Closing Down Return Top Shop

Life is Change. 3 years ago I took a leap and decided to start an online store. In the beginning the intent was to provide access to yoyos for kids in Vancouver at affordable Canadian prices, without having to deal with shipping from the USA. The store quickly grew as people across Canada got excited about having a Canadian store. As I branched out and got some interesting different brands into the store, people outside of Canada started buying from RTS. The business grew to the point where it is mostly breaking even. The problem is time. It takes a lot of my time to manage inventory, promotion, shipping and accounting. Time for which the only compensation is the enjoyment I get from interacting with customers who are excited about what they get.

I’ve come to a point where I want to do other things with that time. The yoyo market has been changing. When I started yoyoing 10 years ago, the only real options for buying yoyos were yoyonation.com and yoyoexpert.com with a few smaller retailers. Beginners couldn’t just grab something off amazon or eBay, they had to go to a Yoyo retailer. Now there are a lot more options for online retail as well as the option to buy directly from manufacturers. This means competition, and I don’t have the cash flow to put into the advertising needed. There are more brands than ever before, so the ability to stock enough variety that will sell through is challenging. Brands are selling direct, which means that not only do I compete with the other online retailers, but with the brands themselves. This isn’t a complaint, as with Rain City Skills I understand the other side of the equation, but it’s an additional challenge. What it really boils down to is where I want to put my time.

Rain City Skills has been more successful than I expected, and I want to see where that goes. I’ve got other yoyo world projects I want to explore, like more writing, starting a podcast, making T-shirts, yoyo fundraisers with schools and a long list of other things. So it’s time for Return Top Shop to go. What I will be doing is shifting a very limited selection of products to mryoyothrower.com, mostly so I have options for the local Vancouver community as was my original intention. Rain City Skills products will still be available through yoyoexpert.com and yoyosam.com, as well as now through the raincityskills.com website directly. Thank you to everyone over the years who have supported the store, I’d been a fun ride and I appreciated all of you!

The Sk8r - Rain City Skills x Oh Yes Yo

The Sk8r will be available at yoyoexpert.com, yoyosam.com and returntopshop.com for $64.99.  I’ll also be selling extra colouring books at Returntopshop for a limited time, just in case you wanted one to keep as a collectable.  Or give to a friend. Or if you wanted to colour a 2nd one yourself ;)

The Sk8r comes in red, white or black with either purple or black hubs.

Specs:
Diameter 52.95mm
Width 42.2mm
Gap 4.2mm
Weight 62.4g
Bearing Size C Flat
Material Delrin

The Story

Rain City Skills x Oh Yes Yo

      When I approached Coffin Nachtmahr Of Oh Yes Yo with the idea to do a collaboration called the skater, he was 100% on board right away.  His first suggestion was that the name needed to be spelled Sk8r.  From there, designing the yoyo to look like a skateboard wheel was a given.  Justin Scott Larson went to work taking Coffin and My ideas and giving them shape.  The design he came up with was nearly perfect, as always!  What wasn’t a given was finding the right machine shop.  This is the most prototyped yoyo I’ve ever made.  We started this process in the beginning of 2018.


     We started with one shop that I’d worked with before for begleri.  We sent them 2 variations, one 59g, one 63g.  They did a good job of the body, but were unable to make the hardware properly (the hub wasn’t snug against the body, so it tended to slip instead of screwing together tightly).  It did give us the opportunity to bring the prototypes to PNWR in Seattle where we learned that the yoyo community was of no help making decisions.  We had 2 weights options and we left the contest with pretty much a 50-50 split between people that liked one or the other!


     Onto a 2nd machine shop.  This time I used the same shop that made the Rain City Skills ‘Showgirl’.  Again, we tested 2 variations to make sure the hub design would work.  This time they nailed it, fantastic!  Except in the time between ordering the prototypes and actually getting them the shop seems to have run into some trouble.  As soon as I got the prototypes my contact stopped responding.


      Finally we ended up at Yoyoempire.  I really should have started with them, they have made more Delrin yoyos than just about any other brand on the market and have the experience needed to get it right.  So a 5th prototype was made to make sure they had the design right and bam, ready to go!


      In the interim between the various prototypes I was busy crafting the unboxing experience.  This is where Coffin had his chance to shine.  He is a professional artist.  He makes his living with his art and yoyo sales.  He drew up the sticker logo, blending the 2 brands and the skateboard concept.  I hunted and found lego skateboards and paired them with an assortment of mostly horror or science fiction villain themed Minifigures.  There are about 50 varieties spread amongst the 150 Sk8rs made.  Jack from “Nightmare Before Xmas” makes an appearance, the Scream guy, Donald Trump, various mad scientists, there may even be a Sith or two in there.


      The idea for the big ‘enxtra’ came at USA nationals in 2018.  Coffin was drawing up label cards for the Boutique Yoyo Collective table and we came up with the idea to include a yoyo colouring book!  I sent him home with a list of yoyo words (bind, whip, slack, etc) to outline in graffiti format.  So each Sk8r comes with a collectable colouring book that even has a drawing of a Coffin and I!


      The finishing touch was packaging.  Coffin sent me a photo of skateboard wheels shrink-wrapped and pointed out that this was do-able at home.  I popped onto amazon, got some shrink wrap and tested it.  You can do it at home with a hair dryer, but it’s not super effective.  So next stop was the hardware store for a heat sealer and heat gun.  I then spent most of the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend splitting my time between packing to move and shrink wrapping yoyos.  As you can see in the images below, I added in a basic fingerboard that makes a perfect display stand!


     All in all this has been a really fun project.  At some point I’m sure I’ll run out of ideas for interesting themes and accessories, but I’m really digging the creativity that goes with it.  I’m looking forward to my next collaboration and where 2019 takes Rain City!


     Just for fun, The Sk8r drops on October 24th, my birthday!  So if you needed any more incentive to grab one, think of it as my birthday present! 


     

My favourite Yoyo Brand Turned Evil!

So a thing that happens all too often in the yoyo world (In the world of small hobbies in general) is that success if often reviled.  If you are a small operation, pouring your heart and soul into your products for little or no return, you are amazing, the community supports you.  If you get some success, get some sales happening, enough that perhaps you are starting to get compensate for your labour, that’s OK too.  There is a line though.  It’s somewhere between making just enough to keep going, and making an actual income.


I’ve seen this discussed so many times.  “Brand X used to be good, then they started making mass produced garbage” or “Brand Z makes good yoyos, but they are too big now so their yoyos don’t have soul”.  What's funny is that this often translates to “the yoyos are too well made I liked it better in the beginning when “x” brand was still figuring out how to design a good yoyo and was dealing with machine shops that couldn't make consistent yoyos.”  I think there is definitely a tie-in to rarity being a desire able trait.


There is an odd need inherent in Western Culture to root for the underdog.  I’m not sure where it comes from but you see it all over.  There is nothing more exciting in sports than when a team no one expected makes it to the finals.  It might be part of the democracy/capitalism mindset.  The idea that anyone can be anything if they work hard enough.  But at the same time, we seem to want to pull down those that do make the big break.  There is nothing like catching a move star/rock star/politician/CEO in an embarrassing situation, letting the media and the gossips take them down a peg.


So where is the line.  Somewhere between a brand barely managing to sell 50 of a yoyo and being able to sell 5000 of a yoyo. 


Is it because at 5000 of each yoyo you have moved from a guy playing with yoyos to a business manager?  Is it because at that number you are clearly earning too much money to be in it for the love of the sport?  How does one avoid this, or is it even possible?  Is it about maintaining direct community engagement, posting videos of you yoyoing, just to prove you still throw and aren't just in it for the money?

I don't anticipate rain City Skills ever getting big enough to have that problem, but you never know!


What do you think?

The Challenges of online Retail

I’ve had a few conversations lately with different online skill toy retailers. What I’ve been hearing is something I’ve been experiencing as well.It’s becoming harder to make an online skill toy retail store work. There are a number of challenges, old and new that are faced by online retailers.

Inventory choices are the biggest challenge. It’s very difficult to decide what to stock. 

1. Competition: Do I only stock major brands that have brand recognition?  If I do, then I’m competing directly with every other online retailer to sell a product that doesn’t have limited availability. Or do I focus on smalller hard to find products?  Then I’m in the position of doing the leg work to help a new or small brand get recognition that they can’t do themselves on the off chance their stuff will sell.  It’s hard because I want to support start up brands, but have limited funds to tie up in products.

