Yo! The yo-yo is back on the upswing Toy: Its decline in popularity has reversed, and stores find they can't keep the device in stock.

Sun Journal

July 11, 1998|By Denise Neil | Denise Neil,WICHITA EAGLE

WICHITA, Kan. -- Go ahead and call Matt Johnson a yo-yo. He'll take it as a compliment.

Johnson, who often goes by his alias Brother Yo, is a certified yo-yo junkie who always carries one of the toys in his pocket and spends any spare moment throwing it down, snapping it up and spinning it round and round as he performs one of his 90 yo-yo stunts.

Last month, Johnson -- who also manages Wichita Christian radio station KYFW-FM -- celebrated what he considers practically the most important holiday of the year: National Yo-yo Day, observed each year on the birthday of Donald F. Duncan, the founder of one of the world's leading yo-yo manufacturers.

Yo-yo maniacs are used to both ups and downs on National Yo-yo Day. The popularity of their pastime comes and goes so often, it's hard to keep up.

But this year, the yo-yo is back as strong as it has been since its height of popularity in the mid-1960s, according to Johnson and other yo-yo experts across the country.

In the past 18 months, interest has soared so high that toy stores have had to endure waiting lists to get the toys in stock.

The advent of high-tech, high-quality yo-yos is partly to thank, but so is the yo-yo's timeless appeal, which every 10 years or so helps yo-yos snap back into style.

"They're simple," Johnson says. "You can carry one with you and play with it almost anywhere."

There's nothing simple about the mesmerizing, loop-the-loop tricks that Johnson, who performs more than 75 yo-yo shows a year for school and church groups around the area, has learned to do.

Forget "Walk the Dog" and "Around the World." Johnson can do a series of intricate, high-speed tricks with names such as "atom smasher."

Like many hard-core yo-yo enthusiasts, Johnson got started with his hobby as a child. His father was a past yo-yo champion and gave his son one of his old yo-yos for practice.

Today, the child yo-yo champions of the 1950s and 1960s are grown-ups with children of their own. Many are digging out their old toys to show their children some of their tricks.

Mike Fletcher, part-owner of Air Adventures in Wichita, says that in the past 18 months, yo-yos have been big business, much to his surprise.

"I can't hardly get the things," he says. "I'm on a two-month waiting list just to get them. I never thought of yo-yos as being all that big a deal, but it's gotten real big."

Fletcher sells yo-yos that range in price from $5 to $90, and he has just as many schoolchildren in each week buying the lower-priced models as he does serious adult yo-yo'ers buying the more expensive ones.

Lately, Fletcher says, he has been hearing from school-age children that the cool kids keep a "clutch yo-yo" in their pockets at all times. It has a special device that makes the yo-yo effortlessly snap back into the hand. The children are getting turned on to the toys as a new wave of demonstrators make stops in area schools.

Dale Oliver, a toy manufacturer who founded the San Francisco-based American Yo-yo Association and holds the world's record for the longest yo-yo spin, was recruited as a child to be a yo-yo demonstrator when his skills were spotted at a hometown contest.

Yo-yos have come a long way since those days, he says. Today's high-tech yo-yos are made with turned aluminum or crafted with ball bearings that give the yo-yo an extra-long spin time that makes tricks easier.

In addition, today's yo-yo manufacturers pay attention to such small details as string mass and plastic grade when crafting their devices.

"Yo-yos are much, much better than they used to be," Oliver says. "People are now using physics to make yo-yos do what they're supposed to do."

The latest yo-yo fad has caught hold in several American cities, Oliver says, and several yo-yo competitions are once again taking place. The international yo-yo championships are scheduled for this month in Nevada.

Notice of that competition already has been sent out in the Yo-yo Times, a publication produced in Washington, D.C., by a man who calls himself Professor Yo-yo. His other name is Stuart Crump, and his full-time job is writing a newsletter for the cellular-phone industry.

Like many, Crump started playing with yo-yos when he was a child. He fell away from the hobby but picked it up again 11 years ago after seeing a Las Vegas performance by the Smothers Brothers, who include a yo-yo bit in their act.

"Yo-yos are sort of addictive, but it's a positive addiction," says Crump, who substitutes "Yo!" for hello and good-bye when he speaks on the telephone. "There's no negative feedback unless you get yelled at by a teacher or accidentally bonk someone."

Crump has taught his children how to yo-yo, and his son is beginning to surpass him in skill. Crump also keeps a yo-yo in his pocket at all times and plays with it anytime he has a free minute, whether he's waiting in line at the bank or walking to a building from his car.

His quarterly newsletter, which used to circulate to only about 60 people, in the past year has begun going out to almost 400.

Crump, who claims to be "the only yo-yo in Washington who knows what he's doing," says he certainly understands the yo-yo's appeal. "There's something inherently satisfying in handling a yo-yo.

"Most people feel the world is totally out of control. You can't control your kids. You can't control the government. You can't control the weather. You can't control traffic.

"But if you have a yo-yo in your hand," he says, "you can control it. It gives you a feeling of satisfaction and keeps you calm."

Pub Date: 7/11/98

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