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Frisbee form is all in this family

Brothers are among the world's best in the sport of Freestyle

Brothers Jake and Matt Gauthier spend their free time jamming at Reed College, Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Washington Park and other venues. But they're not sitting behind drum sets or holding guitars.

Jake, who lives in Hillsboro, and Matt, of Oregon City, are athletes Ñ and champions Ñ in the obscure sport of Freestyle Frisbee.

'The word 'jamming' in Freestyle has the same meaning as in music,' Matt Gauthier says. 'When you go to a music jam, everybody is just doing random things and seeing what happens. Freestyle is the same. You just go out and make what you make. That's when the magic happens.'

While players jam for fun or practice, the goal is to develop challenging routines. In competition, Freestylers perform Frisbee routines set to music. Judges evaluate the difficulty, execution and presentation of the performances to determine the winners.

Though Freestyle has maintained a steady cult following since the early 1970s, devotees have struggled to bring it into the mainstream. Jake and Matt are eager to change that situation. They run a Freestyle Web site (heinsville.com) that provides basic information on how to get involved, as well as links to other Freestyle resources.

Jake is ranked 14th in the world in Freestyle Frisbee, Matt 16th.

'Jake and Matt are the future of our sport,' says Paul Kenny, executive director of the San Diego-based Freestyle Players Association. 'Heck, they are the present of our sport. Their energy and vibe have made them ready to win world titles, their game is that complete and fun to watch.'

Born and raised in Santa Rosa, Calif., 28-year-old Jake moved to the Portland area in August 1999. Matt, 24, came from Santa Rosa in May 2001 for the sole purpose of getting in more jam time with Jake.

'I was surpassing the level of the players (back home), and I wanted to play with someone at a higher level,' Matt says.

Jake was introduced to Freestyle by a co-worker in 1995. 'He finally talked me into it,' Jake says. 'And as soon as (the Frisbee) hit my finger, it spun around and around. I've never been able to stop.'

Matt saw a Freestyle demonstration at his school when he was in the fifth grade. He was immediately intrigued but struggled to learn the moves and soon gave up.

Seven years later, in 1996, Jake talked him into giving it another shot, and he's been at it ever since.

Jake and Matt are the only active players in the Portland area (there used to be three others). However, they frequently jam and compete with a group from Seattle, which boasts 10 active players and shares the title of Freestyle Mecca with San Diego.

'That's a lot for one city,' Jake says.

The public perception of Freestyle, Jake and Matt say, is nothing more than the tossing of a plastic flying disk. But to them, and thousands of other participants around the world, Freestyle is an honest-to-goodness sport that requires as much skill and determination as any of the so-called extreme sports.

Freestyle Frisbee requires lots of running and kicking. Certain moves have self-explanatory names, like 'behind-the-back.'

The most essential of all Freestyle moves is the 'nail delay.' This involves spinning the Frisbee on the fingernail before catching. Players even wear special acrylic nails on their index fingers to aid them in the spinning.

'It's the basis for all the advanced throwing and catching,' Jake says.

Other essential moves include 'air brushing,' a technique that keeps the Frisbee spinning by hitting the rim repeatedly, and the 'body roll,' in which players roll the Frisbee across their arms and chest while holding their arms out and leaning back, looking toward the sky.

In 1999, Jake was seventh at the World Championships with another partner, knocking out veteran Freestyle champ Dave Schiller, who ranks sixth in the world.

With Matt as his partner, Jake again placed seventh in the 2000 World Championships. In 2001, they took home fourth place. In 2002, they dropped back to seventh, but Jake finished first in every division at the 2002 Boston Wintertime Open.

In mid-July, the pair will compete as a team at the 2003 World Disc Games in Santa Cruz, Calif. In September, Jake will be in Rimini, Italy, to compete in the Freestyle Players Association World Championships with Randy Silvey, a Seattle player who is ranked ninth in the world.

'My goal is to win but also to perform well,' Jake says. 'If I remember my routine and do well, I'll be happy.'