Thursday, January 16, 2014

Interview: Rip Disc Golf

Interviews with folks from the disc golf world is something I've been wanting to add to this blog for a while. The interview that follows is an E-mail conversation with Skipper and Charity Hamilton from Oregon. They own Rip Disc Golf and were kind enough to participate in this process of back and forth. 

Hi, Skipper. This is your Facebook friend John Synco. Thank you so much for agreeing to participate in this E-mail interview.

Before I jump in and start asking you a bunch of disc golf related questions I'm curious about the hard apple cider you're making. I just heard on the radio up here in Seattle that the hard cider business is booming.

What inspired you to make your own?

What other alcoholic beverages have you made?

I moved into this old house just over a year ago along with my wife and three little girls. There are a few fruit trees in the yard as well as concord grapes. So this summer, not wanting the fruits to spoil in the trees and grapes on the vines, I went down to the local brew shop and got my first few carboys along with a few other things needed for fermenting. 

The first wine I started was from the plums in the yard. With no other friends having the know how to make wine I turned to good ol' YouTube and started right in. 

About two weeks later the black berries were ready just one block away from my house, so I went berry picking and started my second batch of wine. At one point I had started a batch of pear wine, but my two-year-old took the airlock off and got stuff in there making it turn into vinegar. 

That was dumped over the compost pile. 

Then my wife's uncle stopped by with 20 pounds of Elderberry wanting me to make wine from that, so there is another five gallon batch. After that I collected all my grapes plus some from the same uncle as before and started my grape wine. 

The cidar I just started comes from one of two apple trees in my backyard. I juiced them and got them fermenting, again turning to the Internet for help as I had no clue how to make cider and wanted to make sure that I didn't just make apple wine. 

With all that said I'm not really much of a wine drinker, but I hate to see things go to waste. This really started because I really want to start brewing my own beer, which I have not had a chance to try yet but that is coming soon.

Now wait a minute, Skipper. You said in a reply to my first message on Facebook that you feared you would be boring. I don't think you have anything to fear. We haven't even started talking about disc golf yet and you have me interested just by talking about fruit and booze.

I can't wait to hear how your cidar turns out. I'm also glad to hear you're going to attempt beer. I would like to try that one day too. 

So, let's talk disc golf. Can you answer the five W's for me? You know:


Who got you started in the sport?
What made you want to start throwing plastic?
When did you start?
Where did you first play?
Why play?

Most of my life I have lived in Alaska, and most of that time was spent in Juneau, AK. I had a few friends that had gotten into disc golf and talked about how much fun it was, but the truth is it took me a few months to take the step. 

After all how much fun could throwing a round chunk of plastic at a metal cage be, right? 

But my friends Nathen and Marshall really liked this sport they had just discovered and who doesn't like a walk in the woods with friends and beer? 

So, as for what made me start playing I think that is well covered that I just did it to hang out with good friends. This was in the summer of 2007 at Aant'iyeik Park (yeah try saying that) in Juneau, AK. At the time our first born was around seven-months old. 

My wife would carry her in a child backpack while playing.

Once we had to put her in a Marshall's normal school-style backpack as we didn't have the child pack. I can tell you that even though I really had no interest in playing the game before hand, the first break I took was 18 days later without missing one day. 

I think that my wife Charity missed one of those days. After that it was still around five days a week that we played. My second child is just a year younger then my first, so my wife was playing with one in the oven right up until the day before birth and wanted to play within a week after. I made her wait two weeks. 

Why play?

That may be one of the easier questions here. The sport is something that my wife and I love to do together, and the three girls (yes three now) like the walk and our seven-year-old girl is not too shabby. 

Disc golf is also healthy and keeps us in the great outdoors. I hurt my back doing what I grew up doing – construction work, like building homes and buildings, so where I am unable to do many of the sports like snowboarding that I love I can still play disc golf.

Alaska?! I can't wait to visit that state. Someone told my wife you can see bears walking through town once in awhile. Is that true? 

Yes. You see bears all the time. Mainly black bear around town. They love getting into the trash. I have chased off black bear many times – standing there on my front deck yelling at them from 10 feet away with my door open and ready to jump back inside. 

There was also one that hung out around the disc golf course in Juneau.

Did you ever play a round of night golf during the day?

We would leave to play disc golf in mid summer around 1 A.M. and it would be pretty much daylight out. In Juneau that does not last as long, but further up north, like Kenai, AK we would start at 3 A.M. and it was just like mid day! 

