If you didn't know professional yo-yo players were a thing, prepare to have your mind blown. This emerging subculture has elevated the yo-yo to an evocative art form, full of different playing styles, innovations, performance showcases, and personal expression. The amount of dedication, skill, and love it takes to achieve this sort of yo-yo mastery is basically unheard of, and the fact of the matter is that this world deserves more attention. These players are insanely talented, and it's about time the rest of the world got on board. Welcome to the insane world of professional yo-yo playing.
Elite Yo-Yo Players Compete in Worldwide Contests
Most people have no idea yo-yos do more than just line the shelves at Toys R Us. In fact, there's actually a worldwide competitive yo-yo scene, solely devoted to exploring what sort of insane yo-yo tricks are possible.
We're talking about stuff like this:
The world of competitive yo-yoing is structured around a few major yo-yo manufacturers and event producers, such as YoYo Factory, YoYoTricks, YoYoSam, and others. As the years have gone on, the yo-yo scene has developed its own roster of celebrity players, innovators, and personalities, and many famous players have gone on to sign endorsement deals with yo-yo manufacturers.
And honestly, it's extremely impressive to watch. Even people who have no idea that competitive yo-yo contests exist walk away with their minds blown. Check it out:
There Are Five Different Types of Yo-Yo Playing
In competitive yo-yo playing, official contests are broken into five separate divisions, each focusing on a particular type of yo-yo with its own unique play style and skill set.
The first division is called 1A, and includes the bread-and-butter movrd that probably come immediately to mind when you hear the word "yo-yo." One string, wrapped around the finger, connected to the yo-yo below. Simple, elegant, and still able to pull off some truly crazy stuff. Here's Zach Gormley, who won the world competition in 1A in 2015:
The second variety, 2A, is based around yo-yos specifically designed to loop back and forth, almost like little mini boomerangs attached to strings. The tricks performed in the 2A division tend to be much faster and movement based than 1A, which is largely centered around intricate string tricks and a relatively stationary yo-yo. Here's the 1st place 2A finalist in the national competition from 2015, Grant Johnson:
The third style is called 3A, and it's basically the same as 1A but with two yo-yos at the same time. However -- and this is where it gets tricky -- 3A is NOT the same as 2A. Remember, 2A is based on specialized looping yo-yos. 3A is just two standard yo-yos being played at the exact same time, which arguably is even harder. Check out Alex Hattori, the 3A champion in 2015's contest, and notice how the style of tricks differs from Grant's 2A performance:
4A might be the most unique playing style, because the yo-yo isn't even connected to the string. This allows players to really get creative with tricks that utilize huge spatial movements and seemingly impossible feats of physics. Here's 4A champion Ben Conde in 2011:
If you're wondering how this is even allowed by the laws of science, Ben helpfully linked up with YouTube science wiz Veritasium to explore how stringless yo-yos even work, and it still doesn't take away any of the magic from seeing the yo-yo attach itself seemingly like magic:
The last division in competitive yo-yoing is 5A, and it's probably the most unexpected style of play. Unlike 4A, the yo-yo is connected to the string, but the catch here is that the string isn't even connected to your finger. Instead, the other end of the string is connected to a counterweight, like a die. This results in some truly crazy playing, because your hands are free to manipulate the string and exploit the difference in weight between the yo-yo and counterweight. It's much easier to understand when you just watch it, so here's the world's 5A champion Jake Elliot:
I mean, come on. That's amazing.
There's An Entire Subculture Revolving Around Yo-Yos
Take dozens of yo-yo companies, manufacturers, sponsors, promotors, and event organizers and mix them with a tightly-knit group of young, highly-skilled yo-yo players, and what you get is a vibrant and exciting subculture like the kind you'd find in the pro-skateboarding or elite athlete world.
The really cool part is the variety of personalities that the yo-yo community has brought together. There's plenty of nerds, skaters, musicians, athletes, etc. They're people who might not otherwise have found common ground, but who came together through exploring yo-yos.