Thursday, July 2, 2009

yo-yo #46: throw down ronin prototype


throw down... sigh... i didn't really recognize the extent to which i had 'attached' to it until it foundered.

i'm so disappointed about it. nate weddle has only ever been a really nice guy to me. and i was amped to meet james buffington finally at indy this year (another nice guy). i really wanted throw down to keep it together. i wanted this yo-yo to work out. but my desperate wanting is silly, and just another facet of the bad feelings i now associate with the whole situation.

this yo-yo was going to be "the ronin". ronin in japanese means "unemployed person", although i've heard the more poetic "wandering wave" also. basically, a samurai who was severed from his lord, either by some misdeed or the latter's death, became a ronin. westerners often associate the word with heroic figures like miyamoto musashi, wandering the countryside, dueling and practicing incessantly, honing both skill and character. we tend to like the idea of the loner-john-wane-cowboy riding off into the sunset. generally though, the term was an insult; a derrogation. if you operated outside of a fife or the service of a lord, you were essentially without use in feudal japan, and were probably "better off" committing seppuku. anyway, it's an ironic name for a yo-yo, considering that it represents the end of my loose affiliation with throw down. it's a cool, bulky toy ; comparable in size and weight to a pyro. it's very smooth, but in play, feels decidedly "clunky".

we had released two yo-yo's: the luchador (yo-yo #12/13) and the tiny shuriken. i was really pleased by how both played, by their branding, and by how they were received by the community. i felt that throw down was headed in a really cool direction. in fall 07, nate sent me a prototype of the "lucha libre", an all-delrin version of the luchador. his first attempt was in essence, exactly that. it was a plastic luchador, without a bearing seat and with a huge axle screwed right into the plastic. as a product tester, i felt like this was a recipe for disaster; that the axle would strip the plastic halves, ruining the yo-yo or that the bearing seat would fail under the pressure of the steel bearing being tightened into it. i said as much to nate, and he considered it.

after awhile, he decided to redesign the lucha libre with a weird steel hex-nut axle insert that would fit into the delrin body. it used protective shims and was a very ambitious and complicated design that ended up taking him forever to finalize. i'm not sure if he got impatient or what, but i certainly never got to play with the updated version before he brought it to market. because i'm intentionally hard on yo-yo's i test, i like to think that i'd have caught the flaw, but who really knows? the libre had a paper thin wall around the bearing seat. even the slightest overtightening or banging could (and would) break it, rendering the yo-yo pretty much useless. nate told me he was aware of the flaw just in time for its release from stores. he added a quick disclaimer to it, and hoped that people would be gentle.

whether they were or weren't, peoples' toys broke quickly and in large number. i know of relatively few libres that are still in working condition (and have been played reasonably hard). around this time, nate pretty much stopped responding to my emails (and apparently to those of an increasingly irate yo-yo community, many of whom had been told that he'd replace their broken halves). i'd still harass him on the phone sometimes, and he'd repeatedly say stuff like "yeah i gotta get on that." i really think he wanted to, but that he simply didn't have the means. my good friend takeshi reminded me that nate's got some aspect of the "samurai" mindset himself, and that he wouldn't want to ask for help or even offer up the fact that everything was not alright. and to be honest, though i think he should have said SOMETHING directly to the community, i can appreciate that perspective to a degree. i think that nate was just overwhelmed by the financial meltdown the libre had become. he had been putting the little money he made from one yo-yo into funding the next, and all it took was one design flaw to toss throw down into a whirling vortex. evidently (and most unfortunately), he hit the "eject button", and has been incommunicado with the yo-yo world since last year.

this irritated me for 2 reasons. although i just tested out his yo-yo's, and had nothing to do with the company or business plan (or apparent lack thereof), i was perceived as an official "throw down guy" who could accurately comment on what-the-hell-happened. also, this yo-yo, MY yo-yo, the ronin... obviously stalled indefinitely. over the course of a year, i was told "2 more weeks, 2 more weeks" and pretty much believed it. needless to say, the original run of 10ish protos are the only ones that have ever been made. at one point i had 4 of them (3 of which i bought from nate at cost), but i've only kept this one. i'm not sure if i kept it to remind myself of how excited i was about designing a yo-yo "just for me" (i sure don't love the way it plays now), or if i've kept it to remind myself to "see the forest for the trees", and NOT to get too excited about phenomena over which i have essentially no control.

forgive me, but i'm going to talk more about this yo-yo in just a minute (in a much more gleeful context!)

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