2. Unpredictability of sales:  I have had products from one supplier sell out in a weekend, only to have their next release sit on the shelf for months.  No idea why.

3. Shipping and volume: Generally the markup for retail is 40% in the yoyo world.  Which is less than half of what you are seeing if you go buy a pair of shoes at a retail store. 

What doesn’t get taken into account with that number is overhead.

-cost of freight to the online store

-taxes, duties, paypal fees

-cost of running the website

-shipping costs (very few yoyo retailers actually charge what it costs to ship including labour and packaging)

-promotional costs

4. Dead stock: When I order skill toys for the store, I have to do the mental math of “If I buy 10, at a 40% markup minus shipping and taxes I need to sell 6 or 7 to break even”.  If I only sell 4 initially then I’m sitting on funds that could have gone elsewhere, and often are sitting on my credit card accruing interest.

5. Employees:  Do I do it all myself or hire help?  I don’t have any actual Employees, but I occasionally hire one of the kids from the local club to come in and help with small jobs.  I have paid graphic designers for imagery and support for promotional strategies.  The bonus packs that go into every box that ships out have a cost that varies.  The concrete costs of the bags, stickers and candy are easy, but the time it takes me to package them together is harder. It’s tricky to work all of that into the cost of yoyos, but it is yet another chip away at the 40%.


I think the biggest challenge going forward is that it is so much easier to sell products online than it was even 5 years ago.  I recently switched the store over to Shopify because of how complex yet simple it is. All of the finances, inventory control and shipping are in the Same place.

This means that manufacturers large and small are more likely to sell direct.  Their fans are (quite reasonably) more likely to buy direct rather than through a retailer because they want to support the creative end.  But it makes choosing what to stock a challenge.  I happily stock MonkeyfingeR design begleri because their initial releases include retailers.  Aroudnsquare releases direct first then sells to online retailers, which makes it harder to move their products.  Both brands have solid followings that will buy direct first before they look to returntopshop.  This is pretty consistent across the board.

So where to next?  I’m finding myself in a position of having a few brands I know can sell, a few products that I am willing to spend time promoting and sticking to those.  I know I can sell yoyos that retail for under $30.  Over that, brand recognition is required, and a scarcity market (sells out quickly elsewhere) helps.

Do I put money into bringing more brands in to draw customers?  Or do I put that money into creating original products with Rain City Skills?  Do I switch tracks and put more time and energy into building the local yoyo scene through school demos and public workshops?  Or do I need to put some money and time into advertising?

Either way, it’s a learning experience that I’m really enjoying!

Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments. 

-Jeremy “Mr Yoyothrower” McKay

Why Compete at Yoyo Contests?

Competition is arguably the centerpoint of human existence, if not all life on earth. At a fundamental level we compete for access to basic survival needs of food and shelter and reproduction. Historically it was done through violence, today it’s done through more ‘civilized means (competition for the money required for our basic needs).We compete for fun with our friends, we compete when we play games. It is what brings us together as a team, the striving against ‘other’ even if it’s only for a 60 minute game, or 1 minute on stage at a yoyo contest.

Yoyo contests are a small part of the yoyo world, and the players who compete an even smaller subset of those who attend.  I was reflecting today on what I get out of competing while I was yoyoing at a bus stop.  Since I’ve stopped competing my overall Yoyo skill has diminished (there are other factors, but that is one clear correlation).  I’m not making up tricks as often and definitely not polishing long combos like I did when I was trying to perfect a 3 minute routine.  So to a degree attending and competing at yoyo contests is something I need personally to drive me forward with my skill development.  I don’t put the work in unless I have a goal.  I never had any illusion of being a champion at any level, it was the goal of being on stage with a solid routine that kept me moving.


I still compete casually in 4a.  The other main thing I get out of competing is the love of performing.  When I was in grade 12 our band teacher (yup, I’m that kind of geek as well) gave us the opportunity to perform solo or group songs as part of the year end concert.  I had been playing guitar for a year and a half and decided to do a challenging instrumental song by The Tea Party called The Badger.  I went on stage, played the song with minimal errors and came off the stage determined to do it again.  The rush of having just performed art in front of 500 people was amazing.  For me yoyo contests fill that need to a degree.


It’s my opinion that every yoyoer who is able to should get up on stage at least once, if nothing else than to see if they like the feeling.  It’s not for everyone.  Many people just have too much anxiety or need to be perfect and it’s just stressful, but if you have never tried, there is no way of knowing if it’s right for you!  As well, the time leading up to the contest will take your skill to a new height of polish and drive you to innovate and perhaps explore the sport in new ways!


What moves you to compete? 

`What makes one yoyo better than any other?

What makes any one yoyo better than another?  The short answer is that if they are designed and produced by anyone with an ounce of design sense and based on modern yoyo standards, absolutely nothing.


I have this conversation all the time when I’m selling yoyos, particularly to parents of kids who have just got into the sport. 

“Which one is the best?”

(Hold these 5, throw each one.  Which one do you like?  Then that one is the best)

“Why does this one cost me twice as much as that one?”

(Because it cost me twice as much from the manufacturer)

“I have a Shutter, which one is better than a Shutter?”

(All of them, none of them)


In reality the answer is very much a complicated one.  When I started throwing 8 years ago design was still being figured out.  You had Yoyojam still making their plastic hybrid throws with starburst and 0-ring response, and there were quite a few yoyos on the market that ranged from boring or adequate all the way to downright terrible yoyos.  Manufacturers were still learning the right sizes and shapes for optimal performance.  “Undersized” yoyos were still the norm, I remember when SPYY released the “Pro” it was unusually wide, now it’s considered average width. There was also still room for ‘modding’, the act of taking a yoyo and adjusting it’s design by adding or taking away parts or by physically changing the shape.  Gap widths were still reasonably narrow, you could buy ‘shims’ to widen the gap.


Now things are different.  Few companies can afford to make anything other than a narrow range of shapes and designs.  Yoyos generally conform to established widths, diameters and weights with limited variation, because that’s what sells.  The result is that one yoyo really is as good as the next on a fundamental level.


What does that leave the shopper to work with?  Preference.  Within those narrow acceptable parameters there is still a large range of designs.  Where the weight sits on a yoyo can dramatically affect how it plays on the string.  The curve of the gap can either fit your hand comfortably or not, depending on the size of your hand, how you catch and how you hold the yoyo.  The style of play you choose and the players you emulate will lead you to a shape that works well for a given style of tricks.  If you are like me, a lighter yoyo is preferable.  I don’t play at the speed or level of complexity that more serious yoyoers do, and they often prefer more weight (we are talking a small range, from 62-68g).


Price is meaningless, beyond the constraints of your pocketbook.  Gentry Stein showed that using a $12 plastic yoyo to win a national title.  You can spend $1000 on a yoyo.  Is it going to play ‘better’ than the $12 plastic yoyo?  Probably.  $978 worth of better?  Certainly not.  The cost of a yoyo has so little to do with the design and play of a yoyo as to be insignificant.  You have the choice when buying a yoyo of choosing to spend your money on a yoyo (buying because of what it is), or spending your money to buy a brand name (buying a yoyo because it says Duncan or Yomega on it).


So back to the original question: What makes one yoyo better than the other?


You.

Why are so many yoyos pretty much the same?

Once upon a time, all yoyos were the same.  Or at least close enough.  A wooden oval with a groove carved into the middle down to a narrow axle.  Variations were created where perhaps you had 3 pieces instead of 1, the shape was a tiny bit narrower, wider, bigger, smaller, heavier, lighter. You had either an ‘imperial’ shape, or a ‘butterfly’ shape.  But fundamentally they all pretty much worked the same and the differences in how they played was small.

In the 1990’s yoyos changed.  A lot.  The addition of a plastic sleeve around a metal axle added time to how long your yoyo could sleep, as it reduced friction from cotton string dragging on wood or metal, to smooth plastic against smooth metal.  The real changed happened with the ball bearing.  Through the 90’s ball bearings changed what kind of tricks you could get away with.  Tricks that would have instantly jammed up a fixed axle yoyo suddenly became possible.  Tricks like barrel rolls that we take for granted as simple are nearly impossible on a fixed axle yoyo.