The family aspect of the sport is something I love too. My wife likes playing and now we're hoping our two-year-old daughter will want to play when she's older.

When did you leave Alaska?

I believe it was around 2008 or 2009 when we left Alaska. I would have to ask my wife on that. She is a little better about remembering dates and what not.

Picture from

Oh man. I bet you have some good stories to tell about your time in Alaska. 

So, let's talk eBay. Every once in a while I will see a Facebook post by you that reads something like this, "Got another 90 pounds of discs coming in this week." Or, "I just finished posting a million discs on eBay and now I'm going to drink wine and sit in my hot tub."

OK, I made that last one up, but I'm not far off. You have a huge selection of discs for sale. Did this seemingly simple activity go from spending time outdoors with your family and having a beer with friends to a full-blown plastic addiction?

What happened?

What made you want to start selling disc golf gear?

When I got into disc golf there was only one shop that sold discs. At the time they were selling DX for somewhere around $16-$18 and the price just went up from there. So getting into selling discs was a way to get discs cheaper for myself and for my friends, or anyone else I ran into at the disc golf course.  

I already sold stuff on eBay, so selling discs was the next step. At that time it was my hobby, now it's a small business, which in fact belongs to my wife along with the rest of Rip Disc Golf.... though it is still small and more like a hobby.

I've been on your eBay site and have seen all that you offer, but can you tell the readers of this blog about your inventory?

What will they find when they visit your online store?

As far as what they'll find, I guess thats best answered by just linking them there Among the large picks they'll find very good prices and even faster shipping time. 

The eBay store has most brand names, and what it does not have gets added when people start asking for them most of the time. That is often the way we hear about some of the small brands, just listening to what the consumers want.

I've thought about trying my hand at selling discs online, but I'm not sure I have the patience to be successful at it. How hard has it been to stay motivated and organized? 

Do you have any advice for people that are thinking about trying it?

Selling discs online can be slow and boring truth be told. At times it's listing up to 300 auctions at one time, then getting up every morning to make sure eBay shipping goes out on time – eBayers do not like to wait. Sometimes I think they want it the day before they ordered it. For the most part I have been able to keep them happy and maintain great feedback.

Three hundred auctions at one time?! That sounds painful. 

Do you have any fun facts about your operation? Like, is there a best selling disc or a worst selling disc?

I'm sure there are a few fun facts, but I'm not sure what they are. I'm not really sure what the best selling disc is, but of course the best selling brand is Innova. 

Over the past few years sales have started changing and other newer brands are taking more and more sales. I guess one fun fact is that the money from the discs sold on eBay goes right into making new molds for the Rip Disc Golf brand discs. So thank you to all the other brands for your help.

You know, all these questions are directed at you, but since you told me Rip belongs to your wife I'm wondering if she would want to answer some too. What are her responsibilities as owner?

My wife and I work together as a family unit, with the three girls and the part time job she works outside the home. We are both busy most of the time. For those of you out there that think the ladies have an easy job staying home with the kids.... think again! :) 

I am on disability. I had a big operation just over two years ago. With that being said I am not able to or allowed to work. So my wife works the company that I started. 

Based on the available item numbers next to each company name it looks like you have more Innova, Discraft, Lightning and Dynamic Discs products to sell. 

Your inventory of Lightning discs and bags surprised me. Why do you offer so many products of that company?

Lightning discs do not move too fast for me on eBay, but they offer a number of cheap bags and a handful of colors. I started with just a few. I noticed that they sold right away and so I ordered more and more. 

There are many new and many young golfers out there and these are pretty good starter bags.

Based on the same numbers I noticed that the categories, Legacy, Skyquest and MVP, have the fewest options. Why do you have so few Legacy and MVP products? Do you sell a lot of them and so you're running out of stock, or do people not ask for those often?

I love MVP discs, but I had a run in with one of the owners of the company and I just don't buy from them any more. Any MVP I have are sent over from other places. 

Legacy is a good selling brand and I just have to put in an order some time, just like with the other brands. There are so many discs out there and we try to carry as many as we can, but that can be hard to do. Also, like most disc golf stores, winter sales are much slower making it hard to keep up the normal stock. 

That's too bad about MVP. I'm sure you probably don't want to go into detail about the incident, but was the issue about ordering discs?

I do not want to get into the problems with MVP. They make an awesome disc – one that I had not heard of or seen until some time after I made my discs. 

MVP thinks they invented two part discs and own the idea. The first two part disc was from Quest AT Disc Golf. That's as far as I'll go on that matter. I'm sure now that Innova is making them they are not so worried about me.

