World YoYo Champion Gentry Stein continues to serve as one of our leading ambassadors for the sport/hobby with this great feature on Wired.com. Great work bringing yoyoing to the masses…thanks to Gentry and to producer Patrick Farrell for this great piece!
PopCast #20 – Steve Brown Opens Up
Doc Pop presents another episode of his vlog, PopCast, and this one features….me! Which is super weird for me to post but people seem to be digging it so I figured I would share. Enjoy this conversation that Doc and I had at 3 am after being up for 48 hours straight.
PopCast #15 – Ed Haponik Interview
Doc Pop sits down with fixed axle evangelist Edward Van Haponik and talks about modern fixed axle play, trick theory, his new Bandalores project with Drew Tetz, and why he and Drew totally bombed out on Fixed Axle Friday here at YoYoNews (we miss you, come back).
Scales Podcast – Tressley Cahill Interview
The Scales Collection dropped a new episode of their podcast, and this one features a rowdy interview with the infallibly wonderful Tressley Cahill. Tressley is a well-known mid-school yoyo player from the East Coast, as well as an accomplished graphic and UX designer, drummer, and 2014 winner of the “Best Smile In Skinny Jeans” award from someone who was looking over my shoulder at a photo of him on Facebook one time. He’s responsible for tons of artwork in the yoyo industry, including logos for two projects that are near and dear to me: 365yoyotricks.com and PurpleYoYo.org. Dig in and enjoy!
Scales Podcast is sponsored by YoYoExpert.
The Wind Up – Arata Imai
Popular yoyo contest emcee Cheng interviews a lot of players on his YouTube channel, The Wind Up, and the latest is rising star Arata Imai. Check out this interview, and then subscribe to Cheng’s YouTube channel to make sure you catch the other two parts when they’re uploaded.
Scales Podcast Ep. 5 – Save Deth
The Scales Collective is at it again with another podcast that brings an influential force in the yoyo industry to the front. Seth Peterson talks with Keiran Cooper and Patrick Canny about Save Deth, the first lifestyle brand in the yoyo industry and a huge creative force in the “mid school” period just after the Hyper YoYo boom died out.
Seth Peterson is one of the most influential yo-yo players of all time, but unlike most, it’s for more than just his tricks.
Seth led a very inspiring yo-yo movement called Save Deth, in which he had travelled with Dave Poyzer all over the United States and filmed amazing yo-yo content, whether it be at contests or just in a casual scene. On top of this, Seth’s attention to design and detail in all aspects such as clothing and content is something that lots of people worldwide learned and stemmed off of. To call him an innovator is an understatement; he is a pioneer.
Interview by Keiran Cooper and Patrick Canny
Introduction by Mark Mangarin
Scales Podcast – Episode 2 & 3
The Scales Podcast is quickly shaping up to be a great resource for yoyo players to dig deeper into the intricacies of this glorious little subculture we’ve created for ourselves. Check out two new episodes!
In episode 2 of the Scales Podcast, team members Andrew Bergen and Mark Mangarin interview one of the industry’s most intelligent minds in the realm of social media, team management, and design; Chris Mikulin! Some topics that are mentioned in this feature are future plans for Caribou Lodge, sub-brands of CLYW such as Heaven Sent and Pool Party, Basecamp, and more!
For new players, sponsorship can be seen as one of the most daunting and confusing aspects of yo-yo. Scales team members Andrew Bergen and Mark Mangarin reflect upon their experiences as sponsored players, talk about what they feel as though the true definition of being sponsored is, as well as even give prime examples of great representatives of this generation. Give Episode 3 of the podcast a listen in order to enhance your perspective of what being sponsored really means! Thank you to our sponsors: YoYoExpert, Caribou Lodge, and Recess International!
Ben Conde Interview
Ben Conde turned up on Interviews By Riley, a series where young entrepreneurs sit down and run their mouths about whatever their deal is. The interviews are pretty good, and of course Ben Conde’s is the best because we all know that Ben Conde is the best.
Well, 4th best. In 2011.
This interview is a great peek into the mind of someone who has transcended our little scene and is using his experience in yoyoing to push into larger success out in the real world. There’s a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from this, as long as you aren’t sad because someone said “f*ck”. If that makes you sad, just watch Ben’s routine below and skip the interview entirely. Everyone wins.
Check out an excerpt of the interview below, and then click through for the whole thing.
BEN CONDE: My name is Ben Conde, I went to DePaul University with Riley in Chicago and after I graduated I moved out to LA to learn about the entertainment industry. Now I’m traveling around the world and performing yo-yo. I’m a professional yo-yo player.
RM: You’ve been a world class yo-yo player for a long time, but last I heard you had a full time job. How did you get to taking it full time?
BEN: I’ve been playing yo-yo from when I was 4 years old, I got really damn good, competing, performing and being sponsored by brands. Yo-yo has became part of my lifestyle, and once I grew out of competing, I wanted to understand how to position myself in the market.
I always valued the idea of pursuing a life you wouldn’t regret, as cliche as that sounds, and ever since I discovered a lifestyle of not being afraid to go after what you want and living each day like it could be your last, [I’ve thought,] “Why not go after a life that makes you happy?” To me, that means impacting others and feeling like I’m helping them.
Moving out to LA, the idea was to learn about how I could bring yo-yo into the entertainment industry. The entertainment industry impacts the entire world, so the plan is, I go out to where the entertainment industry is and I see where my expertise fits in.
RM: What do you mean when you say you grew out of competing?
BEN: Once you hit a certain level, putting in all these hours in and reaching a high ranking in the world, you understand what it feels like to be [at the top] and that drive to compete and try to win starts to go away because the feeling just gets repetitive.
Like, no matter whether you get 1st or 4th place, in reality you only really matter to the yo-yo community.
Maybe you’ll catch a break here or there, but you’re really not affecting society that much because a yo-yo is just a toy to society. So that started to get me to rethink, “How could I contribute [to society] and satisfy my creative self through yo-yo?” I ultimately turned to Youtube. I understand how to video edit, I understand marketing and that’s basically what Youtube is. If you can market your channel — people will watch.
