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
Below you can watch a couple reviews and check out one of my latest tutorials!
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.
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 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.
Bearing Size C Flat
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!
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?
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)
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
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 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?
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
(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.
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.
New School Year, I’m going to try doing this with my grade 1/2 class this year. Wish me luck!
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.
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!
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?
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.
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”
“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!
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!