Rain City Skills "Loonie" - American Edition

In February we released a micro yoyo called the Loonie. I thought this would be a fun little release that would catch little attention. Instead it sold out right away. I would have left it at that, but Andre at Yoyoexpert asked if he could carry them, so a 2nd run was in order. I took the opportunity to upgrade the design. Since it’s named after the Canadian Dollar and it costs $1.30 Canadian to purchase an American dollar, I thought we’d do an American version that was 30% wider!

The Loonie is a tiny throw that packs a big punch! Small enough to fit in the pocket, stable enough to work on precision training your combos.

The Loonie was inspired by a YoYo from 10 years ago called the “Littles”. It was a pocket throw that played big. We took that idea and refined it with a unique design modern play requires. We’ve tested through 3 variations to get to this version and we think it’s fantastic!

The Loonie plays best with a thinner string, but works fine with your favourite brand of bulk string.

We like to have fun at Rain City Skills, so the hub of the Yoyo is designed to be Lego compatible. This allows you to throw on some small decorative pieces or bigger pieces to adjust the weight. Each Loonie comes with a pair of lego plates that are great for fingerspins!

Each Loonie comes packed in a small zip up coin pouch including:

-1 Loonie YoYo
-1 foil-wrapped chocolate Canadian Dollar coin
-An assortment of Rain City Skills stickers
-A random selection of Mryoyothrower trading cards
-a few Rain City Skills thin strings.

Release date is June 20th at 6PM Pacific Time!
You can find the Loonie: American Edition at
www.raincityskills.com
www.yoyoexpert.com
www.yoyosam.com
www.yoyostorerewind.com


Rain City Skills Colouring Contest - Win a Prototype SETI

ALIEN.JPG

A colouring contest!

Waylon Crase started drawing up this alien for part of the SETI promo. He got stumped on the arms, then had a bright idea. Let's have the fans finish it!

Prize: a raw prototype SETI.

How to Enter:

  1. Click the button below to download the picture.

  2. Finish and Colour the picture however you want. Be as serious or ridiculous as you want.

  3. Post it somewhere on social media (Facebook, instagram, YouTube, reddit) and use the form below to send me a link. Please use the following tags:
    #raincityskills #setiyoyo #waylian and if you are posting to instagram tag @wayloncrase so he can see your work!

  4. Use the other button to submit the link to your image.

Contest Ends Midnight of June 7th.

On June 8th I’ll let Waylon pick his favourite submission and announce the winner!

Thanks for playing, and have fun!

If you aren’t yet a member of my mailing list, take a moment to sign up. I mail out once per week with valuable links, updates on Rain City Skills releases and the occasional deal or giveaway that is list-exclusive.


May- 12 Months 12 Throws - The SETI

The Rain City Skills “SETI” started life a year ago as a random design inspired by a yoyo Jensen Kimmet handed me to try at Worlds. I came home and messaged Justin to say “We need something with a really big diameter. He sent me a design and I threw it at a new shop to see if they were worth working with. They weren't, the YoYo came back with a bearing seat too narrow. We had an oversized, responsive slimline!

While I didn’t use that shop again, I did throw some old Yoyojam Shims in the prototype and try it out. I was stunned. I was expecting a half-decent, silly YoYo. What I got was a really, really good silly YoYo. It went on the list while we tried to work out a theme.

My first idea was to call it the cereal bowl. Theme it around Saturday morning cartoons. I’d get some custom packaging made in the fashion of old single-serve cereal boxes (the kind you could actually use as a bowl). Perhaps even include a compostable plastic spoon!

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I waited too long and another company released a YoYo called “The Bowl”. I sat on it for a bit. While waiting for just the right theme to appear I sent it off to another shop to test and it came back perfect.

At some point Waylon Crase and I were chatting and he suggested the name SETI, since the shape also resembled a satellite dish. It was perfect! I’d get some alien lego figures, and have some fun with the colourways!

I can’t recall when I had the idea for the engravings, but I suspect it came out of my frustration with anodizers. A far too large percentage of each run of yo-yos ended up b-grades because of anodizing flaws. Solid colours and engravings avoided that issue.

When it came time for packaging Waylon scored again with the ridiculous, almost origami boxes. They’ve been a pain to ship, and I can’t package up the run and shelve it because the boxes are too big! I instead have to assemble the package for each YoYo as it ships out. But they are really cool, so it’s’ 100% worth the extra time!

I’ll leave play and performance up to the reviewers, suffice to say it’s definitely not the YoYo you will win the world championship with. But it is one you’ll have a really good time playing with.

Specs:
Width: 40.5mm
Diameter: 67.8mm
Weight: 67.8g
Groove Concave Bearing

What's in the Box?

2x Rain City Skills Thin String
1x SETI sticker
1x Lego compatible Alien Figure
A grab bag of assorted lego pieces to customize your throw!

You can get yours exclusively at www.raincityskills.com, just follow the link below.