During the 2000’s manufacturers refined yoyo design.  With the advent of “unresponsive” yoyoing (where the yoyo doesn’t come up when you tug, you have to do a ‘bind’ trick) the field of possible tricks was blown open.  It’s funny to think from where we stand now that there was a time when no one knew how to do a bind, the trick we all just do reflexively now.  It also drastically widened the scope of possible yoyo designs.  Previously you were limited in design because you had to keep the ‘gap’ where the string wraps narrow enough to allow the yoyo to come up on a tug.  With the dominance of unresponsive play all you needed was enough inner wall to hold a response system (starburst gave way to o-rings and then the silicone pad that is now standard)that you could bind with.

In the mid-late 2000’s advances in computer controlled lathes allowed for solid aluminum yoyos that could out-preform the variety of plastic and hybrid designs, although they were still really expensive.  For those that were around at the time you probably remember that YoyoJam was the dominant force in high performing affordable yoyos.  They specialized in plastic yoyos with metal rings to push weight out away from the hub for stability and longer play. 

By 2012 prices had dropped significantly to the point where many of the larger brands had high performing metal yoyos that could be purchased for under $50.  The limits of what worked as a yoyo were being tested.  You had the Yoyofactory Superwide which was almost double the width of anything of it’s time.  You also had things like the “Littles” by Chinese manufacturer Aoda that was a bit bigger than a quarter, but could play unresponsive and was capable of handling a lot of hard tricks.

As 2017 reaches it’s end we have been sitting comfortably in a place where the ‘ideal’ yoyo for competition and pushing the limits of trick development has become the industry standard. There are a lot of different designs possible within this narrow bracket, but what this means is that it’s really hard to find a yoyo that doesn’t play well.  Since most of the consumers buying yoyos are kids who want to be the world champion one day, that means that most people who actually want to sell yoyos have to stick within the narrow frame of possible designs.


It’s kind of like Nickleback set the standard for yoyos.  They do what they do well, but how many of us are really passionate about getting there next album right away?  Or are we just buying it because that one song on the radio was catchy (because they are paid to play it twice an hour).


I’m not saying there isn’t innovation.  Yoyofactory dropped the 9dragons which was an amazing novelty yoyo. Bi-metal yoyos have become the norm as mastery of the process has been established by machine shops in China.


What I’m enjoying as 2018 comes to a close is hearing how many people are bored and want something interesting.Many smaller brands are responding to that, the recent spate of slimline/responsive yoyos is evidence of this.I’m looking forward to seeing what 2018 brings!

Stuck in a Yoyo Rut

I haven’t learned a new trick in years.  That’s not as significant as it sounds, as I’m still yoyoing often, and still making new tricks, but the drive to learn other peoples tricks has faded.  I don’t know why, it could be my interest is in other areas of the yoyo world, it could be that I have plenty to do with the elements I know.  Difficulty might be an issue, it’s not easy learning a new pattern of yoyo movements.  I know it’s not due to a lack of tutorials or demo videos.  Part of it is that I stopped competing (at least in 1a).

I think everyone hits this point from time to time.  When you pull out your yoyo it’s easier to slip into the comfortable groove of the combos you’ve worked hard to master and get smooth.  If you have only got a few minutes to yoyo then you don’t want to get partway into learning a trick only to stop and have to go back and start again next time. 

A piece of it is screen time.  My yoyoing practice time has always been when I’m out walking.  When I started I spent a lot of time watching tutorials, but now my screen time is mostly dedicated to working on things for Return Top Shop.  When I am out walking I don’t watch tutorials because it eats up data (yes I know I could download and load onto my phone, but then I would have to remember I want to do that when I’m at my computer :P).  I also don’t walk to and from work anymore.  My wife and I moved in with my father in law to take care of him, and that changed my commute from a 20 minute walk to a 1.5 hour transit.  Less dedicated yoyo time.



Have you hit this rut?  Did you get out of it?  If so, how?

How to Run a Yoyo Contest

Yoyo contest organizing.

If you have ever organized a contest, my hat is off to you.  It’s not an easy thing.  Even the smallest local contest organizer has a lot of responsibility.  It’s not a thankless job, the people that attend are always very appreciative, but as far as recognition outside of that, not much is done.  Having said that, this article isn’t about complaining, it’s about giving you a realistic outline of what goes into running a contest.  Who knows, you might actually want to run one after reading this!  At the very least you might look at approaching the local contest organizer and offering to help out.

For anyone who has attended a contest, you know there are some things to expect.  You can generally expect qualified judges and a stage.  You can expect to see vendor tables to shop at, a practice area and somewhere to sit.  There’s a sound system for the music and nowadays there is an expectation of a live stream, or at least high quality video is posted to youtube afterward.  There are prizes, often a raffle.  A good contest usually has access to food and drink as well.  You also might notice the banner with the sponsor’s logos on it. Generally this is all put together a handful of people, headed up by a single person.


    I can speak to contests up to the size of a small national contest. I’ve run BC provincials, Western Canadian Regionals and Canadian Nationals.  To some degree the work involved is the same, just in gradually increasing scale.


BC provincials

I usually treat this as a fun, small contest with the intent of providing a venue for competitors to hone their stage skills, but mostly as a place for newer yoyoers to have fun and come together to play with yoyo.  I organize a couple standard divisions (1a junior, 1a pro, open/X division).  Scattered in there are various mini contests (sleeper, rock the baby showdown, walk the dog race).


So what are the key steps needed to pull this together?

1. Venue.  First step is finding a venue and secure a date.  This needs to happen far enough in advance that anyone travelling has time to make plans.  For this contest I usually use an elementary school gymnasium.  Because I am a teacher I can generally get a really good rate at my schoool, around $500 for the day.  That usually includes the sound system, tables and chairs.  I have to add on event insurance though, which is another $125. Often some local parents will volunteer to go to Costco and provide a snack table and charge enough to recover costs.

Total $625


2. Judges – This is always the 2nd thing I look for. NO point in going any farther if there are no judges available.  I can usually scrabble together enough people from the local community to judge, although its usually a case of some of the 1a players judge the open division and junior division.  I always try to pay judges at least something, since it’s a pretty boring way to spend your day when you could be yoyoing.  Finally you need someone who will be in charge of organizing the judges and compiling the final scores. I luckily have a parent of a local yoyo champ that is heavily involved and handles this.

So tack on $50 per judge (or higher if you are inviting someone from out of town and compensating for their expenses) usually for around 4 people minimum.

$200

3. Sponsors – With a smaller contest most of the time the best you can get from sponsors is product donations.  Occasionally one or two will add a bit of cash, but for the most part they provide the prizes and raffle prizes. They don’t give away something for nothing either, there is an expectation that they are getting advertising, so someone (usually me) has to put the time into facebook, Instagram, reddit and anywhere else to give them public thank you announcements. If your venue allows sponsors will sometimes send a representative to sell their brand’s yoyos at the event.  There is a cost here, usually around $150 for the stage banner.

$150 Plus time.

4. Trophies/medals. – For smaller contests I usually go with certificates that I can print at home due to the high cost/low return of a small contest. This gives me the freedom to make up some awards as well (funniest yoyo trick, future professional dog walker, etc)

5. Sounds/video – For a smaller contest this is usually a pair of volunteer jobs.  Someone to run a laptop that the players music is loaded into (usually in the morning the day of the event).  I have a decent video camera and usually can get a volunteer to run it.  Then I have to put the hours in at home to edit and upload the videos with the sponsors logos at the beginning. I usually am able to give the volunteers something from the sponsor donations as a thank you

Cost: A lot of time and sponsor donated products.


Beyond that most of what is needed is volunteers – an MC, registration desk, raffle ticket sales, setup crew.  It’s a big job to put together even a small contest.  My hard costs are usually just under $1000CAD.  It’s a stretch to get that back between limited sponsor cash, raffle and registration fees.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I just have to cover the additional costs myself.  The upside to running a store at the event is that my table profits are usually at least close to enough to cover the difference.

Western Canadian Regionals and Canadian Nationals.

For the most part I treat these two the same.  I’m usually either running one or the other as Canadian Nationals alternates east coast/west coast. So when I’m not running nationals WCR I treat it as the year’s ‘big contest’ for those that can’t travel.

As far as the main tasks go they are usually close to the same, with scaled up costs.  A larger/nicer venue is needed, everything else costs a little more.

1.      Venue – Cost varies from 1000-2000 for the venue rental.  Best nationals I’ve held cost 1600 plus 150 for the venue rental.  It had the benefit of a kitchen staff so food and drink were included.  It also required a lot more setup/teardown but players are usually willing to show up early and help with that.

