Some of us may have just considered it to be a fun childhood memory, but to fourth-year graphic design BFA major Jonah Koen, yo-yoing is a lifestyle. On Saturday, April 2, he found a way to incorporate his senior thesis project with his love of yo-yoing; he invited the entire community to join him for Yo-Yo Day, an event that was created entirely by him in order to bring people in New Paltz together over a common, niche passion and show them how yo-yoing can double as a fun activity and an art form.
“After my first contest in San Francisco where I didn’t place in anything, I realized that being on stage and competing really wasn’t that enjoyable,” says Koen. “At that point, I stopped caring about putting dedication into making myself comfortable on stage and scoring points and doing cool tricks, and started to just do my own thing and get better in that way. It’s taken like eight years to figure out my own style, but in the past three I’ve really gotten it down, especially from looking at and getting inspired by other players who have a similar artistic yo-yoing style. They promote simply doing it for the flow and composition and the beauty of it instead of doing canned routines that score a lot of points.”
It’s no surprise that Koen was able to curate an immense turnout for the event, after posting about it on social media for weeks prior as well as hanging up handmade posters on campus and in town. The event was held from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., so participants were able to come and go as they pleased, but the busy surges consisted of about 20-30 people, ranging anywhere from three to 70 years old.
Koen prepared for this event by buying around 50 original Duncan yo-yos to give to his participants, as well as creating workshops and demonstrations to show the people who came how to do some of his signature tricks.
“It was hard for some of the younger kids to get over that learning hump of seeing tricks and realizing that they are harder than they look. They’d get frustrated easily and want to give up, but at the same time we had a bunch of kids who walked away with their first yo-yo and a new skill that day,” says Koen. “There was one kid who was super passionate about learning how to yo-yo with a fancier, metal one, so I was able to pass down an old yo-yo of mine to him. It’s exciting to see that next generation of players come to fruition and make that connection because who knows, maybe I’ll see that kid in 10 years on stage or leading a club meeting or something.”
His thesis, which is a story documentation on the yo-yo community, is going to be a printed, hardcover book that contains a mixture of photography, graphic design and journalistic blurbs that talk about the history of yo-yoing and his personal relation to yo-yoing and its respective tribe, which he is very heavily involved in.
“I am a part of the New York yo-yo club, which has over 200 members and meets in Manhattan every Sunday for about four hours, where people just come to hang out and yo-yo,” says Koen. “Every year, we have a secret santa where everyone just gives each other yo-yos. That’s the thing about the yo-yo community; there’s so much hospitality and encouragement to pass things on.”
His senior thesis, which is due by May 6, will be on display in the Honors Center for the end of the semester. Make sure to stop by and check out his work; it’s heartwarming, creative and all around incredibly special.