Child’s Play?

There are some things in life that we have all tried, don’t think too much about and quickly move on. And then there are those rare individuals who try those same activities, get incredibly interested, and then get incredibly good. When you see these people in action, and hear them talk about their passion, it makes you wonder why you lost interest so quickly.

I could be referring to a ton of things, but this week, specifically, I am referring to the lost art (as I learned it’s most apt categorization is as a performance art) of yo-yo!

At its core, a yo-yo is simply an axle between two disks, with a piece of string looped around the axle. I assumed it had lost favor about the same time as tiddlywinks and jacks, but then I met Adam Nelsen. Adam is a contemporary of mine who holds the distinction of being the second-runner-up in the Virginia State Yo-Yo championship circa 1997 (and one could say he was the best juvenile Virginian yo-yoer because not only did he invite the two boys who beat him to the competition, but they were also on vacation from South America).

I was fascinated that Adam has a talent that I associated with black and white TV shows like “Leave it to Beaver,” so I asked him if he would teach me how to yo-yo. He generously agreed, but as is the case with many of my adventures, what I assumed would be rather easy, turned into a herculean battle of woman versus yo-yo.

Adam and his yo-yo

Adam and his yo-yo

First more about Adam: He began yo-yoing as a child, but he took his skills to the next level when he got a holiday-season job yo-yoing next to a yo-yo kiosk at a local mall. That seasonal job grew and soon he was impressing passers-by for eight hours a day. That’s when things got serious. With dreams of fame and fortune—or at least dreams of an appearance on the local news—he entered the state championship being held at the local science museum. Right before the competition, two boys stopped by the mall kiosk (this is how all good stories begin) and Adam says he had never seen better yo-yoers in his life. So in a moment of generosity (he has a lot of those), which he may now regret, he told them about the competition. Those two boys not only entered, but they came in first and second. While young Adam was disappointed, he was not deterred. He continued to yo-yo throughout his adolescence, and today he is teaching his three-year-old.

Seeing that Adam’s son likely has more yo-yo skills than I do, this provides a nice segue to our lesson. Adam began by showing me some if the easy tricks that he knows. And as any expert is bound to do, he made it look easy.  As Adam explained, yo-yoing is all about the sleeper. The yo-yo is “sleeping” when it is spinning at the end of the string. The longer it spins, the more time you have to accomplish a trick. Some of the easier tricks he showed me included “Rock the Baby,” which I mistakenly called shake the baby. Oops! Not the most auspicious beginning to my yo-yo adventure. Adam’s yo-yo was flying all over the place, towards the floor, towards the ceiling, towards me. He even got on his back laying on the ground, with the yo-yo flying above him.

In addition to attempting to teach me to yo-yo, Adam also provided me with a new outlook on this toy: that of performance art. Sometimes Adam yo-yo’s out of boredom (waiting for something to print at work), but just as he did at the kiosk in the mall years ago, he yo-yo’s to entertain. “I don’t ever just show somebody my best trick right out of the gate,” Adam explained to me. “I take them on a little journey to maximize the entertainment value. I gauge their level of interest with a little chatter. I try to read the crowd. I make some quick decisions based on what they’re saying about their experiences yo-yoing, what tricks they’re asking to see, and how much time they’ve got. Then, I take them through a performance. I try to make them smile or say, ‘wow.’”

After watching some of Adam’s cool tricks, I wanted to get in on the action. I grabbed one of the dozens of yo-yos that Adam brought to our lesson (ranging in price from $5 – $90), wanting to give it a try, but while I could release the yo-yo and send it falling towards the floor, I could not summon it back up to my hand. I had to stop and manually wrap the string back around the axle. This happened again and again; I could not hurl the yo-yo down with enough force and spin for it to make it back up to me. Without making me feel like a child, Adam downgraded me to the yo-yo that he is using to teach his child, and sent me home to practice. And that is what I am doing, every night (just about). I hope to get good enough not to embarrass myself in my follow-up post, which with include a video so you can get the full yo-yo expereince. Stay Tuned!

I must thank Adam Nelsen for taking the time to share his passion for yo-yoing with me. He does a lot of other cool things that you can check out on his website, plus Twitter and Instagram.