2.      Judges – You can’t run a larger contest just with local volunteers so I usually have to call out for people with more experience.  This year I was lucky enough to get some volunteers from the USA to drive up for the contest.  They were kind enough to do the job for $50 each and a place to stay.  Total cost was $250

3.        For a national contest we are usually able to get more cash sponsorship, sometimes up to a total of $1000.  The banner cost goes up as you need a bigger one for a bigger stage, so usually around $200 for that.

4.      Trophies – for nationals a good quality trophy is required.  2016’s organizer was able to get something cool from a sponsor, 2017 I spent about $250 for all the divisions to get a 1st place trophy and 2nd and 3rd place medals for each event.

5.      MC – for a bigger contest I budget at least $100 for this.

6.      Sound and video – I’ve been lucky enough to get a volunteer for this.

All in Canadian Nationals can be run from $2000-$2500


Canada is small beans in the yoyo world.  Our community is limited by geography and access to yoyos (The word yoyo is trademarked).  Step outside and things get bigger.  A few years ago the Vancouver group considered putting in a bid to host worlds’.  We ended up deciding it wasn’t feasible due to cost.  Getting a large enough venue and covering all of the associated costs was going to end up requiring somewhere between $100 000 and $140 000.  No one around here had the cash for that, and we didn’t feel confident we would be able to recoup the costs.


I don’t know what the costs are for contests outside of Canada.  Steve brown recently replied to a question on facebook regarding contest costs by providing per minute cost breakdown of a couple contests he runs which made for interesting reading, so I’m quoting them below.


“It varies wildly from one event to the next. Worlds 2016 cost roughly $2800/hour to run, which is about $47/minute. Considering that a player who is doing a 1-minute freestyle takes up about 3+ minutes of contest time, then consider that they are getting like a 65% discount. ;) And that's assuming that you are not charging for the administrative time leading up to the event.”


“For contrast, Ohio States cost about $183/hour to run last year, not including administrative time before the event. Adding admin time would probably bump that to about $300/hour.”


Food for thought for sure.  I think I’ll leave the massive contests to the people who have the knowledge and skill set to organize something that large, but I’m content to keep running our small Canadian events.  More than anything what makes it possible is the huge amount of local support I have from parents and yoyoers alike.  When I am putting on an event all I have to do is post “I need someone to do _______ at the contest” and I always get a volunteer.  Yoyo is not a major sport.  I don’t see it ever becoming a major sport.  Volunteers will always be what makes our happy little corner of nerdsville run. 


If you have made it through this article, feel free to join in the comments.  I’d love to hear either your experiences running a contest, or a shout out for volunteers that have made your corner of the yoyo world a better place!


As a little bonus, use the code “contestblog” to get 15% off any “Vosun”, “Magic Yoyo” or “Rain City Skills” toys between now and October 19th!

How to be ridiculous at a yoyo contest

 (Post Originally written May 2018)

So I did a thing.


Yesterday at the Canadian National Yoyo contest I competed in 2 divisions.  I defended my 4a Championship title (and lost to the Amazing Terrance Wang) which was fun.  I also caved to peer pressure from my friend and a Canadian yoyo hero and the organizer Wayne Ngan and competed in 1a.  I wasn’t going to because a couple years ago I stopped practicing 1a.  I still do it and am constantly making up tricks, but I’m not doing the repetitive practice of specific tricks that makes competition work.  So I told him I’d do it, but if I make finals I’m not going to take it seriously.


Initially I was just going to do something stupid like get on stage, throw the yoyo and stare intensely at the audience, making uncomfortable eye contact with as many people as possible before the yoyo spun out or the 3 minutes ran out.


I ended up going a little more creative and basically did a half-arsed AP (Art and performance) routine.  The idea was basically to take each of the Rain City Skills yoyos and do something ridiculous to match the theme of the yoyo.  For the showgirl yoyo I attached the little feather boa that they came with to the string and acted surprised when it unwound, did a couple tricks then wore it around my neck.  For the Hipster Highlife I used the beer shop edition.  The plan was to stop, pour root beer in it and do a shot before going on to Yoyo. Unfortunatly I forgot the root beer, lol.  Finally I pulled out 2 gamers that were stuck together with an elastic band as the soundtrack to Mortal Combat came on and I mimicked playing a video game before taking them apart and playing with one.  The routine culminated with me pretending to hit myself in the head and fall to the stage when the “Finish Him” was announced on the soundtrack.


Why did I do this?  Beyond just not wanted to do a 3 minute routine this is part of my ongoing frustration with yoyo contests.  With a few exceptions they are boring as snot to watch.  I stopped actually watching the stage at contests years ago because most of the time its just a person on stage staring at their hands twitching.  Occasionally you get a true performer who can make their routine interesting to a point, but the limits of the scoring system don’t reward that enough to make it a priority.


The Mountain Dew cup at the 2018 World Yoyo contest was in part the inspiration for what I refer to as my “stupid yoyo” routine.  It was a minor event as part of the contest that was a way to thank their biggest sponsor, Mountain Dew.  Anyone could enter.  You were given a cheap plastic yoyo that didn’t even have a ball bearing that you had to use.  You had 30 seconds to yoyo to this really cheesy pop song that I think was written for the event.  Initially it was a challenge of “What can I actually do with this yoyo”.  It quickly evolved to “How ridiculous can I get with this yoyo”.  The best part was who won.  A kid who walked on stage, strutted around, pointed at the sponsor logo on the stage then threw a sleeper while he chugged a bottle of Mountain Dew.


It was fun.  It was fun for the players and it was fun for the audience.  It was accessible to everyone.  I wanted to channel a little of that, give the parents and audience something fun to watch and give the judges a laugh.  I think that ended up being the most important part.  The judges are the unsung heroes of any yoyo contest.  They sit at that table and concentrate hard all day long.  I tried it once, it was exhausting and I never want to do it again, so in this act my hats were literally off to them.


The big question now is…should I do the work to turn this concept into a legit AP routine and submit to worlds for 2019?  And if so, what do I do with the DUCC? Might be fun for a chuckle.

Entrepreneurial Skills in the Classroom

Bear with me, this does relate to yoyos.

 

Last week I taught 2 workshops at our district professional day.  It’s a day where all the schools in the district close and all the teachers congregate at one of the high schools to learn and improve our practice.  Anyone can present a workshop on whatever their passion is.  I ran 2 workshops.  In the morning I ran one on how to have a classroom economy.  In the afternoon I ran one on how to use skill toys in your school to foster mindfulness, community, communication skills and confidence in kids.  I have done these two a number of times, but this year I had the light bulb moment of how connected the two have become for me.


Over the last couple years the education system in British Columbia (Canada) has received a massive overhaul.  We are trying to teach children who have unprecedented access to information how to grow up and function in a world where half the jobs they will have when they grow up likely haven’t been invented yet.  We also have to teach them how to cope with being constantly connected to other people, how to critically think about what they see and here, and most importantly, how to be kind to each other.


So out the window went the old list of things to memorize.  Instead we are now focusing on what are called “Core Competencies”.  There are big picture ideas that umbrella the skills to learn and do, rather than the details of what to learn.  We are crafting individualized curriculum focusing on figuring out what the kids know, what they want to know, and where to go from there.  There are still fundamentals to be learned, but the idea is to wrap them in concrete, useful tasks.  “Inquiry” is the catchphrase.  Get them asking questions and figuring out how to answer them, rather than giving them answers and testing.


Part of this overhaul is a recognition that for the last 50 years we’ve done a disservice to our society by over-emphasizing a university degree as the goal.  We now have a glut of 25 year olds with arts degrees and no job, and plumbing not being done because it wasn’t seen as the ideal career to aspire to.  So we now have ADST (Applied Design, Skills and Technologies) with the fundamental goal of teaching kids to work with their hands, so it becomes ingrained in kids from an early age that it’s a socially acceptable option.


I’ve been running a classroom economy using fake money for years now.  Every year we have done some sort of crafting activity where the kids make things then another class comes in, I hand out the fake money and they buy stuff.  This year I added layers to it to fit the new ADST curriculum.  Students had to design, prototype, do market research (survey their classmates), mass produce (make 10) and then sell their product (to another class).  Afterwards they had to reflect on what worked and what they should do next time to improve sales.  For some kids this looked like a completely new product. For others who made a couple different things, it meant they might choose the one that sold best or for the most money and make more of that next time.  The next step from the teaching perspective is to make them use the money they earned from this sale to purchase the materials for the next one.