Scales Podcast Episode 1: An Extremist for Tech
The Scales Collective bring us a new yoyo-related podcast called Scales, and it’s off to a solid start. The Scales Collective is made up of Andrew Bergen, Andrew Maider, Colin Beckford, Dennis Cinquegrani, Ethan Cheung, Keiran Cooper, Mark Mangarin, Patrick Canny, and Zafran Aqil.
If you’ve ever spent even a few minutes talking to Bergy or Mark or any of the rest of the Scales crew about yoyoing then you know those guys are some of the most thoughtful yoyo players in the scene, with perspective beyond their years and a desire to move the scene forward.
Episode 1 finds Bergy sitting down with Nehemiah Peterson, a self-described “tech innovator” who is passionate about the more technical aspects of modern yoyoing.
Interview – 2014 WYYC AP Champion Spination
(This interview appears courtesy of the 2015 World YoYo Contest.)
T: TOMMY (aka Tomiyuki Watanabe)
S: SOUL (aka Yu Kawada)
Q1. When did you start playing yo-yo?
T: In August of 1997.
S: I don’t remember well, but probably around the spring of 1997.
Q2. Why did you start playing yo-yo?
T: A manga called “Moero Spinner” [something like “Burn up Spinner” in English] was being published in Coro Coro Comic magazine and I saw it and thought it was “Cool!”
S: For some reason or another, I picked up a yo-yo from the display on the right-hand side near the entrance of a toy store. That was the beginning.
Q3. Who are some of the yo-yo players you respect/admire/look up to?
T: Yu Kawada – He was the reason the AP Division was established, and he is the only one I will go to for an opinion about my yo-yo performance [and vice versa].
Hironori Mii – He was the person who got me to participate in the World Contest [for the first time] and I wouldn’t be who I am now without him.
Hiroyuki Suzuki – Even while the younger generation keeps moving up, he’s still fighting at the top, and the cleanness of his tricks is on another level.
Takuma Yamamoto & Tsubasa Onishi – I watch their freestyles and think they’re really incredible. Their attitude is like an athlete’s.
S: TOMMY – There is no one who surpasses his ability to express with a yo-yo.
Hiroyuki Suzuki, Kengo Kido, Atsushi Yamada – As well as being yo-yo players, they all have started their own brands and stand out as leaders [in the yo-yo world].
Q4. What made you two come together to form SPINATION?
T: In 2012 I was planning a performance project and I invited Yu and we performed together. After that [we realized] we are both World Champions and are both mainstays of the AP Division! If we join forces we can’t lose!! Then, not only just at Worlds, we started doing real theater and other performances [together].
S: I hadn’t entered the World Contest since 2006, but I began to have some strong feelings about the AP Division itself. The feeling of wanting to enter the AP Division began to overflow [in me]. However, I also felt like there was a limit to what I could accomplish as a solo act.
In my thinking, the power of expression and the number of things one can do can increase with the number of people participating. I came to the conclusion that for yo-yo and the AP Division to get on the same level as other entertainment fields, it was necessary to form a team of high level players and make an attempt at something bigger.
It was there that [I decided] to join up with TOMMY, someone who had been away from the yo-yo world for a while and was working as a professional in the entertainment world, but who had the same high level of thinking [about AP as I did]. SPINATION was formed with the goal of broadening the possibilities of yo-yo and moving closer to first-class entertainment.
Q5. Usually, what kind of performance activity do you do as SPINATION?
T: For the most part, our main focus is on domestic street performance festivals. We also do performances at other types of events. From now on we are also proactively working toward developing theater stage shows.
Q6. I would imagine that there might be some difficulties with practicing together. Can you tell us about some of your experiences?
T: The most difficult thing is that our practice time together is very limited. We are based in Aichi [Prefecture] and Tokyo so it is fairly hard for the two of us to make enough time. In order to practice together, one of us has to travel to where the other is, so the journey itself is rough. Haha…
S: Creating a performance that both of us can be satisfied with is difficult. Together, we have a strong mutual understanding so things often go smoothly, however we don’t always agree on things like choreography, tricks used, or the direction [of an idea]. Thus, doing something new is a difficult process, but we do our best to have confidence in performing each [show] we have produced.
Q7. Do you have any good stories from last year, before you became world champions, that you want to share with us?
T: First of all, last year we had a fairly hard time deciding on our music. We had decided the theme and image [we were going for] first, but neither of us came across the right music and practicing [under those circumstances] was rough… We practiced hard like that for three weeks, but at the end both of us thought,”We can’t win with this so let’s scrap the whole thing.” Haha…
The biggest episode of all was Yu’s sudden health collapse the day before our AP Final performance. We still don’t know the cause, but he experienced more than 24 hours of horrible gastrointestinal issues and was completely unable to eat or drink. He was in no condition to be performing. The night before we were seriously considering withdrawing from the competition. Yu falling down at the end of our freestyle video is real evidence that he had reached his limit in more ways than one.
S: That’s right. I fell totally ill right before our performance. It was the first time in my life that even just standing was painful. Your body is an investment, so it’s really important to take care of yourself, especially when you are in a foreign country. Everyone, please take care! With water and raw foods especially.
Q8. How did you feel when you became world champions?
T: I was so happy we repeated our championship!
S: So glad!!!
Q9. Is there anything that changed for you after becoming world champions?
S: Nothing has really changed, but I would like to make movement toward holding the AP Division in Japan [Translator’s note: we think he means at Japan Nationals].
Q10. How do you feel going into this year’s World Yo-Yo Contest?
T: We will definitely win for the third consecutive time! We hope that we will be able to pull off a performance that will make you think “It’s just like SPINATION [to do something like this]!” Please cheer for us!!
Q11. What is yo-yo to you?
T: It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it’s my “Partner in life.” Haha…
It is also like a part of my body, as well as the thing that gave me infinite possibilities of expressing myself.
S: It is one aspect of my own possibilities.
Interview – 2014 WYYC 5A Champion Takeshi Matsuura
(The following interview appears courtesy of the 2015 World YoYo Contest)
Q1. When did you start playing yo-yo?
