I started playing fixed axle as a middle finger to the people who said bearings were cheating. I thought there was little reason to throw fixed otherwise. It was proof to the haters that my technique was sound and they picked the wrong person to challenge. For awhile, I was content with being able to pull off the advanced classics on wood; split the atom, barrel rolls, double or nothing with roll away dismount. One day I saw a video of someone using all their might to barely pull off Kamikaze on a wood yo-yo. The yo-yo was spinning so slow you could read the letters on the foil logo as the last of breath of spin exhaled onto the palm of his hand.
I was hooked.
First, Kamikaze was a relatively new trick at the time and it was unthinkable for a modern trick to be done on such old tech. But there it was. An Expert level trick, for its time, done on a yo-yo fit for an attic. It was the first time I had really found enjoyment in what was essentially playing yo-yo with a handicap. Yo-Yo design wasn’t anywhere near what it is today, but the top of the line products were still far and away better than the laminated one piece wood yo-yo from years past.
It became a personal challenge to see what I could do on one of those old things. There was a sense of enjoyment in the minute details of tricks I took for granted on my bearing yo-yos. Magic Drops became moments of intense concentration and had to be handled with the utmost gentleness while Suicides took their namesake to new heights. Landing a trick on fixed felt like getting an S rank in Street Fighter or completing the Master Quest. You were playing yo-yo: hard mode.
The lure of fixed axle play wasn’t just in the accomplishment of the trick itself. It was also in that this was possible all along. Those old Duncan demonstrators in sepia photographs could have been doing Double Suicides too. Imagination swirled around you as dry cotton string slowly singed your axle. To walk up to one of those 50’s corner contests, DeLorean safely hidden away, armed with this knowledge and the confidence these tricks were possible. You’d surely show up the pro, serving him on his own turf. Actually, that might of gotten you stabbed back then…
Now, in 2013, yo-yos are the best they have ever been, easier to use than ever before. There is no need for fixed axle yo-yos. There hasn’t been for a long time. Even the basic entry level yo-yo has a bearing and yet some keep coming back to fixed. Instead of going the way of the 8-track it seems wood is aging like vinyl LPs. The temperamental material and ritualistic care all become part of the experience. A type of experience where shortcomings become a charming nuisance. The fulfillment isn’t just in the grooves or the trick, but also the brushing of dust and pulling a string through a fresh axle.
It’s easy to romanticize the past or dismiss nostalgia as a clouding the vision of the future. When I play fixed, the future isn’t what’s on my mind nor is there a yearning for a simpler time. I’m too caught up in a trick, a moment, to care about anything deeper. I’m not giving a middle finger to anyone or any idea. It’s for my own enjoyment, my own amusement.
It took evolution in technology to show us how some things were already possible with what we already had; if we just threw a little straighter, a little harder, thought a little crazier. We obsess over the endless possibilities in modern yo-yoing. Sometimes It’s fun to share that sentiment again with a simpler version of a toy none of us can seem to put down for very long.