Caleb Steinborn knows a frustrated yo-yoer when he sees one. At Kazoodles’ last yo-yo club it was 7-year-old Austin Worthington. Austin was trying to execute the Trapeze, a trick that requires stopping the swinging string with your finger, letting the yo-yo fly up and over your hand, landing it back on the string. It’s not an easy trick, and Austin was learning the frustrations of his new hobby all too well.
“Learning to yo-yo well is a long and arduous process,” Caleb told me in an email. “Even today there are tricks that I have not mastered and have been plugging away at for months.”
Like Austin, Caleb picked up the yo-yo at young age. He first started playing around when he was 10, taking one in his pocket everywhere he went. Initially, he said, it was just a fun way to pass the time.
“Over the years, it has given me something constructive to do while waiting for Mom in the store. It is largely due to these store excursions that I have increased my skill up to where it is today,” he said.
But Caleb, now an 18-year-old yo-yo pro, is just one in a long line of yo-yo enthusiasts. In fact, people have been playing with yo-yos for more than 2,500 years.
Early models of the toy were made in ancient Greece out of wood, metal and clay, according to the Museum of Yo-Yo History. It then traveled around the world, popping up in places like China, India, Egypt and France. Even Napoleon was known to play with a yo-yo in his spare time.
By the early 20th century, the yo-yo had found a big audience in the Philippines, where natives were becoming experts at making and playing with the toy. They were the first to coin the name “yo-yo” which means “to return” in the Tagalog language.
In 1928 a Filippino business man named Pedro Flores started making and selling wooden yo-yos at a store in San Francisco, introducing the toy to a new generation.
Pedro Flores’ yo-yos caught the eye of businessman Donald F. Duncan, who saw a fad in the making. Duncan used Flores’ design and started manufacturing yo-yos of his own. Eager to share the toy with the rest of the country, Duncan took his toys and hit the road.
Recruiting Filipino experts, Duncan held yo-yo exhibitions in schools across the country. The tour was a smash hit, leading to the sale of millions of yo-yos. By 1946, Duncan was producing 3,600 yo-yos every hour. In 1962, the company sold a record 45 million yo-yos, an astonishing feat considering the country only had 40 million kids at the time.
Since then, the yo-yo has evolved into much more than just a toy. Today there are dozens of kinds of yo-yos, and hundreds of tricks. Maybe you can Walk the Dog, but can you Split the Atom?
At the yo-yo club, Caleb got a chance to show off his skills. One of his favorites is a master-level trick called Ladder Escape, an incredibly complex maneuver that throws the yo-yo back and forth through a spider web of string, before bringing it back out untangled.
So how does Caleb master these tough tricks? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall.
“The only way to get good at any skill is to practice,” he said. Sometimes it helps to have a little friendly competition as well. “The best way that I have found to practice is to have a buddy of mine threaten to master the latest and greatest trick before me. [It] works wonders, let me tell you.”
But while he loves mastering a trick himself, what really makes Caleb happy is teaching other people. At the Kazoodles yo-yo club, which he leads the second Saturday of every month, he gets the opportunity to work firsthand with amateur yo-yoers.
“Pushing others towards the realization of their dreams and talents is one of the most rewarding processes I have experienced. What is to not like about training up others to follow in your footsteps?” he said.
After some advice from Caleb, Austin finally started to get a hang of the Trapeze. It still needed a little work, but becoming a great yo-yoer requires more than just a little work.
“Repetition. Competition. Motivation. That sums it all up,” Caleb said. “If you never quit then I can guarantee that you will succeed.”
See Caleb’s skills and learn a thing or two yourself at Kazoodles’ yo-yo club! The club meets the second Saturday of every month at 2 p.m. inside Kazoodles. We can’t wait to see you there!