When I was in 1st Grade in Elementary School!
Q2. Why did you start playing yo-yo?
Because of the 2003 Hyper Yo-Yo [promotion]!
Q3. Who are some of the yo-yo players you respect/admire/look up to?
There are players I admire but I’ll leave it without saying who.
Q4. What made you choose 5A as your main style?
I was shocked to realize “There’s such a division in yo-yoing!” and it seemed interesting!
Q5. Last year you were also the runner-up in the WYYC 1A Division. Other than 5A and 1A, do you plan to enter any other divisions in the future?
I haven’t really decided, but if I start to feel like I want to enter [a division] I will!
Q6. How do you usually practice (where, who with, etc.)?
Usually I don’t play yo-yo in a “practicing” sense. I just kind of do what I want to do at that moment.
Q7. How does that change when you are preparing for different types of contests?
Before contests I rent a room in the community center and practice in a wide-open space.
Q8. Do you have any good stories from before you became a world champion that you want to share with us?
Do you have any good stories from before you became a world champion that you want to share with us?
None in particular.
Q9. How did you feel when you became a world champion?
I was happy!
Q10. Is there anything that changed for you after becoming a world champion?
I received the Global Award from my home prefecture, Saitama, and became a Saitama Goodwill Ambassador!
Q11. How do you feel going into this year’s World Yo-Yo Contest?
This year I plan to make a great effort in not only 5A, but also 1A. I want to do freestyles I can personally feel satisfied with and I aim to win, so please cheer for me!
Q12. What is yo-yo to you?
[Yo-Yo is] Something that continues to broaden my world!
Many thanks to Takeshi Matsuura! We wish him the best of luck at the 2015 World YoYo Contest.
Interview – 4A World YoYo Champion Rei Iwakura
(The following interview appears courtesy of the 2015 World YoYo Contest.)
Q1. When did you start playing yo-yo?
In 1997 (if I remember correctly, in the fall).
Q2. Why did you start playing yo-yo?
At the time yo-yo was going through a popularity boom [in Japan].
My friend brought a Hyper Brain to our Elementary School’s festival and he showed me some basic tricks like Rock the Baby and Walk the Dog. It was partially because of the boom, but I thought, “I want to try it!” and made up my mind. That same day I went with several friends to a toy store in my neighborhood and we bought red Imperials. I remember that it took about a week to be able to do a Long Sleeper for five seconds.
Q3. Who are some of the yo-yo players you respect/admire/look up to?
At the World Contest from 2001-2014, for at least 10 years he has advanced to the Final round, and has won the hotly contested 1A Division four times. More than just “winning,” he has “continued to win;” more than “chasing [after other players],” he has “been chased.” Due to those things it can be assumed that he has been faced with enormous pressure, furthermore in 1A, and even then he is still battling it out at the top.
[I respect how] he has seriously explored the depths of off string and how he carefully cultivates his competition freestyles. Not only in competition, but his show performances are also extremely polished, and he does it all without attempting to get away with using his show as an excuse to go easy. He has both strong technical and performance skills, and does a performance that is suitable of the title “World Champion” in various places [around the world].
In the Division of 2A, which particularly takes a long time to acquire technical skills, he has an outlook of always trying to do new things, and focuses on entertainment to use his performance to delight his audience. He loses neither of those qualities in competition and continues to display them at a very high level.
Q4. What made you choose 4A as your main style?
I started tackling 4A as a competitor for the first time just after I started university, but at the same time I was also juggling and playing diabolo. Both of those have many shared skills with 4A, so when I think about it now I think [4A] was very approachable [for me]. One more reason was that I often practiced with Eiji Okuyama, who was already active at the forefront of the [4A competition] scene. He taught me tricks, we created tricks together, and so I think my time practicing 4A naturally increased.
Q5. How do you usually practice (where, who with, etc.)?
As a working adult, there are limits to the time and location [I can practice], so I try to keep in mind the most efficient way to practice in order to raise my level even just a little bit. On weekdays when I’m very limited as to where and when I can practice, I mostly practice tricks by repetition. On the other hand, on the weekend I spend most of my time practicing my freestyle performance and attempting new tricks.
Also, to a certain point I try to decide that day’s practice schedule, whether it is for an hour, two, or more.
I find that if I decide a goal or theme for each practice session (ex. trick repetition -or- freestyle run-through -or- developing new tricks -or- working on my weaker elements, etc.) it’s easier to tackle and more efficient overall.
As for the people I practice with, Shinya Kido and Kazuki Okada live nearby, and Hiroyasu Ishihara and Yusuke Otsuka. We often get together and practice.
Q6. How does that change when you are preparing for different types of contests?
I primarily focus most of my practice on doing freestyle run-throughs. In addition, when I’m practicing with other people, in order to get used to doing my performance with other people watching, I try my best to get through the whole routine without stopping.
The other things I’m careful about are:
– Practice in the same outfit I plan to wear in competition.
– No matter how many mistakes I make, I follow the structure of the routine until the end.
With 4A, the string is often close to my body. I have a lot of tricks where the string touches and moves around my body so I need to make sure I get used to doing those tricks in costume, otherwise the string may catch my clothing in an unexpected way and could lead to an extremely unfortunate and wasteful mistake.
Also, even if I have a lot of mistakes when I practice [my freestyle], I don’t stop the music. I think it is very important that I run through the entire routine until the end. Of course, at the contest it’s possible that I may not have a no-miss routine, so if I don’t practice like that, I may not be able to recover from a mistake and from there my freestyle might start to fall apart. Therefore, I think it’s necessary to make a habit of recovering from mistakes. A yo-yo freestyle is a very limited time of only 3 minutes. You need to be able to decide in a split-second whether or not to change your yo-yo, so I try to focus my practice on recovering from mistakes and enhancing my own ability to make quick decisions to cope with my situation.
Q7. Do you have any good stories from before you became a world champion that you want to share with us?
