Part I: "How it all began"
In 1992, I happened to see a picture in a WWF fund raising catalogue. It showed a photo Helen Zeiger (as I found out later) showing a "rock the cradle" trick with a Yomega Brain yoyo. All yoyos I had seen until then had the string glued to the axle for pure up and down action. I couldn't explain how she did this trick so I went and bought that yoyo in Baden (Switzerland) where I went to gymnasium.
I started practicing and one thing lead to another: When I showed the Brain around at school, a guy came up to me and gave me a mail order catalogue from a local juggling store. They showed a dozend yoyos in their "yoyos" category, the Silver Bullet (1) being the most expensive. The yoyo was advertised as being made of "air plane grade aluminum", which fascinated me. I ordered it, and when it arrived by mail, I fell in love with yoyos for good.
With the Silver Bullet yoyo came a small photocopied catalogue of Tom Kuhn Yoyos, with an astronaut playing with an SB2 in space on the cover page. The catalogue contained ball bearings yoyos, made of wood and aluminum.... I was over the moon. Ball bearings. Wooow. They must spin forever! I saved a lot of money and ordered yoyos worth several hundreds of dollars from a dentist in San Francisco.
The five weeks waiting for them to arrive were unbearable.
Over the years, I ordered many more yoyos from Tom Kuhn, and started an addiction for these precision-made pieces of art. I printed the Tom Kuhn logo on all my cloths and had my yoyos with me wherever I went.
A few years later, around 1996, I saw an ad in the newspaper for a certain "Yohans", to make a performance at one of our local shopping centers for Playmaxx yoyos. Weird nick-name, I thought, but I had to meet this guy, yoyo celebrities almost never made it to Switzerland. Yohans did a great performance, showing 2A and 1A tricks. I had never seen 2A before and was stunned. He called on passer-bys to come to play with him, eventually it was my turn. Needless to say, he was very impressed when he saw I knew some 1A tricks. With the little I knew, I was easily one of the top ten players in Europe given the lack of competition. He taught me a few more tricks, including the basics for 2A. I gave him my phone number as well.
Months passed. I was a student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Theoretical Physics, I was at home doing exercises when the phone rang, and Ben McPhee was on the line. He asked if I wanted to come over to the USA and help him promote Playmaxx.
My heart stopped and I was close to fainting. During my entire childhood I had watched American movies, I wanted to go and live in the country of infinite possibilities. And I loved yoyos. There couldn't have been a better offer. I told Ben how much I would love to take his offer, but I had two years left at university for my masters degree, I was concerned what my parents would say if I suggested to them I would quit university to "go and play yoyo in the US". I declined, with a broken heart. Ironically, my parents later told me I should have taken a leap year and continued studies later. That would probably have meant HSPIN would never have come to be.
As I got better with my SB2s, I felt like making my own yoyo designs. I had a few sketches on paper for what later on would become the HandQuake. I was half-seriously looking for machinists. I received a lot of half-serious suggestions of where to go to make a prototype. Eventually, I was doing an internship at ABB and got exposure to AutoCAD, which I taught myself. Also, as ABB had a CNC machining lab, I got a serious tip for a few workshops where to go. I wrote letters to 30 CNC workshops asking for a quote for an aluminum yoyo prototype. Many of them litterally thought I was crazy and couldn't believe I would want to make a yoyo that would cost CHF 100 to produce (about USD 85 at the time). A few companies took me seriously, and I eventually decided to work with one of them. They later on made the first HandQuake 1.3 prototype for me.
Around that time, I was once travelling by a train with a few friends from gymnasium. I told them I wanted to produce a pilot batch of my own yoyo design. An interesting conversation started, and by the end of the journey, I had an assured capital of CHF 3000 (USD 2500) for a first batch of HandQuake yoyos.
In November 1998, the first batch of 50 HandQuake 1.4 yoyos was ready and sold out a few days later. The rest is history. I met Tom Kuhn in person almost two decades later in New York in 2009 and thanked him for the inspiration (see photo).
To be continued...
Chris K |