Don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list to be the first to get updates and sneak peeks, as well as deals and give-always!


April - 12 Months 12 Throws - The Metalhead

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The Metalhead. Last year Magic Yoyo released Dylan Kowalski’s signature YoYo, the Hotdiggidy. Within a week Thomas Velto and I were chatting and decided he needed a signature YoYo as well! The Metalhead was born. I left Thomas to create the basic design. Joey Serrano of 2Sick Yo-yos lent a hand to draw up Thomas’s design. We talked about a nice big, wide performance YoYo.

The first prototype played great, but had too many sharp edges and cuts. It lacked a refined feel. So We worked a little more to round out the edges without compromising the play. The decision to use a traditional hub instead of a Lego hub was actually something of an oversight. I legitimately forgot to add he design feature. When we got the 2nd prototype I brought it up with Thomas. We agreed that we didn’t want to mess with how great the throw played, so we left it. As it turns out that was the right decision, we accidentally ended up with a really good finger spin cup!

The theme. I’ve been wanting to make “The Metalhead” for a while, but didn’t have a YoYo to go with the design. One of the local Yoyoers in Vancouver, Joey Hockin, is also a growing force in the BC heavy metal community. I wanted to make a YoYo he could sell at shows. When Thomas and I started talking, it clicked into place!

I asked Joey if I could share his story, here it is!

My first experience with yo-yoing was in the summer of 2001 when I was 12 years old. There was a booth set up at the Calgary Stampede sponsored by Duncan. It featured future world champion Jensen Kimmitt. I became instantly addicted and spent that whole summer practicing in my backyard. A few years later, around 2008, we had the first Alberta Yoyo club (YORAD) meeting with myself, Jensen, Steve from SPYY, Chris from CLYW and Michael Witteman. I was introduced to the unresponsive style of play and the competitive side of yo-yoing. Over the next couple of year, I placed top 10 at a couple of competitions including western regionals and nationals. I decided to step back from competitions and treat yo-yoing as more of a creative endeavour than a competitive one. This is where I’ve always found the most joy in yo-yoing anyways, as the creative aspects of it align more with my interests. This brings me to the other big hobby in my life, METAL!

I started out like most metalheads my age, listening to Linkin Park, Sum 41 and the like back in 2001. I worked my way through every style of heavy music you can imagine until I found my love for European styles of metal. In September of 2009 I was lucky enough to see Edguy, Stratovarius, Dragonforce, Sonata Arctica, Epicurean, Luna Mortis, Viathyn and Kobra and the Lotus all within a week. Since then I couldn’t get enough of that feeling and my life has pretty much revolved around metal since.

Every single year I’ve managed to make it to at least a couple of festivals. My travels have taken me to a dozen different countries to see epic shows and be more a part of this global metal community. After trying to get my own band off the ground I decided it was time to make the move to Vancouver where the metal scene is much more alive. I finally formed my band, Apprentice, and started playing shows in early 2015.

In 2016 I started Journeyman Productions (a logical name to follow Apprentice) and started promoting metal shows in Vancouver. Now we have a small team of people that are dedicated to fostering the growing metal scene. We enjoy every second we spend making sure bands have opportunities to grow and get to play in front of a larger audience. In late 2018 Apprentice finally released our first album “The Strength of Mortality” which is the culmination of the work of most of my adult life. If you get a chance we’d really appreciate you checking us out online at any of our social media. Give our album a listen on pretty much any major platform where you can find music!

I’m unbelievably stoked to have in my hands a toy that brings together 2 of my life’s biggest passions in a high quality package. This will definitely be my main throw. I look forward to introducing yo-yoing to members of the metal community as well as metal to members of the yo-yo community. The similarities between the 2 might surprise you as they both involve a lot of creativity and personal style! So get on your favourite band’s shirt, throw on our album and give the Metalhead a spin!“

Joey gave me a discount on downloads of “Strength of Mortality” so I could include it with the Apprentice engraved edition of the metal head for half price. If you choose a different colour, you can still pick up the album and their merch at

Apprentice - Bandcamp

If you are looking to score a metal head, click the “Buy Now” button below to take you to the Rain City Skills store.

Diamond Yoyo Holsters - a 5 year old brand new product from Rain City Skills

First up - Yoyo holsters
5 years ago while we were in Prague for the world championship, my wife stumbled across a leather worker at a market who was making leather keychains.  She asked if he could make them bigger for yoyos.  Well...she found someone who could be an interpreter and ask for her.  She was told to return the next day and he made a couple dozen. I gave them away, but was inspired.  Andra and I brainstormed design modifications (the original opened wide and risked the yoyo falling out) and came up with the design for the Diamond Yoyo Holster.
I made a bunch, but the cost of materials was high and I didn’t have the necessary brand recognition to market them. 

A couple months ago I looked into getting them made for me. I sourced out a factory that could produce them at a reasonable price.  I tested a sample, told them what I wanted changed (the snap was too week) and ordered 600 (minimum order). A month later they arrived...with the wrong snap.  I negotiated a partial refund, but was left with a big pile of useless holsters!