What was fun was that it also gave me an idea of what to teach next.  The other teacher reported that she got a few comments like “They said it was $5, I gave them a $10 bill and got back a $20!”  So I clearly need to work on the concept of making change.


This week we are going next level and taking it to the real world.  My class is doing a 1 day skill toy sale at lunch time on Friday (yoyo, kendama, begleri, etc).  The purpose of it is to raise money for charity.  I have been making them do as much as possible. They chose the charity, decided what needed to be done to prepare for the sale, what jobs their were to do during the sale and what there is to do afterwards.  I brought in samples of toys that they can sell and told them what the cost was.  They then had to figure out how much they could add to this to donate to charity.  From this I learned that the idea of a retail markup is a really complex one. 

Me: “If it costs $15 and we charge $20, then $5 goes to charity”

Student: “I think the $15 should go to charity”


It’s given me insight to the people who complain about the cost of yoyos.  I suspect they simply don’t understand how the economy they live in works.  I’m really excited at the changes to our education system.  It basically reinforces what I’ve been doing my whole career, which is find the things the kids want to learn, do that then fill in the holes in between.  Make it as real as possible for them. Have fun.  A lot of fun.


What is neat is that by tying yoyos and the new curiculum together, this is the first time in 5 years that I’ve run the yoyo workshop and had teachers actually follow up.  One teacher contacted her principal right away and got permission to order a class set of yoyos.  The other one is going to run a large fundraiser yoyo sale at her school and work with her class to teach them tricks and get them ready.


*Update
New School Year, I’m going to try doing this with my grade 1/2 class this year.  Wish me luck! 

Yoyo Reviewers

Youtube.It’s the source of the majority of learning in the developed world as well as being the source of the delights and horrors of viral videos.

It’s also the place people go for advice before making a purchase.  I know us old farts still like to look to the written word from what we perceive as reliable sources, but in my observation people are increasingly more interested in viewing than reading.


Yoyo reviews are inherently controversial.  I remember a conversation with Steve Brown about why he stopped doing them and replaced it with essentially paid advertisements on Yoyo news.com.  He got tired of everyone complaining.  If you only give good reviews, you aren’t really a reliable reviewer. If you say anything negative about a yoyo you have to deal with people who love the yoyo or the brand whining about it.


Added to that is the fact that in the last 5 years there have been fewer and fewer crappy yoyos.  We have hit a point where there is an accepted idea of what will work in a yoyo and more importantly there is a plethora of shops that have both the equipment and expertise to make a yoyo properly.


So where do reviewers fit in?  If yoyos are like dogs (All dogs are good dogs) then what do we need reviewers for?  The answer is preference.  While all yoyos are good yoyos, for each individual some are gooder than others (no it’s not a word, but English doesn’t work at the best of times and I’m using it and you can’t stop me).  People’s preference is huge.  I had a discussion with a friend about this recently about the fact that he prefers heavier yoyos and I like lighter ones.  I don’t generally enjoy ‘H’ shaped yoyos, I lean towards throws that have some variant of an ‘O’ shape.  He on the other hand likes his modified ‘V’ or ‘W’ shapes.  The big difference being play style.  I’m not a competitor, I play chill and like a comfortable yoyo that doesn’t hit the end of the string hard.  He plays faster than me, so he needs more weight and stability.

What is comes down to isn’t finding an ‘objective’ or ‘balanced’ reviewer (impossible), but instead finding one with similar tastes to you who is honest about what they are doing and what their limitations are.  If the reviewer is a recognized champion on an international level, you know you can trust them to tell you what will make a good competition yoyo.  If they aren’t a competitor, but have been throwing for years and have handled 100’s of yoyos, you can trust them to give a reasonable assessment of they yoyos capabilities within the context of their abilities.  It’s up to you to choose a reviewer that is right for you.


So the job of a youtube reviewer is threefold. 


1. Unboxing

2. Comparison

3. Personal Opinion.


While online stores display pictures of the yoyos and sometimes pictures of them spinning or a video created by the brand selling them, seeing what it’s going to look like out of the box and getting someone else's first impression can be huge.  After your first couple of yoyos you have moved from getting a toy to play with into the realm of collecting yoyos, as which point it’s the experience that you are after.  What’s the packaging like?  Are there going to be surprises in the box? What does the yoyo feel like in the hand?  Is there joy in that first throw?


Comparison is a key.  A friend of mine briefly setup a website for doing reviews called cyyclical.com.  He had a great system.  He used a selection of his favourite throws that covered a decent selection of the broad ‘types’ of yoyo.  He reviewed them, then in future reviews used them as a comparison point.  He'd also compare to other similar yoyos.  If you are thinking of buying a yoyo and want something that you know you are going to like, being told that it’s similar to something you already own will help you make your decision.  At the same time, being told how it’s different from a yoyo you own gives you the perspective to decide if you want to try something new.  While you can’t objectively say “X yoyo is better than Y yoyo”, you can say “This one feels heavier on the string but seems to get through longer tricks”.


Personal Opinion.  It is the most powerful marketing tool if used right.  A trusted source telling you that they like a thing will make that thing sell.  If Gentry Stein goes on record saying that a particular yoyo is his new favourite, you can be sure a horde of 10 year olds are going to rush out and get one.  I wouldn’t though, as I know I have different tastes in yoyos than Gentry.  At the same time if John Doe (Random made up person you’ve never heard of) tells the world he loves a yoyo, the world will blink and move on. So personal opinion is good, depending on who is doing the talking.


I like a few different yoyo reviewers.  I think my favourite is Thomas Velto at Throws’n’Brews.  Not just because he’s really nice and lets me bribe him to showcase my yoyos on his website, but because he’s fun to watch and contributes a lot of content that is useful and interesting. He also has vaguely similar tastes in yoyos to me, which is helpful.  Dylan Kowalski is good for a watch as well, he specializes in more budget friendly yoyos.


So my opinion is that we need reviewers.  They may not be able to be objectively objective, but they give us information that we can use to then make our own judgement.

 

Here’s a couple reviews of some of my favourite yoyos, enjoy!
  

How to make a Yoyo Tutorial

Teaching strangers is a unique activity. “I have this skill that in some form makes me stand out from others, let me teach it to you so I become less unique.”  At the same time it is the foundation of human civilization.  If the first pre-human to think of using a rock as a tool didn’t share the idea, where would we be?


The internet has repeatedly changed the way yoyo was taught.  Previous to this you learned yoyo tricks either from an actual human in front of you, a mail order VHS (and later DVD) or book that had diagrams of how to do yoyo tricks.  The last on this list often required you to practically learn a new language!  I recently was reminded of a book called “The Yonomicon” that was one of the better examples of this.  Unlike the bulk of the “Learn to Yoyo” books, It broken down some of the more advanced tricks of it’s era rather than the same old couple dozen tricks.


What this meant was that it was pretty easy to get access to the beginner tricks.  You could buy a book (or many beginner yoyos came with a small booklet) that could teach you the basics, but from there you had to hunt, meet people or innovate your own tricks.  The internet took this to a new level.  Instead of being stuck with whatever you could get your hands on for learning, you could dial up and look on a website!  As soon as the technology allowed for it, yoyo enthusiasts started finding ways to use it to share tricks.  Websites like (sector Y and …) used drawn diagrams to indicate which finger does what in a step by step breakdown.  As download speeds became faster (and it took less than 5 minutes for your dial up modem to load a page with a couple images on it) people started uploading photographs of hands doing the tricks, again, step by step so it was easy to follow. The key through all of this was a step by step breakdown that gave the learner a series of points of reference or goals to aim for.


The logical extension of all of this came when the ability to host videos on a website became readily available.  Andre Boulay at yoyoexpert.com was one of the first to really work with this on a level that gave mass access.  He put together a series of sets of tricks that worked the player from the beginning to the to tier difficulty for the day. Others followed, came and went.  When I was getting into yoyo rethinkyoyo.com was a fantastic resource.  Currently the top of the game is yoyotricks.com.  With high end video equipment and professionally set up filming space they have created (and continue) to create some of the most well thought out tutorials and instructional videos.


So how to create a tutorial.  There are a few methods. 

1. Yoyoexpert’s tutorials were originally a single take, face on shot with Andre talking through the trick, breaking it down into learnable pieces.  This was coupled with a transcript of each video that you could read.  I liked the transcript because my partner at the time was getting really tired of hearing “First you throw a really strong sleeper...”

2. Rethinkyoyo shot from multiple angles and used slow motion to really give you time to catch all the little elements.  Instead of a verbal explanation his tricks were explained in written form in the video.