At the 2013 World Yo-Yo Contest, my freestyle had more mistakes than any other freestyle in my competitive history, and that was a huge shock for me. My theme after that was “comeback” and I practiced [thinking about that] for a full year. After 2013 WYYC ended, two days after I returned to Japan, I went straight to the local gymnasium/community center and started practicing for the next year’s contest.
[I thought about] how to tackle yo-yo as a competitive sport, and what kind of practice would be necessary for that. I had to reconsider my own weak points. I put all of that thought into starting practicing again. I also got a lot of motivation from watching different communities other than yo-yo. When I looked at the top contenders of worlds such as Diabolo, Juggling and Dance, I saw that they are thoroughly exploring their crafts, and thought that this was no time for me to let myself fall into a slump.
Q8. How did you feel when you became a world champion?
For the one entire year I spent [practicing and preparing], the happiness of reaching my absolute best possible result was huge. As far as my freestyle, it was quite possibly my first ever perfect, no-miss, 3-minute routine in my entire life. It was a very emotional moment for me. I felt that the hundreds of hours I spent practicing and trying to get better were not in vain.
Q9. Is there anything that changed for you after becoming a world champion?
Actually there weren’t any sudden changes for me in particular.
If anything, at the World Contest I set my next goals, and in practicing I increased my repertoire of new tricks. Looking back at last year’s World Contest, I felt that the level of competition was the highest in recent years and the level of perfection in each player’s routine suddenly jumped.
This time I was able to attain the title of “4A Division World Champion” for the third time. However, there are still tricks I cannot do. I still make mistakes at competitions. There are still tricks that I need to improve my execution rate with. And above all, there are so many players that are better than I am.
I am far from being “The best player in the world,” or “The perfect player.” Of course I want to get better and improve my way of practicing, and continue my enthusiasm that I have built up since the 2013 World Contest.
Q10. How do you feel going into this year’s World Yo-Yo Contest?
Of course, since the World Contest is taking place in my own country, and up until now no one in the history of the 4A Division has successfully defended their championship, if I am able to win that would be amazing.
However, in order to do that there is so much I need to do to prepare, and I have new tricks I want to perform so I need to improve their level of perfection. Of course, I can’t forget my original intent to work toward my goal of doing my 100% best on the contest stage. Since this is also the very first time the World Contest will be held in Asia, many veteran players from other Asian countries who previously found it difficult to attend due to location reasons will compete, so I am very much looking forward to the competition itself.
Q11. What is yo-yo to you?
(More than I ever imagined) The Spice of Life
Many thanks to Rei Iwakura! We wish him the best of luck at the 2015 World YoYo Contest.
Interview – Hans Van Dan Elzen (The Playmaxx Years)
(Editor’s Note: Our friend Arron Sparks at the very excellent yoyo blog Down-Up YoYo has kindly given us permission to reprint his incredible interview with YoYoFactory owner and founder Hans Van Dan Elzen about his origins as a yoyo demonstrator and his time with Playmaxx. Enjoy! – Steve)
Considering how influential Yo-Hans has been in the Yo-Yo community there is surprisingly little information about the man online. I reached out to Hans and he generously replied with far more detail than I could have hoped for. It makes for an entertaining read…
The Playmaxx years… It was a war. It was a job. It was a challenge. “The Yo-Yo with a Brain” sold themselves so me and my team had to sell every single ProYo every single day to combat it’s supremacy. We won in the UK, smashed them in Singapore, met them head to head in Japan but ultimately defeated in the USA. The six weeks in the Philippines with Ben at the end was the rare time I actually simply had fun. Both our paycheques bounced but I came home with a wife and I reset my attitude and vision for the future.
The first time I became interested in Yo-Yo was after seeing Yo-Hans on Saturday morning TV, he was pushing the limits of what could be done with a Yo-Yo and the BBC product placement guidelines. Pushing his brand of Yo-Yo’s, the pinnacle of which was the Turbo Bumble Bee.
Hans’ excitement, salesmanship and skill with a Yo-Yo grabbed my attention. Instantly I wanted to lean to work a Yo-Yo and I was far from alone in this new desire. Within days Hans helped build a Yo-Yo craze across the UK which is yet to be matched.
When the 1998 craze faded away Hans moved on with his life eventually coming back to Yo-Yo’s. In 2003 Hans founded the hugely successful company, YoYoFactory. In an odd turn of events I ended up judging Hans and Craig Squires on their world record attempt for the most Yo-Yo tricks in a minute on Blue Peter.
These days Hans is rarely in the public eye promoting and selling Yo-Yo’s, he’s found in the office and workshop, experimenting with new product. More puppeteer than puppet but still passionate about the Yo-Yo. He’s is widely respected in the Yo-Yo community by it’s leaders, champions and those in the know.
There is much more to be explored in Hans’ history and I hope to one day interview him in person. But for now, enjoy Hans’ answers.
How did your dad come to run playmaxx?
When I was 14 or 15 years old I contacted Playmaxx to buy a ProYo. I had only been playing for about six months and was chasing down a better playing yoyo. (BTW I had never touched a Yo-Yo prior to the first yoyo I played with when I was 14.
The first Yo-Yo I ever touched was borrowed from a friends desk drawer on rainy weekday afternoon. It was a baseball shaped yoyo. Some weird cosmic alignment occurred that day. I made the slipknot correctly, put it on my finger correctly, flicked it down the string correctly, flipped my wrist, gave it a tug and it returned to my hand. Totally self taught.
I had played with everything available at the time and was disappointed by everything offered. The Yo-Yo’s fell apart, wooden axles broke, no string was available. Then my mom found an article in a AAA magazine about Playmaxx and the founder Don Duncan Jr.
There was no internet at the time and the journalist failed to mention any contact details about the company in the article. So I called Tucson “information” and got the phone number for Playmaxx. When I rang a nice lady named Lucy answered the phone and I placed my order with her for three ProYos. Then I asked, “was it true that Don Duncan worked there?” She replied, “He sure does, hold on and I’ll put him on the phone.” Seconds later I was in shock as I heard the voice of Don Duncan greet me I said, “Wow is this really Don Duncan?” and he replied “It sure is!”.
