What Does Fade Mean in Disc Golf?

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Beams of morning sun cut through the trees, warming the spring air as you step up to the teepad.  It’s a long straight shot to the basket.  You select a stable driver and line up your stance, just like you saw on YouTube.  Carefully, you wrap your hand around the disc, ensuring the knuckle of your index finger rests above rim with all four finger pads hooked along the inside. 

You take a final deep breath and throw.  At first, you can’t believe your eyes.  It’s a beautiful straight-line shot, dead on target for the basket.  Suddenly, the disc curves to the left, sliding off into the tree line. 

Why does this keep happening?  You’re throwing exactly how you were shown.  Why does it keep arcing to the left?  The answer is something called the fade.

What is the Difference Between Fade and Turn

To fully understand why your disc keeps curving left, you’ll need to understand two related terms: Fade and Turn.  Fade and turn (along with Speed and Glide) are disc characteristics that will affect how those discs behave in flight. 

We’ll get into what factors influence these later but, for now, let’s discuss them in their purest form.  To do this, we’ll adopt the industry convention of assuming a flat, straight-line throw of sufficient power made by a right-handed player throwing backhand.  You might not be a right-handed player throwing backhand and that’s okay.  We’ll address that too.

Assuming the above, fade is simply the tendency of a disc to curve left at the end of its flight.  Turn, likewise, is the tendency of a disc to curve to the right, usually near the beginning of its flight. 

Disc design, as well as several other factors, influence these tendencies.  Understanding why this happens can help you predict the effects of turn and fade, allowing you to better plan your throws.

What Causes a Disc to Fade

In technical terms, fade is caused by gyroscopic precession and the reduction of airspeed, causing a shift in the disc’s center of lift.

In less technical terms, drag will cause a thrown disc to lose airspeed and spin speed near the end of its flight.  This change reduces the stability of the disc, causing a natural wobble (aka gyroscopic precession). 

This wobble alters the disc’s direction of flight, causing it to curve opposite the disc’s direction of spin.  Therefore, a disc spinning clockwise will fade to the left, while a disc spinning counterclockwise will fade to the right.

A right-handed backhand throw will cause a clockwise spin, leading to a leftward fade.  A left-handed forehand throw will produce the same.  Conversely, a left-handed backhand throw and a right-handed forehand throw will each produce a counterclockwise spin, leading to a rightward fade.

What Factors Affect Fade

Not all throws will fade equally, but there are a few factors that affect how much a throw will fade.  Understanding these will help you make fade work for your game instead of against it.

The first, and most obvious, is disc design.  Most discs are rated using the Innova Flight Rating System, which grades a disc into four categories: speed, glide, turn, and fade.  Fade is rated on a scale of 0 to 5. 

Assuming the normalized conditions we discussed earlier, a disc with a fade rating of 0 will have little to no fade at the end of its flight.  Conversely, discs with a fade rating of 5 will fade early and sharply. 

To make these ratings easier to understand, fade ratings are often balanced against turn ratings to organize discs into three groups: stable, understable, and overstable.  Stable discs have very little turn and will tend to fly straight for most of their flight before fading left. 

Understable discs have a right turn early in their flight which is balanced by a leftward fade at the end.  Finally, overstable discs fade early and fade hard, arcing dramatically leftward.

Throw speed also plays a significant role in determining the severity of a throw’s fade.  As mentioned above, each disc has a rated speed.  This does not indicate how fast a disc will fly but the speed at which it needs to be thrown to fly as intended.  Throwing a disc at too slow a speed will exaggerate the fade, just as throwing it at too high a speed will diminish the intended fade.  For this reason, many new players are advised to select lower-speed discs until they build experience and skill.

Hyzer and anhyzer throws will also affect fade.  Hyzer throws, those made with an upward release angle, will naturally arc left and, therefore, accentuate a disc’s natural fade.  Anhyzer throws, those made with a downward release angle, will curve to the right, thereby minimizing fade.

Finally, wind plays a role in determining fade as well.  As you recall, fade is caused in part by gyroscopic precession (wobble inflight).  A high spin speed compared to the flight speed helps stabilize a disc by minimizing this wobble. 

This is most pronounced when throwing into a headwind.  A headwind reduces the flight speed of a disc but has less effect on the spin speed.  This increases the spin speed to flight speed ratio and results in less fade.  Likewise, throwing with a tailwind increases the flight speed of the disc but does not increase the spin speed, thus increasing the fade.

How to Make Fade Work for You

Understanding how fade works helps you turn it from frustration into an advantage.  By paying careful attention to factors that influence fade, you can make choices in your game that include fade as part of your plan.

Let’s take that throw we discussed at the beginning of the article.  Knowing what you know now, you might have selected an understable disc instead of a stable disc for your throw.  That would allow you count on the natural fade of the throw to counteract the natural turn of the disc, resulting in an overall straight throw. 

Or, you might have chosen to use an anhyzer throw instead of a flat throw using the angle of the throw to minimize the fade.  If you had been throwing into a headwind, you might have even decided to stick with the same disc and throw, counting on the increased stability to carry your disc to the basket before the fade came into play.

Now that you understand fade, it’s time to get out there and play around with it!