3. Yoyotricks.com does a mix of the two.  Verbal breakdown with slow motion and multiple angles (similar to the style I use for my tutorials).

4. Slow motion tricks.  This doesn’t really count as a tutorial, but get’s called such.  In this format a player films the trick at speed, then uploads it slowed down to 1/2 or 1/4 speed. There is no actual breakdown or instruction, just a slow motion video of a single trick.


I suspect everyone has a preference for how they learn.  I prefer having someone explaining it, and a point of view angle always helps with those complicated string wraps and hit.  I know there are many players who really only need a slow motion breakdown to figure out a trick. 


What’s your style?

 

How do you build a yoyo combo?

  

I think there are a lot of ways to build a yoyo combo.How do you do it?

       I’m a musician and a songwriter.  I’ve also been through the university grind of doing a history degree.  The result is that my brain very much wants a theme and a pattern and some sort of point to anything I’m doing.  In yoyo this translates into needing to have a theme to build a combo around.  I often will start with an element, then try to weave other elements in and out that are similar in style.  If it starts with short sharp movements then that will be the pattern for the combo.  If it starts with slack, I’ll have slack elements patterned in. I think this has the benefit of making for interesting combos and keeping my combos from looking the same.  The downside is that I have a lot of ‘tricks’ that aren’t complete because they didn’t work into a theme.

      I also rarely make combos with intent.  I can’t sit down and decided to make one.  My songwriting has always been like that.  I call it a “Drive by Muse-ing”.  Some artists have a Muse that whispers in their ear constantly giving them ideas.  Mine flies by, dumps a piece of art in my head and then continues on.  Songs come out of me quickly in a sitting.  Yoyo combos aren’t quite that abrupt.  The start is, I’ll be playing and all of a sudden it’s creation time and I have to go with it.  I’ll get part way into a combo in a burst, then spend a couple weeks slowly puzzling through the next steps.  Again, I can’t just decided to finish, I’ve got to pull out the yoyo, try for a bit, then put it away and let my brain work on it.  Then randomly the next element will happen.


      Invariably I get stumped.  The combo could finish, but it doesn’t feel right ending there.  So I move on and start making a new combo.  Somewhere along the way the 2nd one merges with the first one and it turns out they were meant to be together. The combo at 1:15 in this video is a great example.  It’s actually 3 combos that eventually just merged into one. 

https://youtu.be/WwdYRs_raEY


      What really frustrates me is how many tricks I never finish.  Sometimes my muse flies by and drops half a combo, then never comes back with the rest.  I guess that’s par for the course though.  I’ve got a stack of about 200 pages of song lyrics that never went anywhere as well so I guess it’s just how my brain works.


What about you?


At one point I did start making a series on this topic, and as with so many projects I lost track of it, but here are the videos I did make!  I’ve also got a series of quick elements you can build into combos under the playlist “1 take tutorials”

 How to build a Combo

1 Take tutorials

 

What trick do I learn next?

“What trick should I Learn next?”

      This is both the easiest and the hardest question.  The easy answer is ‘any trick you don’t already know’.  The hard answer is find what moves or inspires you.

      I teach yoyo.  I do many other things in the yoyo world, but first and foremost I teach, it’s who I am.  I haven’t been on top of making tutorials lately, as injuries and chronic pain have limited my yoyoing time and as a result I’m not creating and perfecting new material often enough.  I do still attend the Vancouver Yoyo club and teach there, as well as my school yoyo club

      When a kid asks me the question, generally I answer it with one of my own “What do you know?  What is the hardest thing you can do?”  The next thing is generally either an evolution of that trick (from elevator to brain twister, from Houdini mount to soiled panties), or a lateral move (you know cold fusion?  How about Spirit bomb, it’s time to get your wrist mount on).

       What I really run into as a challenge when faced with that question is my memory. I have both learned and created hundreds of tricks in my 8 years yoyoing and forgotten almost all of them.  What always makes me laugh is when a kid names one of my tricks and asks me to help them with it.  I have to pull up my website and find my own tutorial and watch it to quickly re-learn the trick!


      How do you answer this question?  Do you have a go-to trick list you keep in your head?  A single trick you teach everyone? (When I joined the Vancouver Yoyo club 8 years ago, Gary Li forced everyone to learn “Soiled Panties” no matter how noob they were).

I’ve been doing a daily series of unedited simple element tutorials.  Here are a couple, check out the “1 take tutorials” playlist for all of them!

 

Happy teaching!

Yoyoing In Public

        I often wonder what percentage of people who are skill toy enthusiasts ply their skill in public.Either professionally (busking or on stage) or just waiting in the mall or walking down the street?I know it can be a challenge, as so many of us find our way to skill toys because we are introverts, or have anxiety or just a tough time talking to people.Handling those “Hey man, what’s that” or “Can I try it?” Or “Can you walk the dog?” Comments and questions can be stressful if you aren’t prepared for them.Even worse are the times when people look down on you “why are you playing with a kids toy, grow up” or the comments of “nerd”, “Dork”, “loser” or worse.I hate the idea of people not doing something that makes them happy because of a fear of social interactions.

 

      I play everywhere I go.  At the bus, at work, when walking.  I have ADHD (like for real diagnosed and medicated, not the “oh yeah, I can never remember where I put my keys”) and it’s immensely useful for me to have something to do with my hands. I like to look on the random social interactions as an opportunity to improve someone's day, make a connection with someone who perhaps really needs that connection.  “Hey man, what’s that?!” Can be handled a variety of ways.  Simply telling them what it is and giving them a bit of history helps. With something obscure like Begleri people are usually gratified to have learned something.  With yoyo there is always the challenge of having a beginner yoyo with you.  “Can you walk the dog” gives you two options if you don’t have a beater with you.  You can walk the dog with your $120 yoyo or you can tell them “We don’t walk the dog anymore.  Yoyos have evolved into this wing shape, so we walk the parrot now”. Then you do a finger or arm grind.  That usually “wow”s them enough to be good, if not throw in a rock the baby and you are good.


      Handling negativity is hard.  I personally have never had to deal with it in the context of skill toys, but I have the advantage of having started as an adult, I’m 6’2 and have been told that in general I’m not a very approachable person unless I’m making the effort.  This defers a lot of people who might hassle someone smaller and younger.  I had a friend once who didn’t throw in public when he was in High school because he already got hassled enough being short and Asian, adding a yoyo would just have been ammunition.  To those that share his plight I’ll say that you aren’t alone and that eventually you get to leave high school and while the jerks stay jerks, as an adult you get to pick who you spend time with. Keep playing when you can and find friends who get you. 


      I actually once had a scary turn awesome moment.  I was waiting at a sketchy bus stop at night yoyoing.  A group of hooded, scruffy looking young men walked towards me.  I was in a relatively safe part of town and wasn’t too worried, but you never know.  What ended up happening is the very desirable “Holy $#%@ that’s awesome.  How are you doing that?  Show us some more”. Followed by some fist bumps, high 5’s and a happy parting of company, everyone’s nights much improved. 


To the rest of you who do play in public, what are your strategies for these random encounters?

I’ll leave you with this video which made the rounds a while ago, a delightful case of a misunderstood skill toy and an encounter with a security guard that turned out how you want these encounters to!



Travelling to Yoyo Contests

     In my 8+ years of yoyoing I’ve had the privelage of travelling a fair bit to different contests.Part of that is having a wife who loves travelling and will find any excuse to do so.I’ve been to the world yoyo contests in Prague, Iceland and beautiful Cleveland.I’ve driven 6 times now down to Seattle washington for the Pacific Northwest Regional yoyo contest.I’ve been down to California for BAC and California States. Alberta and Toronto in Canada for Canadian Nationals.I love it.Getting together with the community is one of the most amazing parts of being a yoyoer.As I said, I have a wife who loves to travel, so we’ve often ended up in a variety of other places either before or after the contest (The most memorable being our honeymoon in Italy before heading to the Czech Republic for worlds 2014).


I thought I’d write a post sharing some of the amusing stories from my travels. 