I talked with Don for an hour and asked as much as I could about the history of Yo-Yo’s from his experience. I quickly developed a sense of despair that I had missed the golden era of Yo-Yo play. There would be no street corner contests for me, no patches or trophies. When the three Yo-Yo’s arrived at the house a week or two later I couldn’t believe how well developed the ProYo was.
When I brought it to school a couple of friends wanted to try it. They were hooked and asked how to get one. I called Don up immediately and asked to buy a couple more. He stated, “Hey, if you order them in quantity I will give you a discount.” I said, “How many do I need to order?” He said, “24 pieces”.
Well… within two months I had sold somewhere between 300-400 yo-yos at my school. Students, Teachers, Janitors. Everybody was playing with ProYos. It all ended abruptly when I was called down to the front office. The Vice Principal sat me down and said, “Look Hans I’m not upset with you but this has to stop. I have contacted your friend in Tucson and he has arranged for one of his salesman to come up and teach you how to work with kids. He will meet you at a local elementary school next week each day and teach you how to work with kids and sell Yo-Yo’s”. The guy I worked with was Ken Filary. He helped me learn basic tricks like ‘Braintwister’.
From there I spent the next three years working with kids at after school programs, scout groups, hospitals. I met a talent agent at a funeral and she helped arrange more local shows. Somewhere in there I gave my dad a yoyo and he used it to quit smoking. I spent time teaching him tricks. Then he would order advertising yo-yos from Playmaxx with his company logo on them. When I was sixteen Bob Malowney rolled into town with the travelling “Return of the YoYo” exhibit. A friend called me and told me that I needed to get there asap as it was the last weekend it was in town. I met Bob late Friday night at the display and asked him what this was all about. He said that he had a dream of bringing back yo-yos the way it used to be. He had arranged to borrow Don Duncan Jr’s yoyo collection and take it from city to city across the USA. He asked me if I knew any tricks. I showed him rock the baby and a braintwister. He looked bemused at best. He asked, “Do you know anything else?” Well yes actually I did.
See in 1989-1990 there was no internet, no experts living nearby (I learned Split-the-Atom over the phone from a guy that lived in Iowa), maybe you had an uncle that remembered a trick from his childhood. All I had was the basic skills. So I forced myself to learn how to handle a Yo-Yo in each hand. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my second yoyo and demonstrated some of the “crispest” two handed loops, stuff I practiced daily. Bob stepped back in shock and said, “Wow! How did you learn that? Only professionals ever learn and master two hands.” He explained that this was the last weekend of the show, I had missed Barney Akers, Ryan Carver, Harvey Lowe and a whole plethora of other famous players the previous weekend. But there was still one more contest the next day.
I showed up, took first place and finally became a champion. That despair that I felt when I first learned I had missed the golden era of Yo-Yos, that I would never be a champion, was finally lifted. Bob pulled me aside and described his plan to hold a National Contest someday. I told him even if I had to crawl I would be there.
Three years later my dad came home from work frustrated and said, “When is that Yo-Yo contest in California you keep talking about?” . He was referring to the US Nationals. Dad cashed in his frequent flyer miles and got us to the first ‘US National Yo-Yo Contest’ in 1993. There he met Don Duncan Jr for the first time face-to-face. In that encounter Don mentioned that he was looking for an investor. My dad was intrigued but very deeply invested in his own business and turned him down… but left the door open. I took second place in the 12-20 Advanced Division that year, returned in 1994 and took first place in the 12-20 Advanced Division. Now I was a National Level Champion.
A month before I turned 21 I jumped in my rusty but trusty Triumph Spitfire and left Detroit for Arizona. I signed up for Arizona State University in Phoenix. Every weekend I would drive 100 miles to Tucson on Saturday morning and hang out at Playmaxx. Don had a small museum and retail store he called the “Yoseum”.
On Saturday mornings local kids were encouraged to come and hang out and learn tricks. Don would pay me with wooden axles and string for my ProYos. At the time he worked with Dale Oliver and Scott Edwards (Scott Edwards was neighbours and early influence with a future famous yoyo demonstrator, John Huber. John Huber was both World Team Proyo and later the graphic designer for YoYoFactory®).
They were the school program demonstrators. I was staying at Don’s house the night Dale unveiled his new yoyo he called the “Technic” that he wanted to replace the fragile Proyo with. I have to say that Don wasn’t impressed with the design. Don explained that they had tried designs similar to that in the past and they simply didn’t perform well enough, the axle was troublesome. Dale replied “Don at this point I don’t really care what you do with the Proyo, I’m starting my own brand and by this time next year I will put Playmaxx out of business!” The odd part of that moment was that Dale was staying at Don’s house. He simply retired to his bedroom, closed the door and went to bed, he didn’t leave for a hotel or anything. Adding even more insult to the situation the next day I bought two of the prototypes from Dale in Don’s kitchen during breakfast! Anyway if anyone ever wondered why Dale called his brand “Terminator”… well now you know…he wanted to put Playmaxx in the past. If Don had stayed in control he would have achieved his mission. Neither of them planned for Tom. There’s more to the Dale story but I’ll just tie a bow on it right here.
With Don I was enamoured by the story and history. He was charming and had a great ability to tell a story. But one day it struck me that the stories weren’t his, they were his dad’s. He had a habit of passing himself off as THE Don Duncan and not disclosing that it was his dad that was the real maker and shaker. It broke my euphoria of knowing him. He played like he was a simple man mentally and often allowed himself to be taken advantage of by those close to him but he also played that “Simple man card” and took advantage of others when he saw the opportunity and traded on the value of his Family name rather than the strength of his personal achievement.
My dad is a smart guy. Genius level, like should have worked at NASA but somehow chose an incongruous career of risk and adventure helping solve random engineering problems at a multitude of manufacturing operations that took him around the country and around the world. His academic background is in electrical engineering but he has spent his life solving mechanical problems. His final business in Detroit was in the aerospace field. He built equipment that served the repair and service of jet aircraft engines. Companies that purchased his equipment such as GE, Pratt and Whitney, Rolls Royce and SNECMA. Part of his duties were to travel to far off lands and install the equipment, start it up and test run the cycles. Well he started to become famous with the business men and engineers that he dealt with as he would always carry a Yo-Yo in his pocket.
