The Joy of Taking a Yo-Yo for a Spin - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Joy of Taking a Yo-Yo for a Spin

The Joy of Taking a Yo-Yo for a Spin

By Chona Kasinger

Lando Finkelsteighn, a member of NYYYC, demonstrates a "Horizontal 1A."
SourceChona Kasinger for OZY


Because they can be so much more than an innocuous pastime.

By Chona Kasinger

I find that sometimes you have to turn off a part of your brain to access another. That is what attracted me initially to the world of competitive yo-yoing. Regardless of the scene — a bustling downtown food court or scrappy dive bar in St. Petersburg swarming with parents, competitors and bar regulars — there is a unique instance of oblivion to anything outside of the primary focus: a spinning axle lodged in between two discs and the string keeping everything moving along. 


I photographed the Pacific Northwest Regional Yo-Yo Championship in Seattle earlier this year on a whim and discovered a unique breed of competitor — one devoid of ego or pretense. Participants appear to willingly share techniques and tales.

While yo-yoing is generally seen as a wholesome, fairly innocuous pastime, some take things to the next level. This community is one that values the sharing of space, stories, tools, techniques and more.

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Yo-yo competitions are definitely a family affair, with most competitors getting their start fairly young. Typically, vendors set up onsite and are available to answer questions about products and techniques — or just talk shop.

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The competition is open to folks of all ages. At the PNWR competition in Seattle in February, the contenders were primarily younger boys with a small sprinkling of girls in the mix. PNWR has been held at Seattle Center for 13 years now and continues to be one of the larger competitive events in the yo-yo community.

Following my initiation into the yo-yo world, I spent time in St. Petersburg at the annual Florida State Yo-Yo Contest and an afternoon with the New York City Yo-Yo Club around Wall Street. 


The 2018 Florida State Yo-Yo Contest took place in March at the Ringside Cafe in St. Petersburg. A gathering open to all ages, the dive-y city locale hosted a diverse cast of competitors. A panel of judges stood by as competitors took to the stage with their preselected musical tracks — electronic music with trap beats is particularly prevalent in this realm. In freestyle, contestants are given two minutes to perform a routine of their own creation. Scoring is based on three criteria: technical execution, technical evaluation and performance evaluation.

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Elements graded in competition include technical execution, which constitutes 60 percent of the competitor’s score, technical evaluation, which makes up 20 percent, and performance evaluation, which is the last 20 percent. Judges are split into two groups, with one focused on technical execution while the other half homes in on technical evaluation and performance evaluation.

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The National Yo-Yo League was founded 26 years ago by Bob Malowney. Here, competitors prepare their routines for the judges at the Ringside Cafe in St. Petersburg on March 31, 2018.

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There are five divisions of the competition, ranging from 1A to 5A. 1A involves freestyling with one yo-yo; 2A throws another yo-yo into the mix but is judged on moves based around circles and loops. 3A also involves two yo-yos, but moves are based around touching and mounting. In 4A, the yo-yo is launched off the string while executing a variety of techniques that are quite distinct from the other four categories. In 5A, a counterweight is involved; it lives on the other end of the string.

New York

The New York Yo-Yo Club (NYYYC) meets weekly in a public atrium around Wall Street. It’s an opportunity for enthusiasts and competitors to socialize, talk shop and learn a trick or two. NYYYC invited me to document their meet-up while I was in town. President Brian Melford was more than happy to share techniques and gleanings from his years of competing. The camaraderie in this group was palpable, and the tricks were truly impressive.

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Brian Melford is the president of the New York Yo-Yo Club. His duties include manning the online presence of the group and organizing meet-ups. 

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Yo-yos are typically constructed from one of three materials: wood, plastic or metal. These two yo-yos were designed by the club. The one on the right (purple and green) was a prototype that was crowd-funded. The yo-yo on the left is a slightly modified version of that same prototype with the addition of a stainless steel rim to adjust weight distribution.

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Competitors typically travel with a selection of yo-yos. The world’s biggest yo-yo manufacturer is Duncan, but there has been a recent influx of independent makers crafting custom-made yo-yos for competition.

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