     Last year (2017) when we went to Reyjkeyavik for Worlds my wife and I popped over to London then up to Edinburgh afterwards.  My wife is also a flow toy performer and we try to work some performing into our travelling, more for a chance to get to know people locally than anything else. We were in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. (Add brief history)

     We performed in a variety of shows in the ‘Free Fringe’ which is essentially the Fringe festival of the fringe festival.  Most of the shows we were paid in beer, but we had a good time and got to see a lot of really neat acts. The most amusing part was the evening the front row was a bunch of stand up comedians who had come to their friend’s show.  I was approached afterwards by one who informed me that the row of cynical, jaded comedians all heard ‘yoyoer’ and were prepared to mock this ridiculous kids toy.  Instead they sat for 3 minutes with their jaws on the floor.  I think I got paid 2 beers for that performance ;)

     Crossing the border to PNWR is always fun.  The questions, the looks of confusion and the drastic difference in tone and attitude between the 2 country’s border officers. We are usually crossing at around 5:30AM.  The first question is the standard:

“What brings you to the USA today”

To which we reply:

“Going to a yoyo contest”

Some of the responses that have stood out as funny

“A what?”

“How much is the cash prize if you win”. (Lol, cash prize)

“People still do that?”

      I once had a near disaster with the question “Are you meeting anyone down there?”.  My answer is usually yes, some other people from Vancouver and some friends from the internet.  This day the officer was more serious than usual asking that question (which is saying a lot for US border guards, they make concrete look light hearted and fun).  Once I got through I stopped for gas (It’s about 30-40% cheaper than in Canada) and discovered the car in front of me was someone else from Vancouver. They had answered the same question with “Yeah, the guy behind us”.  Had I not answered correctly it probably would have meant a delay at the very least.

      Coming home is usually a different story. But there was one year I was pulled aside for inspection.  They poked though the car, looked at the case of yoyos and asked me to yoyo for them!  I suspect it was more about proving I was actually a yoyoer, but I think it at least added something fun and different to their evening.

      My best airplane story was coming back from Toronto where Canadian Nationals was held in 2016.  I had won my first national 4a title and was extremely excited.  To the point where I was still wearing my medal (a really cool wooden one that doubled as a yoyo) the next day when I went through security.  As my case of yoyos went through the X-ray machine, I say the converter belt stop and the young woman looking at it grow increasingly confused.  She turned to ask me and I pulled out my medal and told her they were yoyos and that I’d just won the championships.  Again, I got asked to show them some tricks.


I’ve never had a similar light-hearted experience with American customs.  But maybe it’s a Canadian thing.


       My favourite bit of travelling was when we did our Epic Road Trip in 2015.  We really wanted to drive across Canada, but couldn’t make the timing work.  What we ended up doing was Frieghting our camping gear to London Ontario where my brother lives, then flying to Toronto and renting an SUV.  We spent 5 weeks performing, meeting with local yoyo clubs and seeing the parts of Eastern Canada I’d only ever read about in books.  We performed at a variety of different shows, but the best part was meeting with yoyoers.  I was midway through my “Trick a Day, Eh?” Project.  I was collecting a trick on film from a Canadian for each day of the year.  We hit Toronto where we stayed with a friend of my wife’s, then up to Ottawa to stay with a yoyoer friend, Greg Pettit.  We camped for 4 days on Lake Ontario then drove up to Quebec City where I managed to meet with a couple yoyoers then down to Montreal where I met with the club and was taken out for Poutine by them (of course a mandatory event).  Across to the maritime, out to the tip of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  We ended up on a float in Halifax’s Pride parade and walked the street where my mother in law grew up.  Andra went to the maritime museum to find the landing records that showed where her dad landed when he immigrated to Canada from England.


      When we got back to Toronto we dropped off our gear to be freighted back to Vancouver, cleaned up the SUV and returned it.  The look on the rental agent’s face was hilarious.  He thought the odometer was broken, he didn’t believe anyone would have put 7000 kilometres on a rental car!


      I’m looking forward to future travels.  I’m planning on Boston for the USA National Championship this year.  I’m also hoping to hit at least one more USA contest.  2019 I’ll be visiting Cleveland again for worlds and to hang out with all the friends I’ve made over the years.


I’d love to hear some of your funny and interesting travel stories!

Yoyo Contests - Where is the Fun?

Why isn’t yoyo more fun?

As far as I’m concerned 42=Fun


     The purpose of life, the universe and everything is to have fun.  The reason we have an internet full of cat videos instead of more ‘important’ things is because having fun, laughing and sharing joy is what humans are for.  It doesn’t need to go any deeper than that.  You want the scientific basis for my assertion?  Um.  Yeah.  Don’t have that, but I have confidence! 


     Ok, seriously though,I have really been considering this lately.  Yoyo clubs, contests, online groups.  So much if it is too serious.  Was this always the way?  I don’t see it.  One piece of evidence is the begleri community.  It’s a rather young community, and really happy-go-lucky.  I think yoyo used to be more fun, back before the ball bearings and the aircraft aluminum and the world championships.  At this point when I go to contests (Including worlds) I barely watch any of the competition, I spend my time with people, talking, teaching, learning and trying to squeeze some fun into the event.

     When I run contests in Vancouver, I regularly invite the crew from Terra Kendama to come and run an event.  They usually split it into 2 events, beginner and advanced.  The advanced is the usual boring to watch “Everyone do this trick…do the next one” with the only excitement being the elimination process.  It’s the way yoyo contests used to be run before freestyles took over.

     The beginner events are where the fun happens.  Sometimes through the course of the day I have them do filler activities between yoyo sets and it’s always a blast.  Instead of just “Who can land it in the big cup, now the little cup” they do things like the “unicorn” trick, where you balance the Ken (the body) on your forehead pointing outward like a unicorn horn with the Tama (Ball) balanced behind your head holding it in place.  Everyone looks ridiculous, but everyone who wants to is able to at least make the attempt and they spend the whole time laughing.  Inclusion makes for a better party.  There is something fantastic about 8 year olds kids and 40 year old kids being ridiculous together and just have FUN.

     The 2017 World Yoyo contest in Reykjavik, like every other year, got some things right, some things wrong, and a fair bit in between.  What they did better than any contest I’ve ever been to is figure out how to bring some of the FUN back into yoyo contests. I’m sure the Mountain Dew Cup was something silly they threw in to give value to a sponsor, but it turned out to be the most important thing they did at the contest.  They took the serious, intense competition out of the yoyo and replaced it with “Go screw around and have fun”.  They gave the prize to the person that went the furthest into the realm of ridiculous and it was Magnificent.

     Don’t get me wrong, contests are enjoyable for what they are, and if you are a serious competitor they are an integral part of the yoyo experience for you.  Likewise they have huge value as community gatherings and as a place for novice throwers to be inspired.

     I want to run a contest.  I’m going to call it the “Stupid Yoyo Contest”.  It’ll be an all day event full of things like walk the dog races, rock the baby battles and anything else I can think of that keeps it from getting serious.  I want to make an entrance requirement that each person brings crafting materials, and we set up a table where people experiment with making weird and unusual yoyos out of everything from bottle caps to old shoes.  I want to have an “alternative freestyle” event where you aren’t allowed to do any of the standard styles, you have to do one of the alternatives, from Möbius, to Double Dragon to 7a. 

It’s time to mix it up.


     Of course this is all a pipe dream because at the end of the day for yoyo contests to happen people need to be willing to travel to them and spend a little bit of money.  Who is going to pay for a day of silliness and fun when they could go spend $75 to be serious and spend 1 minute on stage to rank 37th in a contest.

Me.

     I guess the counter argument that resonates most strongly is a simple one.  Contests aren’t supposed to be for that kind of fun.  Fun is what you do elsewhere in the yoyo world at your yoyo club, with your friends or occasionally online.  Contests are for competition, they are the place for the serious players to be serious.  You don’t expect a ‘fun’ event for the amature footballers when you go watch the superbowl. Likewise it would be ridiculous to expect to see ‘fun’ events as part of the Olympics.  We are after all trying to turn yoyo into a serious sport to be recognized.


     I guess where I’m hung up is this; Why?  Why do we want yoyo to be considered a serious sport? I can’t see us ever getting to the point where we are pulling in serious sponsor money for events (although a little more would be nice). For sure our elite players should be recognized for the tens of thousands of hours they put in.  At this point contests are the best way to do that (and I don’t have an alternative suggestion at this time). 


     I have only been in the yoyo scene for 8 years and outside of the research I’ve done for my book I lack memory of contests before that time, so it might be that yoyo contests have always been this serious, intense thing.  It might also be a result of the internet, the fact the loudest discussions tend to be driven by the angriest people so even when I have a good time at a contest I come home to the internet being mad about it.


