Happy Friday, fixed folk. As I’m sure you’re aware, we are just a few days away from that merriest time of year (no, not Arbor Day): Worlds!!! Say what you will about Orlando, Prague, dance parties, etc. All drama, geography, and pageantry aside, Worlds is the time of year when the best and friendliest in the world meet up to throw down. It’s the best.
I have never been much of a contest player. I mean, I’ve competed in contests, and I did alright once or twice, but I’ve never really understood it. As such, I completely agree that I’m unqualified to talk about what a good (much less a “winning”) freestyle should be composed of. My lack of competitive-savvy is probably directly tied to what I love about the annual Fixed Axle Championship of All the World (as Drew discussed last week). It’s judged by your fellow “competitors”, all of whom are as stoked to watch their friends nail a trick as they are to pull off a banger themselves. It’s based on randomly-selected criteria. And, as a 3-try best trick-off, it’s generally much easier to quantify than your average freestyle.
However, for the first time ever this year, the final round of the contest will consist of a freestyle. This allows whoever has made it to the end to really show a chunk of their style in a performance context.
If you’re any kind of yo-yo player, you have to be able to show off your tricks. You have to be able to perform. Otherwise, your experience will be limited to exploring the mysteries of string geometry in your room. And sure, that’s valuable, but the other side of that coin, expressing your joy for the art to an audience, is equally valuable and can serve to inform your more inward “progressive” playing, too. Not all performance is competitive – it just seems that way in yo-yoing sometimes. Fixed axle freestyles are becoming more and more of a “thing” these days. At least 5 large contests (besides Worlds) of which I am aware have had a Fixed Axle division in the last year, and most of those were based on freestyles. Although the word “freestyle” is an amusing misnomer (usually being composed of carefully selected tricks), it’s still worthwhile to develop a sense for how you might put tricks together in 1-, 2-, or even 3-minute chunks. We’ve all seen dozens (if not hundreds) of modern freestyles, but fixed axle represents some interesting obstacles.
For one, most of the fixed tricks we delight in are pretty hard and decidedly low-percentage. I’m certainly not suggesting that Mickey, Marcus, and Chris have easy tricks, but I find it much easier to throw together a sequence of my own “unresponsive string-tricks” which I am likely to hit than my own “fixed axle tricks”. I bet the world champ would say the same thing. You might hit that cross-armed kickflip suicide just one in ten tries, but MAN it feels amazing when you do. That said, no one wants to see you miss 9 times on stage. The difficulty is just inherent to the medium (it’s probably why you love it enough to read this drivel).
The rhythm of fixed axle yo-yoing is also totally different from mainstream contest play. Today’s modern metals have the angular momentum-to-drag coefficient ratio to blast through minute-long combos, even without a regen. By contrast, a “long” fixed axle trick takes about 10 seconds. But, since stalls are so utterly endemic to progressive fixed axle, it’s much easier for me to see tricks linked into organic wholes. Also, take a look back at some of the past 30-odd episodes. What percent of the tricks have been repeaters? 50? The natural tendency toward stall-regen repeaters also makes it easier to plan and link combos.
I approach the idea of a fixed axle freestyle the same way I approach any other performance. It should consist of tricks which I can hit consistently. The tricks should be organized so that they flow together relatively seamlessly. The material should be original. And it should be fun to watch.
… That’s a pretty tall order, and I certainly fail to live up to it in a few parts of my vid this week. First of all, it’s worth noting that this freestyle leaves out a few tricks which I would probably throw in near the end. 1.) I want to reserve some interesting stuff for Worlds and 2.) Most of that stuff is hit-or-miss. The vast majority of the tricks I put together this week are elements which, independently, I can hit very consistently (say 4 out of 5 times). Even so, having a 2-minute freestyle composed of tricks you’re 80% likely to hit is still VERY dicey, and as you’ll note, I have some misses (notably on Dali Winshield Wipers and that last Under-Moon Tough Love Lunar).
I tend to front-load my freestyles a bit. That is to say, the first minute is generally tougher than the second (or third). As I said before though, none of this video is really very hard at all. It’s when you put it into a fluid context and take away stops that it becomes challenging. This hypothetical FS starts with a snap-to-cross-1.5. I like that initial move because I have it down pat and it’s kind of unique. Most freestyles don’t begin with the yo-yo unwound. After that is a little Zipper-Stall/Milk-the-Truck combo ending in a stall GT. Next I get into some Lunar/Crash Landing stuff. This can be pretty inconsistent, even if you do them all the time. It doesn’t take much to send a Shoot-the-Moon off a centimeter, which is the difference between a catch and a miss.
It’s a good time to talk about yo-yo’s. You’ll note that I’m using a Duncan Profly this time. Fixed axle yo-yo’s are SO varied in terms of what they can do, and you really have to think about the character of the freestyle you’re attempting before selecting one. TMBR’s are some of my favorite fixed axles out there, but I know I would have a harder time connecting a lot of these tricks together with one. They spin way longer and stall fine, but I tend to lose a little juice on my regens with the thin axles and wider gaps. If I was going for a freestyle full of longer, 1a-style fixed axle tricks, you can bet my EH, Lovejoy, or Irving Pro would be the call. It might also be reasonable to switch yo-yo’s mid-stream, planning your long-spin tricks near the end (and suffering the deduction associated with a switch-out).
Anyway, fter that Moon combo, I start to get into the meat of the FS, which is basically a series of sidestyle elements. In order, I go from some Stop-N-Go/Stop-N-Pops into some Dumptrucks (yes, these are Drew’s and yes, they go against what I said about originality – whatever, I like going to that 2.0), then Salvador Dali Windshield Wipers, a little 1-hand repeater I call Yin-Yang, some Radial Nerve Bonks, and finally some Instabucket stalls. That’s functionally the end of my plan. As I said earlier, I’m definitely withholding a few tricks, which will hopefully account for the extra 20 seconds. I generally have a tough time planning an ending to my freestyles, to their detriment. If I hit what I have planned in the first 1:40, the last :20 will typically consist of a few harder tricks which, if I make them, will leave an impression. Unfortunately, they also make an impression when I don’t.
Competition at the FACoAtW this year will not be “fierce”, but it will be tight. Getting into that final freestyle round would be awesome, but there are a lot of guys on equal ground right now. The inherent inconsistency of the fixed axle medium makes the whole event a wonderful toss-up, and I can’t wait.
Note that since Drew and I will both be at Worlds, there will probably not be any kind of organized FF column next week. However, you should definitely tune into the live feed on Saturday at 3:00pm, as that when the FACoAtW takes place on the main stage. The up-side to no column next week is that we will probably collect enough footage for several weeks of FF dissection/discussion! If you’re going to be in attendance and want desperately to shred your stuff on stage, talk to me or Drew at Worlds and we’ll see if we can get you in there. Actually, talk to me anyway because I’d love to meet you.
Hook us up with any nuggets of wisdom you’ve accrued in planning fixed axle freestyles in the comments!