So i’m back to hand-made.  I’ve decided to strip out the hardware and re-make them to my specifications. I’ve been using this holster design for 5 years myself. I love it because it’s short enough it doesn’t bounce around too much, and is really ease to use one-handed. I think you will love them!

You can grab yours here:

Diamond Yoyo Holster

Yoyo Accesories Brands - Sochi

Luckey Yulin Li is a 4 time Canadian 1A Champion. That’s a heck of an accomplishment. So when he told me he was starting a yoyo accessories brand, Sochi, he had my attention. Sochi sells high-quality bearings, pads, string and axles. To be honest I wasn’t initially sure how successful he’d be.  I mean, bearings and strings are cheap and plentyful. And who buys new axles unless they lose them? But it turns out people are tired of cleaning seized up bearings, fighting with poorly made string, and missing binds becuase of cheap pads.

Luckey is from China originally but has spent much of his life in Canada. He’s travelled the world competing in, and winning contest. He’s tied in to the global competition yoyo scene. In 2018 he organized the first ever Chinese National Yoyo Contest that wasn’t run as an exclusive event by a company. He has worked for years designing yoyos for a number of different brands. He started Sochi because he saw something missing. He sourced out high-quality gear and purchased in large enough quantity to keep the price affordable. I am not a competitor and am a rank amateur in comparison to Luckey, but I can still see the value of a quality upgrade.

Sochi currently sells

Pair of pads: Blue $2.50, Pink $2.99

String: 3 thicknesses, available in 10, 25, 50 or 100 packs. With a 100 pack at only 18.99 it’s easy enough to buy a bundle to try out. The quality is solid and it holds up well.

Axles: Titanium.

Bearings: Concave or Center Track for $11.99.

The bearings are noticeably better. I really drilled him on what justifies the price and he stressed the difference in the quality of the materials. A cheaper bearing material is going to contain flaws and isn’t going to be as smooth and balanced. When it comes to string, there is a difference between types of polyester and blending the right types at just the right tension makes a big difference.

So I’ve decided to stock Sochi accessories at raincityskills.com. Luckey gave me a deal on a sample pack priced at $15 that will give you a chance to test out his gear.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list for weekly info, release notes, sneak peeks and deals!

12 Months 12 Throws - March - The Retro Rocket

2019 is the year of Maddness at Rain City Skills. 12 Months, 12 yoyos. January was the long awaited production run of The Ducc. February brought the instant hit, The Loonie. Now we have the Retro Rocket.

Over a year ago Daniel Kessler approached me with an idea for a yo-yo collab. My only criteria was that we come up with something unique, something no one else has done. We ended up close, something that, from what I could tell at the teme, no one but me had done (King Yo Star Morpheus was my previous throw with that shape).

The Retro Rocket is an undersized powerhouse. It’s got full size performance in a pocket friendly package.

We tossed around a whole lot of names and themes, but when we stumbled on “The Kessler Run” I knew we nailed it. From there the Retro Rocket theme assembled itself. Daniel drew up a delightfully simple design logo.

We went with 3 colourways based on our favourite shows. The Kessler Run for Star Wars, The Redshirt for Star Trek and the DHD for Stargate!

You can get yours direct at Raincityskills.com

as well as Yoyoexpert.com and Yoyosam.com

Below you can watch a couple reviews and check out one of my latest tutorials!

The Duck: How to Make Them Pay - A guide to the coming Duckpocalypse

So this is only peripherally yoyo related, except in that it's part of the saga of me learning how to publish for my upcoming yoyo book. so if it needs to be deleted let me know.

TL;DR I engaged in amazon book publishing trollery. Buy it if you want, or not. It's mostly there to amuse me.

So it started with this book (https://amzn.to/2T2jpRb) that appears to be a 100+ year old book on how to raise and sell ducks. The review on this was what made it for me.

"Not the Duck Specific revenge manual I was hoping for"

I get a lot of Duck related funny things sent to me (thank you all for the laughs) and this has turned out to be one of the best.

This would not do. I hated the idea of someone so disappointed by a book! So on a whim I started writing the Duck specific revenge manual my new friend (Amazon user eoin) clearly needed.

I got sucked in. It ended up being really over the top. I did a fair bit of reading things on the internet so I could pay lip service to reality. I ended up writing a farcical guidebook/manifesto/conspiracy theory about 20 pages long. It took me far longer than I’ll admit, but it was a hilarious romp to write.

Then it occured to me. I needed to learn how to publish a book independently, so why not do a practice run while waiting for the yoyo book back from my editor (which I received today!)

In any event. If you are interested in reading my little adventure in creative writing and publishing it's now available in print and kindle format. I think I get 30 cents per kindle purchase and about $1.50 per book, so this 100% isn't a push to buy it. It's me sharing a laugh.

Print Edition

Kindle Edition

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.