Commentary

Yo-Yo, it's carnage

How to survive the ups and downs of the World Yo-Yo Contest

Updated: July 29, 2011, 11:00 AM ET
By Jake Zucker | ESPN The Magazine

YO-YOKuba Morc/Getty ImagesIn division 4A, the yo-yo is unattached to the competitor's string.

This story appears in the Aug. 8, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

It'll take more than "walk the dog" or "around the world" for you to reach the stage of the World Yo-Yo Contest, a three-day extravaganza in Orlando beginning Aug. 4. But once your "boingy boingy" and "flea bounce" are world class, your next trick is deciding which of the six divisions to enter. They start with the traditional 1A (one yo-yo on a string looped on a finger like Grandpa used to do) and include the more exotic, such as 4A, where the yo-yo is unattached to the string. To keep you from reaching the end of your rope, we've assembled a handy cheat sheet.

UNDERSTAND THE VARIABLES
"A lot of people get onstage and wing it," says seasoned pro Nathan Crissey, who teaches a workshop at the event. "I'm not one of them. When I competed, I knew in advance my music, my outfit and which yo-yo and string I was using. I'd practice with them exactly as they'd be during competition. If I was prepping for an outdoor event, I'd practice in front of electric fans to replicate the wind."

WORK OUT THE KINKS
If your yo-yo jams up, make sure your next throw is a gentle one to clear out the knots; if those knots come loose during a trick, your yo-yo can easily strike your face. That's less cute than it sounds. "Once you feel a knot, get your hand and your head as far away from each other as you can," Crissey says. "It's not graceful, and you'll lose points for loss of control, but it's better than drawing blood."

BRING BACKUP
"Any time you waste is time you could've been scoring points," Crissey says. "One year I overthrew my yo-yo during a trick. By the time it landed, I had already moved on to my backup yo-yo -- and I still scored high enough to qualify for the next round."

BE MINDFUL OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS
"I was ecstatic when I made it to the final round last year," says up-and-comer Uri Gottschalk. "But when I launched my yo-yo into the air during a combo, it didn't come down. I looked up, and it had lodged itself in a chandelier. It destroyed my confidence." Even though he finished last in the finals, Gottschalk received a standing ovation and the Crowd's Choice Award.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS
In 2008, 16-year-old yo-yoist Lim Aik Hwee flew all the way from Singapore to compete. "In the prelims, he threw his yo-yo into the air and started to do a pirouette as part of a trick but ended up dislocating his knee," Gottschalk says. "They had to take him away in an ambulance." Downside: dislocated knee. Upside: dorkiest injury in the history of sport.