A quiet place in Osaka

It’s 11:55 PM in Osaka, Japan and it’s quiet.

I’m here for the 2023 World YoYo Contest. It’s my first contest since PNWR 2020 and it’s both better and worse than I hoped. Or maybe the contest is better and I’m worse. I think that’s more accurate.

When I first started attending contests way back in 1996, my responsibilities were minimal. I was helping run a booth, but it wasn’t my booth. I needed to spend some time there helping out, filling in. But I mostly roamed around and made friends and swapped tricks and showed off and looked for trouble and found trouble and made the kind of memories that shape you. I was becoming, then, and that’s a powerful time. The page is empty and you’re frantically trying to fill every corner of it with as much as you can and I was good at that. No downtime, no empty spaces, just go go GO! I made a lot of friends, and some of them are gone and some are still with me.

I was talking to Ben McPhee yesterday and we did a little bit of old man math and realized we’ve known each other since 1998. We met at the World YoYo Contest in Primm, Nevada. I’d barely been yoyoing two years at that point. Ben was not far off that. That’s a long time to be friends with anyone, and if you know either of us it’s definitely a long time to be friends with us. We’re difficult, opinionated people with strong vision and we compromise with great reluctance. We’re both better about that nowadays but it’s safe to say that even though we’ve known each other for over 25 years our friendship took a while to really form.

I met Gentry Stein around 2010 or 2011. It might have been at the Triple Crown in 2011, might have been in passing slightly before that. But I could tell he was a star in the making. He had the look, he had the vibe, and the skill was coming in quickly. I remember talking to Ben about using Gentry in some kind of promotional effort for the Triple Crown….I was trying to get a handful of up-and-comers to attend all three events because we hoped to not only crown champions at each event but also an aggregate champion with the highest average placing in all three events. It was kind of a dumb idea but at the time it seemed like a fun way to promote attendance at all three contests and to build out an exciting narrative between events. I wanted Gentry to be one of those players who was flown out to all three and I wanted to tell the story of his blah blah blah you get the point. I approached Ben with this and he hesitated and said “He’s not ready. Let him come into his own first before we throw him to the wolves.”

Talented yoyo players, especially in 1A, have a tendency to burn bright and fast and then burn out. Ben knew this and wanted Gentry to mature and grow at his own pace so when he hit the top, he could handle it. That fatherly protection worked out well for Gentry…he went to the top, and when everything that comes with that hit him he was able to not only cope but continue to flourish and grow and keep himself intact.

So. Back to Osaka.

This morning as I was leaving breakfast, Gentry motioned me over to his table. I joined him and his partner Emily and after a little chit chat he said “I just wanted to check on you. I’ve seen you off by yourself a lot during this contest, and I wanted to make sure you’re doing OK.”

And in that moment, I think I was a lot better. We talked for a bit about how hard the past few years have been, for everyone. I told him about how the past few years have been for me. Trying to navigate a pandemic with four kids really did a number on me, and as the rest of the world shrugged and moved on I struggled with the resentment of being responsible while many around me weren’t, with canceling one, two, then three World YoYo Contests, with trying to grow a new business, with trying to maintain CLYW, and with trying to figure out how to keep my kids safe in a dangerous world without also making them afraid of it. We talked about our fathers…I lost mine in January, he lost his stepfather in 2019. We already had the shared bond of being yoyo players, creators, influential people in our small field but now we bonded over loss and complicated relationships. It was a beautiful shared moment, and I’ll treasure the memory of that conversation.

I have spent a lot of time alone at this contest. I’ve been busy working the event and I’ve found it’s much easier for me to focus on the tasks at hand in a quiet space, so I’ve worked alone for the most part. I would take breaks, step out into the hall, and connect with my friends but every excursion was…a lot. The intensity of reconnecting with old friends, the requests for autographs and selfies, the constant scanning the room to make sure people aren’t blocking the door or there isn’t some issue that needs to be dealt with…it’s all fine but it’s more draining than it used to be. And my social battery just doesn’t last as long as it once did. So the solitude helped me stay level and insured that when I did step out into the lobby I could handle it.

Tonight there was another after-party and I had every intention of going but at the last minute I decided to just walk down to Mosburger with Ben, get some takeout, and make an early night of it. Gentry joined us, and the three of us shared a short walk and a quiet meal together. We talked about old times a little, but mostly we talked about the day’s events and random bits of yoyo drama and predictions for Finals tomorrow. We finished out food and our chatter and Ben went to bed while Gentry and I walked back to our hotel and talked about social media and long-form content vs short form content and the brilliant story-telling that Bluey packs into 8-minute episodes. We started the conversation at odds and ended in agreement, which is always an exciting trip to go on with a friend, and then we parted ways for the night. Each a little wiser, maybe, but also with a belly full of Mos Rice Burger Yakiniku and new memories to carry forward.

It’s not a stretch at all to say that most of my very best friends in the world are from yoyoing. But it’s always lovely to be reminded why.

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