     Anyhow, that’s my contest rant.  Absolutely feel free to argue with me in the comments, I’d like to hear a few different perspectives.  This is definitely not a well researched piece of writing.


 The Crowd at the Pacific Northwest Regional yoyo Contest Photo Credit: Pacific Northwest Regional Yoyo Contest Facebook Page  https://goo.gl/images/U2KLvJ  

The Crowd at the Pacific Northwest Regional yoyo Contest
Photo Credit: Pacific Northwest Regional Yoyo Contest Facebook Page https://goo.gl/images/U2KLvJ 

The Collecting of Things

I’m fascinated by collecting. It seems to be something that humans do to excess (although I’ve met a few squirrels that are downright certifiably nuts about nuts).  People collect for all sorts of reasons, from fascination with a thing, to wanting to connect with something bigger (a brand, a community) to the edge of mental illness (when it crosses over into hoarding).


I imagine to a degree that collecting is a evolutionarily selected for trait.  Certain members of our species out-survived others because they were more adept at collecting food and making it through the winter or drought or blight times.  More recently some survive over others because they are able to accumulate wealth that purchases resources, protection and other key survival items.


What got me thinking about this was actually shoes.  People that collect Nike runners in particular.  Running shoes are the height of consumable good.  They are designed and intended to be purchased and used up in a few months of serious training.  The materials are designed to fall apart, the tread wears fast and the cushioning deflates.  They are not intended to be put on a shelf and looked at.  Yet they are.  People spend frightening amounts of money on shoes that never get worn.


As with running shoes, skill toys qualify for none of the above mentioned survival traits (although I’m sure I’ll see cries of “Yoyos are life!” In the comments).  Unlike running shoes, it’s possible to have a pristine yoyo collection that does get played with (over carpet, with a short string in a padded room with a metal detector at the door).  Of course the extreme end doesn’t allow for that, as everything needs to stay sealed, mint in box.


But there are varying degrees of collector.

1. The museum collector - You purchase your items, then keep them in their boxes and put them in sealed displays to be looked at but never played with.  You might collect everything or just rarities, but you are only interested in mint condition, unopened in box.  If you are going to play with it, you buy a 2nd one for that purpose

2. The display collector - You are more flexible about playing with your toys.  You usually display them in or with the box, but you will take them out and play with them (although usually over a carpet). 

3. The casual collector - You collect for the sake of having the variety to play with.  You aren't as worried about condition as you intend to give each one a turn in your bag or on your belt for a day here and there.

4. The brand collector - You are very selective about your collecting. Within your niche hobby you collect everything you can from your brand.  If it’s a yoyo company you have every yoyo in every colourway, including that rare prototype that no one knew existed.  You have every hat, t-shirt, badge, pin and sticker.  You probably even collect empty boxes.

5. The trader - You don’t collect for the sake of keeping the throws, you are trying to get a chance to play with every possible yoyo (begleri, kendama, etc).  You hunt the buy/sell/trade forums looking for deals, trying to get your hands on as many different toys as you can for as little as you can spend.

6. The hoarder - You have 3 boxes full of broken yoyo parts. You buy every yoyo you can find, even the terrible dollar store ones that no one in their right mind would play with.  You bought a bigger house to hold your boxes of yoyos, yoyo packaging, life size cutouts of Gentry Stein and other collectables.  It’s rumoured that you have Jensen Kimmet living in your garage.  You feed him donuts and he makes you yoyos. 

7. The mail addict - This is me.  I just like getting yoyos in the mail.  That was why I collected.  I solved that problem by starting returntopshop.com.  Now I get yoyos in the mail, get to try them, then sell them at a “profit”. 


Did I miss anything?

Where do you fit?

 Seen: A large part of Luckey Meisenheimer’s yoyo collection in a big pile (Over 3000 yoyos)   https://www.yo-yos.net/worlds_largest_pile_of_yo.htm

Seen: A large part of Luckey Meisenheimer’s yoyo collection in a big pile (Over 3000 yoyos)
 https://www.yo-yos.net/worlds_largest_pile_of_yo.htm

What the heck is Full Loop Yoyo?

I first learned of full loop yoyo after the 2017 world yoyo contest.  My wife and I (along with many other people ) decided to visit the UK on our way back from Iceland.  The London club organized a meet and we all hung out and yoyo’d in the park.

I met Luna Harran (@thesonicpineapple on instagram) at this time.  She stood out because she was doing anything but 1a.  At one point she pulled off a Brent stole.  With her feet while sitting on a tree branch.  I started learning a style called “Super Mobius” or SuMo from her.  This style was created by Doctor Popular (reference http://yoyo.wikia.com/wiki/Styles_Of_Play) and involves taking the knot out of the yoyo string, completly untwisting it then tiring it together into a giant loop.  It was named by Zammy

Quite from Zammy:

Full loop yoyoing is an evolution of the style known as "sumo- AKA Super Moebius".

Back in the hay day of thin gaps and responsive yoyos, people took a part string literally, untwist it. then tied it together to make one giant loop. It would make a super fucking huge loop and one would could 1a and 4a based tricks together and intermixed stuff. Since the string was untwisted, it was thin enough to go into the gap and not cause a jam and smash your knuckles. Still had the knock on the string so during tricks that had to be avoided, much like regular moebius style.


I coined the term "full loop" back in 2010 when I did the offibius video. I just took a regular string and tied it together. So the string wasnt untwisted, and the loop was a hell of a lot smaller for better control. But I'm not a 4a based person, so I don't have the potential to unlock what Full Loop yoyoing provides, thus I didn't play it and stuck to Moebius.


Luna sometime last year figured out a super near way to tie the loop together simplistically and has stuck to the style She started out experimenting with the Go-west style, so she then experimented with Sumo, then figured out the neat way to tie the string to make the full loop. Since the string isn't untwisted, one can handle tension better. and most yoyos have huge gaps (1a based yoyos) so one can do this style without worrying about the knot on the string getting in the way.



It’s a challenging style in part due to the length of the string but is open to a wide range of possibilities not available to other styles.  I got excited about it, then got home and promptly didn’t follow up.

I got into full loop yoyo after watching Luna’s promo video for joining the Rain City team.  It's similar to Sumo but uses a regular yoyo string with the loop replaced by a tiny knot that actually goes into the end of the string where the yoyo would usually go.  This creates a single loop.  (Video)

I got hooked immediately.  I had been stuck on 4a having not created a new trick in a couple years.  My 1a style kept getting stumped, trying to do things that just didn’t work.  This was the answer.  It allows for an interplay between 1a and 4a elements with the freedom of switching hands that you get from 5a. 


Here are a few details to get you started.  Luna and I have been working on a series of tutorials to get you going, you can find them on her Instagram (@thesonicpineapple) or either my instagram or youtube (@mryoyothrower on both).


1. String variations - Luna uses a single piece of regular Kitty string.  I use 2 pieces of the slightly thinner R2FG regular string.  I cut the 2nd piece in half.  I then have 2 points where a knot goes through the yoyo loop in a string (video).  I’ve also experimented with Mighty flea string which reduces the drag during multiple wrap tricks, but limits your whip tricks.  I’ve got some string designed specifically for Full Loop available a Return Top Shop


2. Winding - You can’t wind it like a traditional yoyo without getting your loop twisted together.  The best option is the traditional pull start (thumb or two fingers pulling down on the back of the yoyo to get it going) that allows you to then do a breakaway bind.  I use a snap start which creates a frontstyle spin.


3. Bind/ Snap start variations - The bind is a challenge because you don’t have a fixed point on the bearing to create that pull you get from 1a or 4a.  Luna uses a side style bind with the full loop open.  I prefer to do a single extra wrap around the bearing before doing my bind.  This isn’t mandatory, but allows for a much easier frontstyle bind which is important because I snap start instead of pull start. 


4. String management - the first thing you are going to need to do is get used to being aware of which strings are closest to you and farthest away.  If you bind with the added loop like I do it gives you different options on the throw, but you need to develop/practice tricks that give you a predictable wrap.  Accept that in the beginning you will spend a fair amount of time removing loops from the bearing.  This is no different than the time spent getting out of accidental triangles/knots in 1a or chasing your 4a/5a yoyo around when you got started.

 

Check out my Youtube Channel for the ‘Full Loop’ playlist for tutorials on how to setup, throw, bind and a range of stricks from easy (my stuff) to hard (Luna’s Magic). (Click any tutorial on Mryoyothrower.com or just search “Mryoyothrower” on Youtube)