Thousands of competitive yo-yoers participate in contests in the United States each year.
This particular event, the 2018 Pacific North West Regional Yo-Yo Contest, took place in Seattle in February and determined which regional competitors would advance on to the national contest in June.
In the 26 years since the founding of the National Yo-Yo League—the organization that puts on many US contests—the yo-yo community has grown exponentially.
The infrequent and audience-less competitions of the organization’s earlier years have transformed into flashier events, with divisions for the five styles of yo-yo play that have since come en vogue.
Yo-yos have also evolved dramatically. “[Yo-yos] started out as a toy, and the makers of them were making toys. Now they’re engineers making sporting equipment,” says National Yo-Yo League founder Bob Malowney. “These are definitely different than your grandfather’s yo-yo.”
Technological developments in yo-yo production led to the various styles of yo-yo play that fill the competitive landscape today.
“In the old days, it was more of a test of coordination,” says Malowney. “Nowadays, it’s a creative art, much like dancing or performance.”
At these contests, a panel of judges scores various aspects of a competitor’s routine, from the number of skills performed to the smoothness of their movements.
“People perceive yo-yoing as this wholesome American pastime,” says photographer Chona Kasinger. But shooting these kids as they practiced their for competition definitely elevated the activity in her mind.
“Just walking around, I felt like I might get smacked by a yo-yo at any point,” says Kasinger.
The makeup of the competitors skews young and male; the lack of age diversity can be attributed to the amount of time and dedication that it requires to reach a high competitive level, but Malowney is still unsure why more girls and young women don’t get involved.
Kasinger seeks out subcultures like the competitive yo-yo world in order to balance her more conventional commissioned work. “I say ‘yes’ a lot,” she says. “Jell-O wrestling to CEOs, I kind of shoot it all.”
Relying on her flash in the crowded, poorly lit convention center, Kasinger’s photos highlight only the yo-yo and its player, mirroring the way each competitor’s nervous energy translated into a “very outward display of focus,” she says.
The United States is one of 33 countries which hold national yo-yo contests. Other countries include the Czech Republic, Finland, and Singapore.
“The thing about photography is that, on a human level, you’re the outsider,” says Kasinger. “Being a photographer is being a professional outsider.”
“When these kids were yo-yoing, it seemed like nothing else in the world existed except for them and the yo-yo, despite the fact that the practice area was teeming with competitors, vendors, siblings, parents, and more,” Kasinger says.
Since shooting this event, Kasinger has sought out other yo-yo contests, including the Florida State Yo-Yo Contest in St. Petersburg. She also plans to photograph the National Yo-Yo Contest this summer in Chicago.