During the testing cycles of the equipment dad would pull out the Yo-Yo and practice his loops. His mission was perfect loops that could be performed between two chair-backs set six inches apart. Well, the engineers at SNECMA, a French company, would shake their heads and laugh at him for his childish pastime. But over the course of several return visits they would start to ask him if they could try his Yo-Yo. He learned he would need to start bringing spare yo-yos because they were all starting to get quite addicted. One day he got a fax in his Detroit office before departing for the next visit to SNECMA. The fax simply said “BRING STRING”. It was a breakthrough moment for my dad and his understanding of the effect of the Yo-Yo.
Somewhere in the timeline I called my dad from my apartment in Arizona and said, “Dad, I’ve got a problem I need to discuss with you.” Worried on the other end of the line he replied “Oh, ok, what’s up?” Staring out my window at the bright, sunny, and perfectly warm February morning I said, “Well I’m not sure today whether to take the convertible to work… or my motorcycle”. He looked out the window in his Detroit office at two feet of snow on the ground, grey overcast, and he’ll tell you to this day THAT was the moment when he no longer cared about the risk, he was going to take Don up on his offer to partner up at Playmaxx.
Dad called me a few weeks later and bounced the idea off me of becoming partners with Don. I told him very straight, “I wouldn’t do it. I don’t know how you will ever sell enough Yo-Yo’s and I don’t really trust Don”. Little did I know how wrong I would be about the number of Yo-Yo’s he could sell and how right my intuition was of Don.
How did you get on TV in the 90s?
We worked with major and minor distributors around the world. I had travelled to 26 countries by the time I was 26 years old. TV interviews were critical to spreading the word and sharing the skills. Internet was in its infancy so the morning news and kids TV shows were still the critical way to convey the message. My favourite moment was Johnny Vaughan on the Big Breakfast. It was early in the morning and I was not prepared for that guy. His first question to me about Yo-Yo’s, “So why are Americans so fat?”. HAHA I was lost for words. He’s a brilliant guy, that was a brilliant moment, and I was at a total loss for words.
My face appeared in newspapers and on the sides of city buses. Television commercials and music videos. We were contacted by a music production company. They asked us to sing and Yo-Yo in a music video. They contacted the original writer of the Bangles hit song, “Walk like an Egyptian” who resided in Paris. He ok’d the use and we re-recorded the song in the men’s bathroom at Heathrow during a layover. We twisted the words to “Walk the Dog like an Egyptian” and the song made it to 48th on the UK pop charts for Christmas in 1998. The music video (we filmed it on a rooftop in London) is on YouTube. It’s awful, but it happened and it can never be undone.
What was it like being a minor celebrity in the UK?
Behind the scenes the promoter threw me the keys to his car and a map book and a schedule of appearances. I couldn’t drive a right hand drive car and I was in a foreign country. But after the initial shock of realising there wasn’t an alternative I figured it out and made every appearance.
Fighting cabs in downtown London to appear on the Disney Channel or driving to distant cities like Exeter to do demos for Richie Windsor or performances at grade schools in the midlands. So to answer your question though I didn’t realise my “celebrity” until one day when Craig Squires and I were gifted tickets to a live performance of Saturday Night Fever in London. In the dark of the performance I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned my head. Standing in the aisle with eager eyes were two children with a piece of paper and a pen hoping I would sign an autograph. The mum said that the kids recognised me from behind due to my flat cap. That cap make me famous or did I make the cap famous? It was an important moment for me as I realised no matter where I was I was still “on stage” even if I was off-shift. As a celebrity you never get time off. So behave. Speaking of which I really enjoyed my two or three visits to Blue Peter. Very proud of my badges.
What was the oddest gig you had?
I opened the show every night for Mr. President in Germany one summer. They wrote a summertime hit called “YoYo Action” and it popped to the top of the charts. Our distributor called their label and put us together. They did a tour and I rode the bus with them. Awesome group of performers, energetic music, amazing presentation every single night. YoYo Action was an odd song but honestly the rest of their stuff was terrific especially performed “live”. They really would have done well as a Vegas act.
On two occasions I met Justin Timberlake and the rest of N’Sync backstage as they were sent a few times to see the Mr. President show and get some inspiration for their own stage show. I actually met a bunch of pop bands during that tour. My favourite was Blumchen. She was shocked that I was asking her for an autograph backstage, other than 6 year old kids I evidently was her biggest yet oldest fan.
Why did you set up YoYoFactory after Playmaxx?
I had a bit of time off after Playmaxx ended. Then Ben and I fresh started YoYoFactory®. I had a small feeling of guilt honestly and it gnawed away at the back of my thoughts for years.
I created the Bumble Bee, it wasn’t invented so much as developed over time (two long years). When it was launched it was a sensation. It finally delivered a perfect out-of-the-box experience with repeatable performance in mass production. It gave wood axle responsiveness and smooth on-string performance… then a week later the pads would wear out and the user was forced to spend money to keep the fun going. So in my hiatus suddenly one day I had a Eureka! moment and realised that the pads wouldn’t wear out or melt (in the case of plastic starburst…I’m looking at you Renegade!) if they simply could flex out of the way when put under the extreme frictional forces of layered string. BAM! The FAST201 was invented.
I made a single prototype from a worn out BumbleBee and some cut up strips of aluminium from a Coke can. I drilled some holes, fashioned the strips into tiny metal springy starburst, plugged them into the holes and…It worked as I envisioned, perfectly. The next critical component was the price-point and the play pattern (The infamous FAST CHALLENGE developed by Ben McPhee). The Distributors loved it and the high level players hated it. It gave us the kickstart we needed to get to where we are today and it’s still a perennial best seller.
Who did the graphics for Playmaxx?
There were multiple influencers and a couple of Graphic Designers. Ben McPhee actually came up with the name for the ColdFusion for example and I sketched out the artwork.
Then we handed the sketches to a designer in Tucson named “Sprout”. There was another Graphic designer named Tevus. I sketched the original BumbleBee with the jetpack and then we had outside pro’s tighten up the designs.
