Category Archives: Equipment

Review of softer discs for youth ultimate in 2017: Aria and the flexible-Jstar

Aria discs as they arrived as Kickstarter rewards.

Two notable new discs flew into my coaching bag in 2017: the Aria Ultimate (175 gram) disc as a reward from the Aria Kickstarter and a soft version of the Jstar (145 gram) disc being tested against the USAU disc standards.  Both offer some exciting advantages for youth ultimate players. After throwing them alongside our teams’ standard quiver here are my initial impressions.

The new soft Jstar is super-flexible! (So I’ll refer to it as a flexi-Jstar to be clear I’m not talking about the harder, stiffer earlier Jstars.)

Softer, more flexible plastic

Both are remarkably sticky and pliable in comparison to the discs that I’ve used in coaching for past 5 years (Discraft Ultrastars and Jstars). This means that they are easier to grip and much less painful when they hit you in the face. Both benefits are a big deal in elementary ultimate. On a cold day the stiffer, more slippery Ultrastars or earlier-model Jstars can be tough for 3rd or small fourth graders to grip and throw. And kids will REALLY appreciate the softer, more-rubbery material of the Aria or flexi-Jstar when they happen to D a fast throw with their lip or ear on a cold day (a common, tearful occurrence — even with fewer players on the field in the 5v5 games we’ve adopted in Seattle).

To give you a strong impression of how much softer these discs are than the current standard, I had my 14 year-old handler-son throw our whole quiver, one-by-one GENTLY at face level. I could not will myself to take a hit from an Ultrastar, but I toughened up for an Aria hit. It was still painful, but MUCH less than the hits I’ve taken from Ultrastars (mostly during middle school practice, and mostly involving a lot of blood or muffled cursing). The Jstars offered a better comparison.  There’s a very obvious difference in the pain levels that you’re likely to experience from a facial hit by the old, harder Jstars and the new, flexi-Jstar. I think you’d need to pay me somewhere between $1 and $5 to put my face in front of the old Jstar, but I’m willing to demonstrate a hit from the flexi-Jstar anytime for free!

The softer plastic seems to come with one possible cost for youth players, though. It seems to be a little harder to catch, possibly because it tends to bounce a bit as it hits your palm. So if you don’t close your fingers on it quickly, the more rubbery material may cause you to drop the pass. This cost to the receiver may be outweighed by the disc not hurting as much when catching a hard throw on a cold day. In any case, it will be interesting to test these new materials during play in the colder Seattle winters, as well as the hottest summer days on a turf field…

Impressive aerodynamics

You’d think that the softer material would also come with an aerodynamic cost. Yet both discs fly extremely well! Both the Aria technology innovators and the Discraft engineers seem to have found an youth ultimate optimum between aerodynamics, grip, and safety. The flexi-Jstar flies remarkably straight, whereas many adults and youth have noted that the old Jstars tend to fall off as they lose speed, causing curved, less-predictable flights — especially on windy days.  The Aria also flies great; both my son and I were able to throw the Aria and Ultrastar similar distances with similar accuracy.

Both of the softer discs feel novel in the hand. It’s both strange to be able to deform the disc with your standard grip strength and satisfying to feel the extra spin you can get with the stickier plastic.

Implications for youth ultimate

Overall, I think the Aria and flexi-Jstar will be great additions to the equipment from which youth coaches and players can choose. If they were both available now in the bulk quantities of discs typically needed by youth ultimate teams in Seattle,  I’d upgrade my Ultrastar/Jstar inventory immediately. The gain or no-net-difference in aerodynamic performance is already compelling, but the potential  of these new discs to improve throwing mechanics and reduce injuries for our youngest players make these discs a very exciting development.

As of September, 2017, Aria is offering a handful of fun prints for $12 per disc.  It’s unclear what their bulk pricing will look like (I’m inquiring), but the Aria FAQ says they do offer some sort of deal. A coup would be if Discraft produced the flexi-Jstar with an option for custom printing. My kids are getting tired of the red, white, blue/gray options in the old Jstars…

Aria approved for highest levels of play

Great shot of Aria disc in play during the 2017 U.S. Open in Burlington, WA.

The reviews of the Aria disc by USAU must have been consistent with our positive experience, because on Aug 29, 2017, USAU announced that the Aria disc is approved for Champion level play in USAU competitions. This means it is also approved by WFDF for approved for elite ultimate play worldwide.

Best ways to buy discs for youth ultimate

For coaches and team managers, here are the best ways to purchase high-quality discs in bulk quantities for your team(s), ordered from least to most expensive.  Costs are approximate, based on late 2014 quotes and conversion rates, and are somewhat specific to orders being shipped to Seattle (shipping costs vary regionally).  If you order from one of these sources and want to share your experience (cost, delivery time, quality, etc.) — just leave a comment and we’ll add your data to this post.

All makes/models listed here are approved as meeting USA Ultimate’s Disc Technical Standards.  Be careful to order the right size disc, though!  (They are listed here together…)  The 175 g disc is used in most of youth ultimate; the 145g disc is only used by some very young players, generally in 4th or 3rd grade or younger.

