The 2004 U.S. National Yo-Yo Contest

I was 14 years old when my Mom, Carolyn, my friend Tim, his mom, Elaine, and I all crowed into my mom’s forest green four-door Saturn and began the long drive from Emmett, Idaho down to Chico, California. Tim and I had been yo-yoing for a few months, maybe a year. I’m not 100% certain at this point. As far as I know we began yo-yoing in 2003 but the earliest record of it I can find is 2004, so who knows for certain.

Tim and I had been going to a bi-weekly yo-yo meet up organized by a local yo-yoer named Gary, at his church on Cloverdale Road in Meridian, ID. By then we had learned all of the basics, we’d learned looping, binds, some of the mount tricks, and we were beginning to explore freestyle yo-yoing. I more-so than Tim, who was more interested in the sports ladder at the time.

Our long drive led us through hours of flat desert, winding mountain passes, and eventually the tree laden country-side that surrounds Chico, CA.

We made our way to the contest hotel and immediately knew we were home. The moment you got out of your car you could hear the whirr of ball-bearings and the signature snaps of string as a yo-yo is tossed for a modern trick. There were yo-yoers in the parking lot, in the lobby where we checked in, in the elevator on the way to our room, and in the hallways to our room.

We quickly ditched our belongings in our room and fled back down to the lobby to see other yo-yoers. In minutes we’d gone from knowing a handful of yo-yoers (who sometimes would come to a meet but couldn’t always make it) to a constant influx of people, new faces, who all were interested in this toy turned sport we had begun investing significant amounts of our time into. There were people we’d never seen before performing tricks we never could have fathomed.

Our seemingly difficult wrist mounts and kwijibo’s that seemed so impressive and difficult to us only weeks prior now felt mundane and simple. These people were juggling string, seemingly weaving it midair and performing acts of dexterity that previously I thought were relegated to the Saturday morning cartoons. And these were the just the guys in the hotel lobby. (Not to talk down their skills.)

The next thing I knew my road trip weary legs were trudging back towards the car and we were headed towards downtown Chico. We needed to visit the main venue at the park, and perhaps at one point the Mecca of the yo-yo world, Bird in Hand. I’m not sure if that’s still the case these days, because Nationals has since moved to other venues, but for a decent chunk of my yo-yo career Chico was the place to go, maybe Orlando, FL was a close second.

Bird-in-Hand blew my mind. The front of the building felt like your typical toy store. But the back and the connection to the alleyway/parking structure behind was a yo-yoer’s paradise. The walls were covered with acrylic cases of yo-yo’s from years, if not, decades ago. Some commemorating contests of day’s gone by, some simply illustrating a particular company’s designs up until that point, and many others which were notable because a competitor had used them to win an event.

Of course there were far more than simply those limited types of models to display. There were prototypes and interesting marketing pieces along with countless other sorts of designs. There was even the largest functional yo-yo, the No-Jive by Tom Kuhn, which we had the fortune to watch decend from a crane with our own eyes.

The contest that year was an absolute blur. I would attribute this mostly to my inexperience as a yo-yoer keeping me from accurately being capable of categorizing and storing the events, as future events are much more easy for me to remember. At least that’s my opinion. I remember watching Augie Fash win 1A. I also remember watching Rob Kitt’s perform 2A and thinking that he should have won even though he didn’t. At the time I didn’t know enough about how that division was scored to understand why the winner won. And to be honest, I never went back and watched to decide if the actual winner was better…

That first year was probably what set my personal narrative up so that I began referring to myself as a yo-yoer and wanted to be one for the remainder of my life. It’s funny how what you decide to be your path in your early teens can take control of the rudder and steer your life. I was so enamored with this rabbit hole that I remember going on the forum at one point and posting a pledge to the yo-yo community that I would make it my life’s purpose to get yo-yoing into the olympics.

Looking back now it makes me want to blush at how with so much eagerness I would throw myself into efforts around a hobby I didn’t yet fully understand. It led to me organizing yo-yoing contests for my state when I was 15, trying to start a yo-yo company around 18/19, and writing a book on yo-yoing for beginners around that same time. Even eventually winning my state’s title in 2012 and gaining a sponsorship from a Canadian yo-yo company the next year.

It’s easy to see looking back that one event definitely changed my personal trajectory and offered kindling to the personal narrative of me being a yo-yoer. I often wonder how my life might be different had this trip or its subsequent ones never occurred. I have learned many things from being involved in this hobby. There are many skills I’ve acquired and applied elsewhere in life that I wouldn’t have considered exploring if not for my hobby of yo-yoing. I’m both grateful for what I’ve experienced and curious about what life might have been like without such focus on a wayward hobby.

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