Saturday, January 3, 2009

yo-yo #20: the flying camel

i bought this yo-yo from the tom kuhn website a few years ago. obviously, it's just an ordinary maple no jive yo-yo, but this version comes in butterfly configuration and features a pretty intricate engraving on the sides. the legend is that while backpacking in the 70's, tom looked up and saw a cloud and thought it looked like a big camel... so he decided to put it on a yo-yo. i can totally believe that, [sorta] knowing tom. he's a very whimsical guy, and is pretty in tune with the outdoors. one time he emailed me a picture he took of a hawk and a blackbird with the sole caption "quit jivin' me, blackbird!"

a thread on yoyonation got me thinking about yoyoing "and the world" (as if they're two separate entities).

so much of yoyoing takes place in peoples rooms, or in tiny places. so many freestyles and videos are essentially compressed to fit into a miniscule, imaginary box. people regularly say that they don't like to yo-yo in public, for fear of embarrassment or persecution for such a "nerdy" pastime.

i find it kind of depressing, because to me, one of the most remarkable qualities of yoyoing is its inherent portability. growing up, i played piano. when i got a little older, the lure of a rock band (meaning an actual one, and not a video game) made me gravitate to the electric bass, followed by the big, honkin' upright. i always kind of wished that i played harmonica, pocket trumpet, or something comparably tiny, because i want to be able to make art and express myself on a whim, and in any situation. if i'm in line at the grocery store, or in the forest, i can take out a yo-yo, and just "dial in". for some people, it seems like a tool used to distance one's self from others; something i do in my room that no one can touch or interfere with. for me, yoyoing is one more art i can use to interact with the larger world.

i took this yo-yo to the beach around this time last winter. i love nature, and the outdoors, and playing wood just seems so natural and "right". i hesitate to use the word "organic", which has been sequestered by every supermarket trying to "go green", but there's something about playing wood that resonates well with being out under the sky. anyway, i'm also a surfer (though i've been less dedicated in recent years, i'm sad to say), and i got to thinking about the similarities and differences between playing yo-yo, and riding waves.

whether you've ever dropped in or not, surfing is fascinating because it involves the manipulation of a natural, primal energy source to propel you into what's essentially a controlled fall. i've never seen an activity more imbued with inherent grace. like yo-yoing, it's the simplest idea possible, which we've gradually refined and processed into a multifaceted and saleable "sport". (notice i didn't say "ruined", because i don't think it's in our power to do so to either.)

let's look at the respects in which surfing and yoyoing are similar:

• in surfing, the wave is the energy source, and it moves you and your board through space in the way that you want. in yoyoing, the roles are changed. YOU are the energy source, and you manipulate the toy in the way you want. though the differences are many, it's still just playing with finite energy. a wave only has so much juice before it dissipates on the shore. your throw only has so much juice before the force is dissipated by friction. maybe i like throwing wood because this is so much more palpable and obvious (in n.c., i'm used to short rides anyway).

• both occur in a similar time frame, and involve a similar breakdown of parts. yoyoing involves the throw, the trick, and the return. surfing breaks down to the paddle, the ride, and the kickout (or the glorious wipeout-beating that happens plenty, too).

• both are subject to fanatic, factious, tribal niches which generally perceive themselves to be more important to the greater world than they actually are. surfers and yoyoers are similar in their fierce devotion to their friends, and their general willingness to speak ill of their "enemies", as well as the uninitiated. a quick glance at any surfing or yoyoing forum proves as much.

although surfing and yoyoing are only similar in the most academic respects, the primary difference between them relates to "fear". when you're out there in the water (especially alone, or on a huge day), it can get scary. there are a thousand ways to kill yourself surfing in the ocean. i've been surprised by a half-dozen sharks sharing the same space in the lineup as me. i've been pulled from behind "over the falls" during hurricane swells. i've been faced with the terror of having no idea which direction is up while underwater. (and i'm only a relatively casual surfer on the east coast!). EVERY paddleout requires a bit of a gut-check.

in yoyoing, there's no immediate fear of death, and maybe there should be. who puts on the slipknot and wonders to themselves "will this be the last time?" who considers for a moment that they might pay for a "high risk" trick by eating a serious beatdown? yeah, i've got stringburn, and i've bonked myself on the head plenty with a yo-yo. i never fail to laugh though, when i read the myriad threads asking "how bad have you hurt yourself with a yo-yo?"

but we SHOULD yo-yo like that. we should LIVE like that. we should maintain within ourselves the ember of the understanding that every session and every throw may be our last. tomorrow is promised to no man. surfing causes its exponents to really value what they do because of the inherent danger, but even without the omnipresent risk of death, we should recognize that our lives are fragile, and that the pursuits to which we dedicate time and effort are truly worthwhile. our yoyoing should matter to us more than just a throwaway that we use to kill time. you can't "kill time", but you can surely waste it. this comparison with surfing (and so this yo-yo) reminds me to throw and live with a little more "intent".

though i live 100+ miles from the beach now, it's a beautiful day.
so, i'm picking up my camel, and taking it for a walk. ;)

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