Don Jr actually made a bunch of the artwork along the way too, like the little boy that appeared on the side of the ProYo’s, that was direct from his pen. Odd fact, my mom named the BumbleBee when we first put an early prototype together. There were no pads and to her ears it buzzed like a bee so she said, “Ooh you should call it the BumbleBee”. I scrunched up my face in disgust at the notion then let her suggestion stew in my head for 30 seconds in the uncomfortable silence of the moment.
I said, “What about TURBO Bumble Bee?” BOOM! A Yo-Yo icon was born. The black and yellow colour scheme was a natural and transformed the marketing into an easy job despite the belief at that time that Yo-Yo’s needed to come in as many colours as possible to give the kids some choice, we proved that fact wrong. If I never said it before, I’ll say it now, Thanks Mom!
Who are your all time favourite Yo-Yo players?
There are *Players* and there are *Performers*. That’s a critical distinction. This list highlights a little from each category:
- Alex Garcia, He revolutionised freestyle play. Nobody except Shu Takada has usurped his musically choreographed stage presence to this very day.
- John Higby, performer for life. Life is performing.
- Steve Brown, he gets it. He has the innovation and the vision.
- Mark Hayward, driest presentation yet so effective. He’s just like, “F@$k energy, I’ll get the laughs my way.”
- Ben McPhee, Yo-Yo play is 50% tricks and 50% the man. Ben exemplifies this tradition when put in front of a crowd of kids, the truest Yo-Yo professional.
- Ann Connolly, she’s a magnet for attention when she starts throwing tricks
- Vasek Kroutil, FINALLY A REAL YO-YO PROFESSIONAL FROM THIS GENERATION!!! We need more like him.
- Pat Mitchell, My office is across from his. Every day I watch this World-Class 2A YoYo player answering phones and making sales. He builds relationships with large scale national retailers in the USA and they have no idea the secret talent this guy actually has. He brings authenticity to this game we’re playing.
- The current YoYoFactory® Team. They are on the team for a reason. They earned it.
- Craig Squires. He will influence the future of the sport and promotion in the UK in the coming years. Watch his actions carefully.
- Jonathan Koh from Singapore. The kid that simply, nowhere in time, there will never be a better player. Period. Ever. You think you’re good. You’re not. He’s fundamentally better. Just accept it. He’s number 11 on the list for a reason.
What else do you do/enjoy apart from Yo-Yo?
I collect yo-yos. I have yo-yos that date back to the 1800’s all the way up to the current state-of-the-art. I am infatuated with the history of this game, the influences and the influencers. The promotions. The technologies. All of it. And I restore old British Sports-cars. It helps me take my mind off the business when I need a break and keeps me sharp solving mechanical problems.
Can you recommend a book, film, podcast, show or piece of art?
- Book: The One and Only YoYo Book. Careful, you might learn something.
- Show: Mad Men: I binge watch it. Very addictive.
- Art: William Fairfax Sheffield, Sculptor. His work was my first encounter with overcoming the perceived impossible.
After getting the indepth reply from Hans which you’ve just made your way through I had a few e-mail exchanges, trying to help fill in some information with Hans Yo-Yo collection. I’d like to thank Hans for spending so much time revisiting the past and replying to my e-mail. And for inspiring me to pick up a Yo-yo.
Hans followed up his answers with this last e-mail, which I think is a perfect note to leave this piece on…
I contemplated it all yesterday. I forgot one element…the kids. The whole point, the driving force that made me jump out of bed every morning and do the job. I was driven to give the kids the opportunities that I missed and have a positive memory of their interaction with the demonstrators and the game. I cracked the whip every day on the demonstrators that worked with me and for me. I had very high expectations and demanded nothing less than excellence every day. I’m still proud of the work that everybody did during those 5 years.
Interview – 2014 US National YoYo Champions
The 2014 US National YoYo Contest was the high-point of this years US contest season, with a 1A Division that was absolutely stacked with top notch talent and had some of the best 1A freestyles we’ve seen all year! YoYoNews correspondent Matt McDade tracked down most of our new US National Champions for a Q&A.
(Editors Note: The 2014 5A National Champion, Tyler Severance, couldn’t be reached for the last two weeks. So instead of his answers, we’ll be giving you lyrics from his favorite song: “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus.)
Did you expect to win?
Zach Gormley (1A): I certainly felt that it was possible to take first, however, knew the competition would be fierce. The day of it all just comes down to who hits their freestyle the cleanest. While many other competitors this year made mistakes, it appears that I made the fewest.
Joseph Harris (2A): Yes, without a doubt, I expected to take 1st place. Unless I had a major screw-up in my freestyle, I had little doubt about defending my title. Rumor was, Party Rick (aka Pat Mitchell) was not competing, so I had nothing to worry about…he makes me worry. Like. A LOT. P-Mitch is so gee-whiz good!
Alex Hattori (3A): I always go to a competition to have fun and to do my best. I never bring any expectations. There are many great yoyoers, and anything can happen.
Zac Rubino (4A): No, there are so many good players that could have won. Going into a contest, I don’t think in my head, “I am going to win this contest.” I just have the mindset that I want to hit my routine and put on a good show for the audience.
Tyler Severance (5A): We kissed, I fell under your spell. A love no one could deny.
What was your practice schedule like?
Zach Gormley: Typically, I try to get in around an hour to two of practice each day, starting a month before the contest. This doesn’t need to be all just freestyle-practice, though. Much of my time is spent perfecting my tricks or finding ways to hit them more consistently for when I’m on stage.
Joseph Harris: Non-existent. I selected a freestyle song a week before the competition. I did a true “freestyle” on stage, meaning what the audience live at Chico, and watching online, saw was the first time I did a full run of my freestyle performance.
Alex Hattori: I didn’t really have a set practice schedule because I’ve been extremely busy with my rigorous high school curriculum, which includes marching band and robotics.
Zac Rubino: At home, I practiced 2-3 hours a day, and for those hours, I only practiced my freestyle. The way I went about it was to practice 30 min-1 hour at a time, a few times though out the day.
