Purdie.

***WHAM-O 160G FREESTYLE FRISBEE DISC

£9.99

The original flying disc. The first flying disc was marketed by a Californ- ian company, Wham-O, under the name of "Pluto Platter". This was in 1957 when the US was obsessed with UFOs and flying saucers.

This modern 160g Wham-O disc is designed for "freestyle" play: basically everything other than Ultimate. But John Purdie hated it. "It's horrible! The design means that it's harder to grip and control and it also seems to be covered with some sort of varnish which gives it an unpleasant slippery feeling," he spluttered.

Other testers had kinder words. "Maybe a bit too light, but overall a nice disc," said Brett Sharp. "I can't see anything wrong with this," said Ronan Turner. "It flies well, it's easy to handle and it's the flashiest looking disc of the lot."

**DISCRAFT 175G ULTRA-STAR SPORT DISC

£9.99

The main disc used for Ultimate, the 175g Ultra-Star is a touch heavier than ordinary "freestyle" discs. The added weight means more flight stability and wind resistance - vital for team players who don't want the disc to drift into enemy hands.

Not surprisingly, our experts didn't need much convincing of the Ultra- Star's benefits. "Nicely weighted with a solid rim and very stable flight. The definitive frisbee in my book," said John Purdie.

Brett Sharp also enthused: "An ideal disc for team sport". The amateurs weren't so taken. "This feels a bit awkward. I wasn't sure where to grip it and the plastic feels strangely thick," said Ronan Turner. "A lot to pay for a bit of flying plastic," sum-med up Catrin Ward. Overall, a good disc for serious players but not the best choice if you just want something to chuck about in the park.

STOCKISTS

Pro Woosh and Skyrider Sports Disc available from selected toy shops (eg, Hamleys in London) and department stores. Wham-0 Frisbee available from kite and juggling shops and selected sports shops, or contact Steve Daniel Sports (01752 341541) for local stockists.

Discraft discs available from kite and juggling shops and some sports shops or contact The Kite Company (01225 466661) for stockists.

Aerobies available from some toy shops and kite and juggling shops or contact The Kite Company as above.

For more details on the team game Ultimate, phone John Purdie of the British Ultimate Association on 0181-883 0218.

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