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David Wiggins Jr: Throw for Dough

By Baker Helton

Written by: Denis Flaschner

In the public imagination, disc golf is often associated with crushing beers just as much as crushing discs. For decades the sport was more likely to conjure images of hippies partying in the woods than vigorous training or elite athleticism. 

From 2005-2015, David Wiggins Jr. led a new generation of players who shattered this perception. Through clips and videos scattered across the rapidly evolving internet landscape, his singular throwing style revealed what happens when you channel natural talent, focused practice and premier athleticism into a game that had long been thought of as just hucking plastic in the woods. 

His 360 maximum distance throw remains an athletic display befitting of an Olympic arena, and while we won’t be seeing the sport on that stage anytime soon, for now we have disc golf equivalent: Maple Hill Disc Golf Course in Leicester, Massachusetts. 

In 2015, he uncorked the sort of drive on hole 11 that captures the imagination and makes you wonder what is possible in our sport. While there are plenty of players out there who throw 360’s, Wiggins’ is in a class of its own. 

To begin he reaches the disc way behind his back, turning his torso against his forward momentum and pulling his eyes backwards. Completely blind for the remainder of the throw, a decade of accumulated muscle memory takes over. Thousands of reps, from the time he was a carefree four year old in High Point, North Carolina, are built into this throw.

In a move reminiscent of fellow New Orleanian Zion Willamson spinning through the lane and loading up for a dunk, Wiggins’ light footwork carries him into a dramatic hop-spin, where he hangs and rotates in mid-air for a brief moment. 

A light push-pivot on the left toe redirects his accumulated energy across the teepad and into the plant foot where, in super slow-mo, you can see energy ripple from the ground up as his body uncoils. 

The disc – which to this point has hovered loosely in the same spot as his body danced ahead – shoots forward with such rapid acceleration that it becomes invisible to the naked eye. His arm snaps across his body so fast it disappears. 

Once pulled through this shadow realm, the disc takes a towering ascent, and Wiggins emits a guttural grunt that accompanies his full body follow through. When the disc banks at an impossibly steep angle and pans across the sky, the astonished crowd emits a visceral reaction of their own, whooping and hollering in disbelief. 

They’ve witnessed a throw they’ve never seen before and may never see again. This is the David Wiggins Show, and it’s certainly worth the price of admission.

Not long after this tournament at Maple Hill, on the verge of entering his athletic prime, Wiggins walked away from the sport and left us all wondering, whatever happened to the longest thrower the sport has ever seen?

Like many of the biggest arms in the game, Wiggins was introduced to slinging discs at a young age. When his family moved to High Point, they had no idea the area happened to be a disc golf hotbed. 

His father soon stumbled upon a course in the neighborhood and put a disc in his 4-year-old son’s hands. As Wiggins says, it wasn’t long before what started as a fun way to “run some energy out of me,” turned into a “huge, monumental part of my life.” 

It was a combination of his father’s mentorship and the encouragement of the local community that put Wiggins on the path to world records and junior championship titles. North Carolina’s vibrant disc golf scene served as the perfect incubator for the future pro. Once they joined the local club, other players immediately took notice of the young gun. 

“They pushed us in a direction of the competitive aspect of the sport, looking into distance records and looking into the junior division. So that spurred the thought of maybe I should start going to compete in junior events.”

While it’s common to see young players ascending the ranks these days, 15 years ago the path towards the pro level was far less clear. When Wiggins competed in his first Junior World Championships in 2004, there were only 80 total players. Last year’s event saw 251 competitors, along with daily recaps published on YouTube. The sport was proportionally smaller at the local level as well. 

“Back then, 15 years ago, it was a lot tighter community than it is now, so you saw all the same people every weekend going to the tournaments. It wasn’t like they filled up in 10 minutes.” 

With a camper van, the father-son duo started traveling to events and soon became staples on the North Carolina scene. While there were few kids his age to compare himself to, it became immediately apparent to his adult competitors that Wiggins had unique arm talent. 

“A couple people in my club and my dad looked up the world record and they were like, ‘This kid has a shot at it.’” With some practice, Wiggins set the distance record for 9 year olds at 343 feet using his conventional backhand throw. Then he was introduced to the 360 technique.

“I noticed Dave Glistrap – who was in the Oak Hollow Disc Golf Club – I saw him throw a 360 and I was like that’s the coolest thing, I’m gonna learn how to do that.” 

Wiggins honed his 360 technique into what it looks like today, setting multiple age protected records before breaking the overall world record of 836 feet when he was 16 years old. After crush boy Simon Lizotte pushed the mark out to 864 feet a few years later, Wiggins hit the gym and trained for distance again, ultimately reclaiming the title with an 1108.9 foot throw in 2016.

When watching his world record throw, naysayers note the ripping wind and try to diminish the accomplishment. But in the context of the Wiggins story, it is a culmination of nearly a decade of focused practice. Nobody is rolling off the couch, tossing a driver up in a tailwind and seeing it clear nearly four football fields. 

“You hear a lot of talk about ‘Oh, I can just go out in a hurricane and break the record’” Wiggins said. “But it’s a lot more complicated than that.” 