Tyler Severance: Don’t you ever say I just walked away, I will always want you.
What were some goals that you hoped to accomplish with your freestyle?
Zach Gormley: I had two goals for this freestyle. I wanted to improve my performance, as well as have a really dominant tech score. While I achieved the latter, my performance wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I think the mistakes I spent time correcting took up time I could have been looking at the crowd, yoyoing to the music, etc.
Joesph Harris: Have fun, and go clean. I would have ended my routine early if I felt like I did not have fun or go clean. 2 minutes in, I felt comfortable that I had accomplished both goals.
Alex Hattori: I really just hoped to show my best tricks and put on my best performance.
Zac Rubino: For this freestyle, my goal was to win a National or World title.
Tyler Severance: I came in like a wrecking ball. I never hit so hard in love.
In your opinion, what separated your freestyle from others that were presented on stage?
Zach Gormley: Lately, many yoyoers have caught on to trends that I’ve set in the past, so it can be hard to adjust my style or stay unique. Sometimes, I’m not too sure about what it is that sets me apart, but whatever it is seems to be working. I always try to do something different and bring new ideas to the table!
Joseph Harris: Swag. And the clothing line helped. It was hot that day, so the tank top my cousin gave me while we were celebrating his marriage in Vegas freed up some arm space. So, I could move around with ease and not feel so sluggish on stage. If you watched the others, you could tell that my wraps separated my freestyle from everyone else.
Alex Hattori: I think all of us 3A players are unique in our own way. Whether it’s bringing through some mind-boggling double Double or Nothing combo or by incorporating bangers, I think we all stand out from each other.
Zac Rubino: I think what sets me apart from other competitors is my tricks. I try to make tricks that are hard, flashy, and score high. My favorite type of trick is a “banger”. I love snags, regens, grinds, and just about anything that looks cool. I know my performance evaluation scores are my weakness, so I try to make up for that with big, risky tricks.
Tyler Severance: I never meant to start a war. I just wanted you to let me in. And instead of using force I guess I should’ve let you win.
What yoyo did you use in your freestyle?
Zach Gormley: I chose to use the Arctic Circle 2 in the Northern Lights colorway. Gotta represent CLYW! Best of the best.
Joseph Harris: My signature series yoyo, the YoYoJam Unleashed, which has been used to win back-to-back Nationals titles.
Alex Hattori: Duncan Barracudas, one red and one blue, with Dif-e-Yo Konkave bearings.
Zac Rubino: The yoyo that I used in my freestyle was the Duncan Skyhawk.
Tyler Severance: Buy Miley Cyrus – Bangerz on Amazon
Aside from yourself, who else would you have liked to see win?
Zach Gormley: Anthony Rojas has consistently placed top 3, and I would have loved to see him take the Nationals title. Gentry’s freestyle was top notch as always, and he definitely could have taken the title as well. It was also cool seeing Andrew Maider and Michael Kurti really step their game up.
Joseph Harris: Of the people not competing this year, I would have liked Ian Lawson, Patrick Mitchell, and Grant Johnson. For those that did compete, I would have loved it if Josh Yee won.
Alex Hattori: I would have liked to see the person who brought their best game take first. To tell you the truth, I really enjoy watching all 3A players.
Zac Rubino: The other person that I would have liked to see take first place is Ian Johnson. Ian is a good friend, and an amazing yoyo player.
Tyler Severance: All I wanted was to break your walls. All you ever did was wreck me.
What title do you plan on snagging next?
Zach Gormley: 44Clash and Las Vegas Open are right around the corner, and I’d love to win one of those! Potentially, even both would be cool! Next year, I have my eyes set on Worlds in Tokyo, but I’ll cross that bridge when it comes.
Joseph Harris: Chronologically, the next title would be the Las Vegas Open in Vegas which seeds the winners into semi-finals for Tokyo Worlds 2015. The big competition goal for me is to be World Champion before I retire from competing in two-handed.
Alex Hattori: I don’t usually plan my life according to upcoming competitions. Instead, I work on improving my technique or creating new tricks after I’m done with Nationals. Then, as time rolls along, I see if I’m able to attend any more competitions based on my school academic schedule.
Zac Rubino: The next contest I am looking to win is the 2015 World Yoyo Contest. When I started competing, there were 4 contests that I really wanted to win, which were Cal States, BAC, Nationals, and Worlds. This year, I won all of those contests except for Worlds. That is the last contest on my list, and the one I want to win the most.
Tyler Severance: Yeah, I just closed my eyes and swung. Left me crashing in a blazing fall.
What other non-contest related yoyo endeavors do you have planned for the near future?
Zach Gormley: Outside of competitions, I’d love to work on some new videos. Charles and I have been tossing around the idea of potentially getting me up to Canada to work on some Cabin Tutorials. While it is likely, nothing is set in stone yet.
Joseph Harris: The main non-contest related endeavor for me is to get yoyos mainstream! In my eyes, it starts with grassroots efforts, such as the two new yoyo clubs I am helping run here in the San Francisco Bay Area. New yoyoers, like hundreds to thousands of them, is the first step to making yoyos and the yoyo community more popular.
There will always be the next Gentry Stein, Zach Gormley, Anthony Rojas, Ahmad Karisma, Harrison Lee, Tessa Piccillo, Takeshi Matsuura’s of the yoyo world. My goal, as it has been since I was booted off America’s Got Talent Season 4, is to get the next generation of yoyoers to experience more positive exposure OUTSIDE of the yoyo community than the current yoyoers! Don’t YOU want yoyos to be mainstream???
Alex Hattori: Well, I’m always actively volunteering in my community with yoyoing, whether it’s teaching, or performing for charitable causes. I perform at schools, fundraisers, libraries, convalescent homes, and all sorts of charity events.
Zac Rubino: Besides contests, I have been filming a lot of videos with the Duncan crew. Be on the look out for those videos coming soon! Other than that, I don’t know what the up-coming year has in store for me.
Tyler Severance: All you ever did was wreck me. Yeah, you, you wreck me. Yeah, you, you wreck me.
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