I've discovered a disc I've never heard of while browsing through your store. What's the story on the Horizon Vulture disc? 

I do not know much about the makers of the Horizon brand discs other then they are molded by the first company I used to mold discs – Quest AT. 

I didn't want to bug you with many more questions, so I'd like to end this interview talking about your disc company Rip. Is the official name Rip Disc Golf, Rip or R.I.P., like Rest In Peace?

Marshall Street spells it like R.I.P. and that confused me because I always thought it was just Rip, like, "rip that disc booyyyyy!" 

Sorry, that was the 90's coming out of me for a second.

Tell me about Rip. What was your inspiration? Where did the name come from? 

The name is Rip Disc Golf. I have seen it as R.I.P many times. As I was at the local disc golf course in Dexter, OR there was a group of guys standing at the tee pad just yacking away. My group was waiting behind them so that we could start when one of the guys in the group standing at the tee said "Grip N Rip" lets go guys!!! I liked that enough to use it as my company name Rip Disc Golf.

I'm extremely interested in the process of making discs, but I know nothing about it. I think it's awesome that you went out and successfully made your own discs. Is it a process you would rather keep to yourself, or are you willing to walk me through your experience?

It's a long hard road and I would not want to give anything away :)

Why did you start making your own discs?

How did you design your first one? Was it a putter? Did you base the dimensions on any other disc?

I first wanted to start making discs to fill a need I saw. Many players had hard putters that did not grip the chains and when driving an up-shot they would skip 20 feet. Others had a super soft floppy disc, which was great for sticking to chains and not skipping on the up-shot, but the soft discs for me seemed like they were harder to hold and did not go where I wanted them to go. 

I wanted a putter that could have a soft rubber lip and a firm flight plate. At the time this had never been done to the best of my knowledge. Quest had a two part disc, but not the same idea and later I found out that MVP also was just starting to make an overmolded disc. Again MVP's discs are harder on the lip in order to bring the weight from the center of the disc, so still nothing like what I wanted to do. 

At this time the closest thing out there is Innova's new line Atlas and Nova. 

So I contacted Quest AT and started talking with them about making a new disc. Myself and the crew at Quest came up with a design, we did use a few other disc molds to get ideas at what I was looking for, but when all was said and done they are stand alone molds and have their own feel and look.

I just ordered my first Rip disc. I decided to buy your Ballistic driver. I told you on Facebook that I'm hoping to add video reviews on my blog and I would like to review Rip discs especially now since you're going through the process of remolding them with different plastic.

What does the future hold for Rip? I know you have a few sponsored players and I think you've sponsored tournaments too, right?

Will you make a full line of discs?

As for the future of Rip Disc Golf, I'll keep dreaming big and my wife Charity will keep pushing to make it grow. 

We ran into problems keeping the putters stocked. They had started selling fast and I have always got great feedback on them. The only bad feedback that I was getting was about the plastic being used for the flight plate being too hard. That was a problem we had been working on since day one but were having no luck working with Quest. 

Working with these new local molders have been great. They have everything needed to make this happen. We might be adding a third putter to the line up as well. 

So the line up will have three putters. The Graboide, which is over stable, the Relic, which is stable, and the new un-named putter being under stable – along with our high speed driver the Ballistic.

Next Rip Disc Golf will be making two new over molded mid-ranges. Looking again for an over stable and slightly under stable mid driver. This is unknown as to when this is going to happen as we just had all molds remade and the cost of making molds is very high.

I'll be launching a new website as well sometime this coming spring/summer.

Skipper, I'm going to end this interview here and I want to thank you so much for participating. I hope it wasn't too annoying for you. I wish you and your family well and I'm looking forward to watching what's in store for Rip in 2014. Happy New Year.

Wait.. one more question. 

How has disc golf affected your life?

That's kind of a hard question to answer as disc golf has changed my life a great deal. Disc golf has always been a positive thing in my life. When I was feeling down and having a hard time learning to deal with my injury, sometimes just getting out and playing was one of the best things for me.

For my wife and I, disc golf is something that we both enjoy and something that we can do as a family. My three daughters enjoy walking along and from time to time throwing a disc.

As I messed up my back a few years ago and two years ago had back surgery I can not do many of the things I enjoy in life, such as most sports, fishing hunting and on and on – but I can still play disc golf. I enjoy the game and it helps keep me outdoors and fit. We have played in a number of places. We always meet new people and make new friends that we otherwise would have never had the chance to meet.

Thanks for reading.

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