Cheap (<$7)

$3.00-3.49/disc – Discraft misprint J-star (145g) 10-disc packs

  • Note these are smaller, 145 gram discs good for younger players or portability (fits better in a kid’s backpack)
  • These are misprinted Discraft discs direct from Discraft (which has much better shipping rates than other distributors, e.g. Sportdiscs.com below)
  • Listed as 29.99 in November, 2015
  • 34.95 for 10-pack with $5 standard shipping = 3.49/disc
  • 59.98 for two 10-packs with shipping included = $3.00/disc
  • Assorted colors: white, blue, red
  • 2017 (March): out of stock!

$3.32-3.84/disc – Discraft Ultimate Juniors Program

  • These are misprinted Disccraft discs only for use in K-12 programs in the U.S.
  • Order either Ultrastar (175 gram) or J*Star (145 gram)
  • Must ship to a school address
  • Order must be placed by a current USA Ultimate member
  • School must be listed as a USA Ultimate team (as of 2014, USA Ultimate member/coaches can add a team on-line)
  • Max order size is 50 discs per calendar year
  • Minimum order size is 10 discs
  • Price range is due to variable shipping ($16-42 for 50 disc orders, more as you get further from Michigan)
  • 2016: An order of 50 discs sent to Seattle cost $150 + 41.80 shipping = 191.80, or $3.83 per disc
  • 2017, March:
  • 2017, March: turn-around time of 10 days (mailed order from Seattle on 3/3; school received on 3/13!).  Other Seattle coaches report recently: receiving discs as quickly as 1 week after ordering; still waiting after about a month.

$4.00-5.20/disc – Discraft UltraStar (175g) misprints from SportDiscs.com

  • Random assortment of 175 gram Discraft discs (assorted colors, designs)
  • Good source for schools that need more than 50 discs (the max Juniors Program order)
  • Be sure to specify “kid-friendly” designs
  • Cost above varies with order size ($4.32 is for max order of 75 discs) and does not include shipping

 $5.00/disc – USA Ultimate’s custom prints on Discraft discs

  • A great benefit of becoming a member of USA Ultimate ($36/yr for coaches)
  • Nice variety of designs on mostly white discs
  • Can order any combination of J*Star (145g) or Ultrastar (175g) discs, each costs $5.00
  • Can specify any combination of nifty designs
  • Order via the USA Ultimate merchandise order (Google) form
  • $5.00 is actual cost as there is no shipping charged
  • If you are a coach, team manager, or PE teacher, the cheapest source of 10-15 discs may be one of the USA Ultimate kits (60-70$ for members) because they come bundled with valuable supporting materials…  $70/15=$4.67/disc and the PE kit comes with cones, curriculum, DVD, rule/spectator guide

$5.80/disc – VC Ultimate practice package

  • This is an example (from Oct 2015) of an intermittent or seasonal special deal
  • Package of ten 175 gram Discraft  UltraStars
  • Mix of colours and misprint designs
  • Not sure how much shipping would add
  • Original price listed as $14.00/disc…
  • Single misprint discs going for $5.95 (w/o shipping)

Inexpensive ($7-10)

$7.00/disc – DiscNW  discs

  • $7 is the price for youth, regardless of how many are ordered
  • Pickup is on Lake City Way in Seattle, near Nathan Hale high school
  • Arrange for pickup and payment by emailing ops@discnw.org

$7.03/disc – Daredevil 175g misprints

  • Not sure if these are guaranteed to all be the Gamedisc design approved by USA Ultimate
  • $7.99 Canadian (plus shipping?)

$8.06/disc – Discraft J*Star (145 g) from DiscAce

  • $5.99 before shipping (looks like ~18% of cart total for shipping to Seattle)
  • Discount code might help?

8.60$/disc – Discraft UltraStar (175g) from Amazon

  • $8.60 on Amazon Prime (14% discount from $10.00 list)
  • Plus shipping?

$8.79/disc – Daredevil (140g)

There are other color schemes for the same price, but kids will like this flame one best…
  • Note these have a mass of only 140 grams — the lightest available for young (<10 year old) players who have small hands
  • Made in and shipped from Canada
  • $9.99 Canadian (plus shipping?)

Standard cost (>$10), but cool for kids

$10.55/disc – Daredevil Gamedisc (175g)

Lots of cool color schemes for the same price, but this is their white background design.
    • Note these have a mass of only 140 grams — the lightest available for young (<10 year old) players who have small hands
    • Made in and shipped from Canada

Archived/broken sources:

$3.57-4.37/disc – Discraft J*Star (145g) misprints from SportDiscs.com

  • Note these are 145 gram discs good for players less than about 10 years old
  • 10 discs for $30.00 (before shipping); with shipping to Seattle, the total cost is 43.66, which means shipping costs ~45% of the disc cost…
  • 50 discs (5 orders of 10-pack) is $150+$28.60 for shipping (about 19% of disc cost), yielding a total of 178.60 or $3.57/disc.
  • Random assortment of 145 gram Discraft discs (assorted colors, designs); these are best for 3rd or 4th graders, or other youth with small hands
  • Good source for schools that need more than 50 discs (the max Juniors Program order)
  • Be sure to specify “kid-friendly” designs
  • 2017: broken link, sportdiscs.com redirects to http://discraftfactorystore.com/