From Within/Without: A Non-Yo-Yoer at the World Yo-Yo Contest

In this world there are great number of societies and communities hidden far from the public eye. It’s sort of been a lifelong interest of mine to see into these esoteric circles, really, it was a large reason I became a journalist (or was trained as one, if nothing else). Seeing how different people live and work fascinates me, and one community I’ve become entangled with for around a decade is a great example of this. Yo-yoing. A few people who read this will likely be a part of this community, and even more so will at least know of my connection to it. Almost all of my friends in Europe are connected to this hobby/sport/lifestyle, or I’ve met people from people who are a part of it all.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the World Yo-Yo competition was in Prague. Over 1,100 people attended, all from an amazing assortment of countries. For three days, they played, practiced, and drank (when legally permitting, of course) as some kind of big festive family. I’ve never had the chance to see a “Worlds,” so this was a great chance to see what it was all like, perhaps one of the only times I’ll be able to in the near future (next one’s in Tokyo, sooooo). Most of my friends in Prague had a direct hand in planning, preparing, and promoting the event, so it was something much more than just a competition.

I used to remember far more than I do now. The different tournament divisions, the types of yo-yos, the tricks, the terms, techniques, and subtleties of their craft, but now? Now is just a more boiled down, rudimentary memory of it all, with odd little bits that have managed to lodge themselves into my grey matter (1A-5A divisions; MG was a super-expensive yo-yo everyone coveted a number of years back; dizzy baby; friction stickers, fixed-axles; off-string/free-hand, etc. etc.). It’s not about the yo-yoing to me, really. I’ve never gotten much into it, nor do I have the patience to learn it, if I’m totally honest. I just know never to compare it to juggling. Ever. Trust me. It’s the people. Doctors, graphic designers, bartenders, kids, entrepreneurs, parents, writers, the list of people who are a part of all this just amazes me. All brought together by something most of us haven’t thought twice about since grade school. If only we knew, hm?

The venue was at Prague’s Archa Theatre, where I had never been before, and spanned about three days of men, women, and children of all ages coming to participate or merely take in the spectacle at hand. Inside was nice enough, if not slightly lacking of air conditioning towards the end of the contest. There were a couple of bars to buy water, beer, whatever else, a little coffee shop run by a local cafe owner, and a minimart across the ground-floor hall for anything else. The main stage sat at the back of a large spectating hall, where people could stand in front, or stand one floor up on the wrap-around balcony. At the far end of the stage were the merchandise tables, for yo-yos, shirts, accessories, etc. So not a bad setup at all.

Truth be told, yo-yoing can only hold my interest for so long. When there are over 1,100 people crammed into a venue, many packed around the spectating areas, one finds that other things should be attempted to pass the time pleasantly. Luckily, conversation can be started with just about anyone at any time, over anything, so long as you come with a kind face. I met with all of the friends I made way back during my first trip here, which was amazing all to itself. Really, it was one of the main reasons I went every single day; supporting my friends that set up the whole thing, and being able to spend time with friends I haven’t seen in nearly four years.

After every day of competing, there were the obligatory after-parties. Whether you drink or not, you’re almost guaranteed to find yourself in a bizarre, yet delightful conversation with someone you’ve never met, and likely from a country you’ve never even been to.

One night I was whisked away by my friend Adam and Adam, the cafe owner, to Lokal, one of my favourite restaurants here in Prague (it’s kind of one of the obvious choices for a foreigner, and contrary to my believing there were only a couple of them, Lokal now has something like five or six locations (the things you miss)), where I met yet more interesting people, seemingly all baristas, and the two girls there were both named Tereza, just to keep on with the repeating name motif of the evening. Lokal has amazing pilsner beer on draft, and they make one version of it that I never knew existed. It came in a full half-litre glass, but it was about 1/3 beer, 2/3 foam. Quite odd, at first glance, as it’s still the same cost as normal beer, but you’re seemingly getting absurdly less for it. Not totally true, so I’ve been told. Apparently this blend was what women drank during the Soviet times, and today it’s persisted for some reason or another. Normally I’m not wild about drinking beer foam, but “when in Rome,” no? The foam is, well beer foam, and the beer is delicious as can be. It’s when you get about half-way through that it begins to show some real character. The foam settles down, and somehow gives the beer a sort of thicker, almost creamy texture, yet without feeling flat. It’s a rather lovely mix that I never expected possible from a pilsner. This was followed by a pear brandy, which I’m coming to find I absolutely love. Just a little shot nursed over time with a nice semi-pickled slice of pear as a plus makes for a happy evening out. Sweet yet not syrupy, woody yet not bitter, really it’s one of the better liquors I’ve been introduced to in quite a while. After all this, Adam invited us all (the Terezas, other Adam, one of the Tereza’s boyfriend and the other Tereza’s friend) to his “Kafe Karlin” for some delicious coffee and a fresh-brewed, from-scratch-whip-creamed Irish Coffee for the road. To say I was a bit spoiled by these guys that night would be an understatement. If you’re in Prague, go there. They’re good people.

So after that night, I ended up hanging out a bit more at Adam’s cafe at the venue mostly because it was great company, but also because it provided both a comfortable seat away from most of the madness, as well as being one of the few spots even vaguely chilled (by virtue of an air conditioned room the public couldn’t enter- I think for performers).

But that’s all besides the point- what I mean to say by that anecdote is that it isn’t a rare thing, not by a long shot. Even first-day acquaintances will quickly and readily take you into the fold and open doors you couldn’t imagine possible. For being such a close community, they’re doors seem to be always open to bring in someone new, even if they’ve never touched a yo-yo before in their life.

The rest of Worlds seemed to go fantastically (from my outside perspective), though the amount of work and passion that went into the preparation of this event was very clear to see. Somehow I don’t know if my friends will be in much of a rush to do it all again right away. But then again, what do I know? I can’t tell a Freehand One from a Freehand Zero, and I can’t tell you the first thing about proper string lengths. Though I’ve been near it for a decade, I’m still detached from the passion behind the hobby they travel across the world for, yet at the same time, that’s never been an issue. Nor do I imagine it will ever be. That is, just so long as I don’t compare it to juggling.

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