Thursday, February 26, 2009
yo-yo #28: eric wolff "wood & evil"
i picked my friend samm up in danville on the way to va states. he had just been involved in a major auto accident, totaling his focus, and he needed a ride. samm's forged himself into an extremely successful competitor, and was seeking his 1st state championship (which he was destined to win). i was going up to judge freestyles. we were headed up to richmond, where we were to stay with the contest organizer, tony basch, a lanky and brilliant lawyer/runner/yo-yoer whose name is a perennial fixture in the list of most beloved community members. tony and i are pals, but, being of comparable age (read: older than dirt, at least relative to most yo-yoers) as well as skill, we also have a bit of friendly competition over the "old guy ladder".
at any given contest, the sport ladder is generally viewed nowawdays as the territory of the newbies. the great players freestyle, and the weak or recently initiated do ladder, so that they can still participate and not feel totally embarassed. (i don't like this outlook, but it certainly prevails.) when it comes to the elderly, however, it's another matter. the old guys take the ladder seriously (some of them even PRACTICE it, for god's sake!) and the "senior division" is therefore frequently awarded a substantial prize for 1st place. tony, himself has been instrumental in this trend, admittedly because he wants to take home the goods.
when we pulled up to tony's house, it was cold; like antarctica cold. however, having been cramped in the element on the banal drive up (punctuated by the steady stream of non sequiters that any drive with samm implies), we wanted to stretch our legs and throw yo-yo. we froze for a few minutes until t showed up. he produced a distraught andré boulay from his car (he's got an element, too). andré had just arrived and the airline had lost his luggage. local 2a player, kyle maxwell was also with them. we warmed up in tony's impressive yo-yo room and engaged in the jovial small talk typical of yo-yo friends getting to hang out and throw after a long lapse. just before heading out to what would be a phenomenal vietnamese dinner, tony revealed the revered "old guy" prize to me.
last year, he had secured a custom eric wolff yo-yo. knowing my penchant for fine wood, he actually called me out on the boards saying i had to come up and meet the challenge. however, i had just been up to delaware for ecc, and my wife was at that point 8.5 months pregnant, so no dice. i had to watch online as the beautiful yo-yo was won by andy brant. THIS year though, it was even better. since eric had been unable to complete a custom yo-yo in time, the prize was a note from him guaranteeing the winner a TRULY customized wood yo-yo to be collaboratively planned, following the contest. wood, response, weight, bearing, details... every aspect of the yo-yo was up for discussion, and anyone who knows eric knows that he's up to virtually any challenge.
tony ran sport ladder in a weird way. you still had just two misses... but you were allowed to jump around through the tricks and hit the ones you want in your own order. most contests rigidly follow the trick list in descending order. doing it tony's way [hypothetically] allows participants to showcase more of what they know. i mostly did the list in order. i think i delayed iron whip until after spirit bomb (which proved to be my last trick). in retrospect i really should have put throwhand grind (the easiest trick on the back half) earlier. on the 2a list, i sucked it up and only made 11 tricks, so i was sweating a bit. tom connolly was also there, and i knew that he had consistent 2a. in the end, it worked out for me, and i won, and though a number of the freestylers earned some gorgeous clyw jawbreaker peaks, i knew that i had lucked into the best prize possible (at least for me).
later that week i was contacted by eric (we spoke while i was at the zoo with my kids). over a surprisingly short phone call, we went through every aspect of what i wanted. because i wanted something more rounded, eric suggested the hspin "good & evil" shape (or "wood & evil" in this case). i was thrilled that he had a nice stock of cocobolo, which is my favorite wood for yo-yo's. at first i considered asking for a fixed axle... but this is eric wolff. his bread and butter is making incredibly progressive-playing bearing yo-yo's out of elegant wood. i wanted to use his gifts to their maximum potential, so i decided to ask for a bearing yo-yo; large konkave. at the end of our conversation, eric said "ok. give me a few weeks, and then watch your mailbox."
i literally did that for the last week.
the yo-yo came today, and it surpasses any expectations or hopes i may have secretly harbored. it worked out to be the single most beautiful yo-yo that i think i have ever seen (shinobu's "nostalgia" and "revolver" are right up there, but hey, i'm a wood guy.) the perfectly symmetrical grain just POPS when the yo-yo is brought outside, in a way that cannot be captured by my photographic ineptitude. every ray of sunlight seems at once embraced and reflected by the dark wood, and it shimmers like it's composed of a million smoldering embers. you can't look at it and imagine the color gray. this yo-yo kills winter.
it weighs in at about 69g, a hair heavier than i asked for, but it plays with agility and ease. now that i have 3 eric wolff's (how many people can even say that), i can safely say that his yo-yo's have a signature "feel". although they hum, being made of wood, they are so expertly turned and tuned that they're far smoother in spin than many of my metal yo-yo's. the "wood & evil" came with extra fine 100% poly string in a bright purple (though generally i just prefer the organic feel of cotton with wood yo-yo's; even bearing ones). eric installed one silicone sticker in the deep recess, and left the other side blank. as such, it's brilliantly unresponsive in play.
during our conversation, i told eric that i really wanted a great player. with a pair of his "art yo-yo's" to my name already, i wanted something that i'd feel i could use (if not "beat") every day. he did NOT entirely follow this instruction. oh sure, it's a player. i don't have any tricks that this thing can't handle. but the grain is so ridiculously perfect and positively glowing that yet again, i have an eric wolff masterpiece that i will be nervous to throw. i try to be above materialism, and i frequently chastise kids who are nervous about dinging their bvm's. i genuinely feel that yo-yo's are meant to be played; that they WANT to be played, and with abandon.
but i won't pretend there isn't a part of me that looks at this yo-yo and thinks "could i live with myself if i defaced this piece of art by snapping a string?" ... out of sincere respect for eric, and his ability to bring to life the most precious AND functional yo-yo's i've seen... i hope the answer's yes. because i'm taking it out to play in the dying sunlight right now.
i'm slightly dismayed by the fact that i simply do not deserve to have a yo-yo this excellent... but simultaneously encouraged because... who the hell DOES?