The World Flying Disc Federation maintains strict rules regarding what qualifies for a world record. While the blustery conditions in the desert flats of Primm, Nevada are optimal for generating maximum distance, there is no way to predict how the wind will blow on the date of the competition: “You cross your fingers and hope you’re gonna get decent wind, clear skies, and go from there.” 

If there is any doubt Wiggins is the distance king, note that he also outdueled an in-his-distance-prime Lizotte on that fateful day in 2016. Simon was only able to manage a meager 1030 feet on his best throw. 

But it takes more than just a big arm to win tournaments, and while he was setting world records Wiggins was also proving he was the total package. From 2004 through 2008, Wiggins absolutely dominated the Junior division, earning five consecutive World titles. After coming in a close second at 2009 Amateur Worlds, he crushed the field in 2010, winning by 29 strokes and solidifying his place as one of the greatest amateur players of all time.

“I like showing people that I’m not just out there throwing far shots,” Wiggins said. “I can play the game.” 

The following year he played exclusively in MPO, and at just sixteen years old finished an impressive 11th at PDGA Worlds at Delaveaga, Santa Cruz, a course that is well known for favoring finesse and consistency over distance and power. The final standings for that event is stacked with household names, with Wiggins finishing ahead of future champions Paul McBeth, Ricky Wysocki and Gregg Barby.

By the time he finished high school in 2014, Wiggins was already sponsored by Innova discs and about to enter his athletic prime. Sporting the resume of a future hall of famer, he was poised for superstardom. But back then, disc golf superstardom still meant pooling a few thousand dollars with friends Jeremy Koling and Josh Moody to take an uninterrupted 34-hour cross-country trek to Las Vegas. 

“The three of us pitched in, bought a $2000 Ford Windstar minivan, and we took that thing from North Carolina all the way to Vegas,” Wiggins said. “It was the segue way from weekend warrior to being on tour.” 

Wiggins took his year on the road, and did relatively well for himself on tour. He even took his game worldwide, competing in the Japan Open and European Masters. But like all aspiring champions, he was confronted with a choice: fully commit to grinding out a living playing the sport he loves, or put the bag down and take a different path. 

Despite being near the top of the game, being a pro still meant living a precarious lifestyle, hopping from tournament to tournament with no guarantee of long term stability. And most importantly for Wiggins, it meant sacrificing the ability to pursue his other dreams. To compete at the highest level, you cannot have it both ways. 

“Boats and the water have always been a big part of my life ever since I was a little kid,” he said. “It was always disc golf and fishing, disc golf and going on the boat. I knew that at some point I wanted to pursue that as well.” 

Wiggins went to welding school at a technical college, built a boat when he was 18, and ultimately chose to leave disc golf behind. He took his talents to New Orleans and enrolled in an intensive naval engineering program. After being “100% focused” on school until he graduated, Wiggins is just now getting reacquainted with the new disc golf landscape. This begs the question: if the current iteration of the DGPT existed back when he was on tour, would his decision have been different?

“It definitely would have been more of a conversation,” Wiggins said. “But, that’s a tough question because I still love what I’m doing right now.”

Wiggins works as a marine surveyor, spending his days on the Mississippi River doing condition surveys of cargo ships and living what he calls “the water life.” He works odd hours and comes home to his tugboat-turned-houseboat in South Shore Harbor Marina.

“It takes a certain type of person to be attracted to [the houseboat] lifestyle,” he said. “You meet a lot of really interesting people, a lot of people that think outside the box. That ends up giving you this really unique, cool culture.” 

When he first moved to New Orleans, Wiggins lived in a college dorm with 3 roommates, a situation he says, “just wasn’t for me.”  He moved onto a boat after his freshman year and fell in love with the easy-going people that populate the harbor communities. The relaxed atmosphere of the classic New Orleans crawfish boil reflects the homey vibes that make the water life so attractive.

“When the weekend rolls around and you hear some commotion or some music coming from a boat, people just start migrating towards it,” he said. “When the music’s playin’ and the crawfish are boilin’, it’s a real community style hangout.”

A marina is about as far away as you can get from a disc golf course. But in spirit, Wiggins clearly hasn’t strayed from his cultural roots. He simply traded the fringe disc golf community of High Point for the “outside the box” community of South Shore Harbor. He went from living out of a van and playing a niche sport to living on a boat and maintaining a niche lifestyle. 

The half-athlete half-vagabond spirit of disc golf is in his bones. Still in his athletic prime, the idea of making a comeback is certainly possible. 

“It’s a lot of effort and commitment, and I think I’m capable of it,” he said. “But I just gotta make that decision and we’ll see what happens.”

He’s still built like a tank, still has touch around the basket, and still shows off the freakish power encoded in his disc golf DNA. At his apex, Wiggins’ unique combination of lithe grace and raw power pushed the boundaries of what is physically possible with a disc. For the past 6 years, disc golf’s growing fanbase has been deprived of his kinetic artistry. 

Yet, on the right day at City Park Disc Golf Course in New Orleans, a select few still bear witness to the reigning distance king. Nestled amongst the largest growth of old age oaks in the world, the locals have a front row seat to the Wiggins show. With a little luck, we may soon be joining them.