By Steve Hill — Rattling Chains staff
Ah, Halloween – the one day of the year where tradition and inhibition take a holiday and let exhibition and fright run amok.
In disc golf, which is already an industry that veers away from convention more often than not on a daily basis, it is an opportunity for both manufacturers and retailers to step outside of their usual routine and add a little flourish with unique holiday stamps encompassing both the aforementioned tradition and exhibition.
Take, for example, Innova Champion Discs and its annual pumpkin discs. Each year, the company releases jack-o-lantern-stamped DX Aviars, DX Rocs, and other assorted molds that give golfers a fun way to ring in the season.
The idea was born out of simple fun and spontaneity, according to the discs’ creator.
“I believe it was 1997, and I was a hot stamper at the time,” said Russell Schwarz, director of special projects for Innova’s east coast office. “I was stamping some orange Aviars, and off the top of my head I went, ‘Hey, I could put a pumpkin face on these things and it would look like a jack-o-lantern.”
Schwarz took the idea to his boss, received the green light for the project and designed the inaugural pumpkin stamp. But it wasn’t something that was a big deal at the time.
“I drew it about 25 times to make it look like a little kid drew it and I made a stamp,” Schwarz recalled. “We stamped, oh, I don’t know, 100, 150 of them? It wasn’t anything formal, we just did it and we sold them. That was all there was to it.”
Jump ahead a decade and a half, and pumpkin-stamped Aviars are a yearly staple for Innova that customers look forward to.
“We have people calling us, somewhere around the first part of September, saying ‘Are you going to put out pumpkins this year?’” Schwarz said.
While Innova’s designs cater to those seeking a time-honored look, disc golfers wanting an edgier feel can go to online retailer Disc Nation, now in its fifth year of producing Halloween-inspired stamps.
Zachary Kelbaugh, Disc Nation’s marketing manager and in-house artist, has been conjuring the company’s designs since their second iteration in 2009. For him, Halloween is a chance to challenge the boundaries of what is commonly acceptable on a disc.
“Halloween is about being shocked a little bit, (being) a little bit scary,” he said. “It’s the day of the year where the rules are a little bit different. It’s a campy holiday and as long as it’s all in fun, I think it’s the one instance in a retail stance that you would want to push the envelope.”
Case in point: Disc Nation’s 2011 Halloween stamp, which featured a buxom vampiress licking a disc.
“This one said loud and clear, we’re expanding the traditional idea of a Halloween stamp,” Kelbaugh reflected. “It’s way more over the top than anyone would expect from us, so it was sort of like a costume.”
This year, Kelbaugh brought the obsession many have with disc golf straight to the stamp with his Chains for Brains design.
“Chains for Brains was an attempt to truly relate the Halloween concept to disc golf,” Kelbaugh said. “It was one of those ideas that fell from the sky and felt obvious. We actually had a completed stamp based on another concept, and this new idea just blew it away.”
As both Disc Nation and Innova continue to bring intriguing ideas to the fold each fall, the conundrum of which discs on which to display their creations is an exercise in appealing to the masses.
“Sometimes people aren’t interested in something and we say, ‘Well let’s try it with the pumpkins and see if we can get them to try the disc,’ because the disc is awesome,” Schwarz said. “You know, marketing is weird. People won’t like a disc because they don’t like the name. It has nothing to do with the way the thing flies or anything else.”
Kelbaugh said that for an online retailer with a broad customer base, their disc choices try to reach those looking for inexpensive throwers and wall-hangers alike.
“What we are looking for is mainly fun stuff,” Kelbaugh said. “We try to make a range of price points, and a couple things that are going to be just stunning to some people.”
He pointed to this year’s double foil Omega SuperSoft as one that has garnered a great amount of attention, resulting in more than one run of the discs being produced.
“By the time we listed them, they were pretty much gone,” he said.
And with Halloween coming only once a year, Schwarz has seen a collector market develop for his companies’ creations.
“I think over time people are throwing them, but because we only do it once a year, and we never repeat it, a lot of people have collections of them,” Schwarz said of Innova’s pumpkins. “I’ve had several people offer to buy my collection off of me, and I went, ‘Are you crazy?’”
Similarly, Kelbaugh understands the value in keeping the supply of Halloween discs to a healthy minimum.
“We try to go for a pretty limited edition,” he said. “One of the cool things about them is that they aren’t flooding the market. Some stuff we do want a greater saturation of and want it to be easy to get, but there’s definitely some scarcity that makes it cooler.”
But even if players acquire a smattering of ghoulish discs from various suppliers as the time goes on – and they can add another to the list, with Legacy Discs releasing a Halloween-stamped Ghost mid-range this year – Kelbaugh said he sees a kind of unity among all of them, regardless of the source.
“Any Halloween disc, really, fits into a collection,” he said. “I think that’s one of the cool things about Halloween stamps from different manufacturers. They all fit into a set.”
And for both artists, Halloween discs come down to one simple ideal – enjoyment of the season.
“It’s always been one of my very favorite things that we do,” Schwarz said.
Kelbaugh echoed that sentiment.
“It’s the most fun item that we make all year,” he said. “It’s for a wide range of people. It’s not about the actual disc, it’s about the time.”
Steve Hill is the associate editor for Rattling Chains. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @OneMileMore.