Ancient toy makes a quiet comeback

It has seen a long shelf life, dating all the way back to 500 B.C. It had a hay-day in the 1960s and has a quiet following ever since, with fans sleeping, going around the world and walking the dog. It’s the yoyo.

And while many kids are turning to technology for play time, the enthusiasm of a group called YoyoToronto.com may be keeping this old toy alive.

They have an active online forum and monthly meet ups, and they recently tried to crack a Guinness World Record for most people yo-yoing at one time.

Jeremy Bell, 11, is the youngest and one of the quickest on the team.

He couldn’t put the yo-yo down once he saw a classmate do some tricks.

“Sometimes we’d battle in the schoolyard,” Jeremy said. “It’s fun.”

The youngster’s skills impress Dmitri Fedorovskyy, president of the city’s yoyo group.

“(Jeremy) is a veteran by now. He’s progressed dramatically and I’m amazed,” Fedorovskyy said. “I can’t believe all the free time kids have these days but yo-yoing became his pastime of choice.”

While many of Jeremy’s peers may opt for Xbox or online games, Jeremy’s love for the stringed toy doesn’t surprise Kimberly Bezaire, an early childhood instructor at Ryerson University. Digital versus traditional toys is not an either-or choice, she said.

“Boys who enjoy battling with heroes in a videogame many times also enjoy building diorama with toy soldiers, playing in sandboxes or cardboard boxes,” Bezaire said. “The key is offering kids many opportunities – time, space and stuff – for playing in lots of ways.

“We’d be hypocrites to criticize children’s interest in, curiosity for and enjoyment of digital toys and tools.”

Fedorovskyy says lack of interest in the ancient yo-yo comes from the simplicity of the physical pastime.

But, he adds, few people know how much the technology has advanced.

In the late 1970s, a number of innovations were made to the connection between the axle and the string. Ball bearings were added by a Swedish company in 1984 to drastically trim down friction during a spin of the yoyo, permitting longer and multifaceted tricks.

“Different shapes and types play the same and can do the tricks with all of them,” Fedorovskyy said. “Width, length, color, ball bearings, diameter, weight in the material – they’re all different.”

Another detail Fedorovskyy notes is yoyos cost more than a pretty penny.

“For a decent beginner or intermediate one, it can cost upwards of $50 and can go far into the hundreds. There are some specialty shops but it’s mainly sold online.”

Although YoYoToronto.com serves as an online congregation, gathering face-to-face gives a chance for members to show their skills and meet new people. Anyone who holds interests can attend.

The next meeting will start at 1 p.m. at the U of T Bahen Centre for Information Technology, located on the St. George campus Dec. 5.