Way beyond ‘walking the dog’ and flashy tricks, choreography and creativity all come into play in competitive yo-yoing
With a vocabulary manual that defines clutch return, fixed axle and friction and requires the ability to do tricks like “shoot the moon,” “three-leaf clover” and “the flying saucer,” this is one competition that comes with strings attached. The Czech Yo-Yo Association brought back the European Championships in 2012 after a more than 50-year break. Now on their third in a row, association president and championship organizer Jan Kordovský says each year is getting better.
“The European yo-yo community was growing and expanding, a few countries had their own contests and large ones were happening in the US and Japan,” he told Czech Position at his Prague 5 yo-yo shop. “There was talk of a way of comparing skills between European champions but no one was up for it so we decided to do it.” The Czechs also realized they were pretty good at coordinating events.
“The Czech competition had an open international division and one year that division received more competitors than the Czech divisions, so we knew people were interested and we knew how to organize a championship,” Kordovský added.
That first year saw 120 participants from nearly 20 countries; for 2012 Kordovský said, ten days ahead of the contest, they already had 220 registered.
“This contest is probably one of the biggest in the world when it comes to a participant-spectator ratio,” he said. In the US and Japan, which are the two biggest yo-yoing countries, contests are held very differently. In Japan, they are usually in public spaces, like shopping centers, so you get more spectators while in the US they are quite closed and popular only amongst the yo-yo community. Kordovský says they strive for a mix of the two — putting on a good event for the competitors, but also trying to make it interesting for attendees.
“On Sunday we’ll do the whole block of finals,” he said. “To make it entertaining for spectators, between each category, there will be special shows like BMX bikers, freestyle Frisbee; we want it to be entertaining for everyone, not just geeky yo-yo players.”
Reigning champion returns
The 2011 winner in the 1A Freestyle Division was 18-year-old Czech student Tomáš Bubák. He’s practically a pro, having been at the sport for six years. “Six years ago my brother brought one basic yo-yo home, and for me it was something completely new. I had so much fun with it, a few days later I bought my own yo-yo,” he told Czech Position. “I enjoy it more and more everyday.”
Bubák has competed in all three Prague European Championships and was quite surprised to be named number one last year. “It was the biggest and most beautiful surprise I have ever had. Really, it was like my dream came true,” he said. He’ll be competing in the same division again this year and says he doesn’t have anything special planned.
“First, I have to find some usable song — usually something quite fast — then I cut it or extend it somehow into three minutes (as all freestyles must have three minutes) and after that I try to create some tricks, which fit the music and are interesting to watch,” he explained. “I do not have anything special in my freestyle, I just want to impress the audience and do my best.”
He’ll need to have a combination of technical skill and showmanship in order to impress the judges. Kordovský said yo-yo judges need to grow out of the yo-yo community as it is a difficult sport to evaluate if you aren’t familiar with the different moves.
“You can’t judge if you don’t understand it — know what’s hard and what’s not — they have a clicker in their hand to click hits and mistakes,” Kordovský said. “Technical skills make up 75-80% of the score, the rest is how the contestant moves, how their routine is synchronized to music, stage presentation. Entertainers can gain points over more technically skilled competitors if they make a show out of it.”
The final countdown
Saturday is qualifying day while the finals will be held on Sunday. There are five championship divisions open to European residents only: Single-handed string tricks (1A), Double-handed looping tricks (2A), Double-handed string tricks (3A), Offstring tricks (4A) and Counterweight tricks (5A). In addition, there is an Artistic Performance section that competitors had to qualify for ahead of time via video.
Artistic performers are judged primarily on their choreography, use of music and creative use of the stage, but the contest needs to be yo-yoing as well. There’s also a Women’s division, which Kordovský says currently has seven competitors signed up and an Open division for non-European contestants with about ten registered; mainly from the US and Asia. The event is held at Archa Theatre and will also be streamed online live, but both Kordovský and Bubák encourage in-person participation.
“In my opinion it is a completely new sport, which is not really well known, so it could be very interesting to discover the world of yo-yoing,” Bubák said.
“Come on Sunday, there will be the best performances on the European scene, plus shows and other presentations,” Kordovský added. “It’s something new and entertaining which isn’t an everyday occurrence and the community is welcoming; buy a yo-yo and someone will teach you how to use it.”