The way Johnny Jedrey can get a yo-yo to spin up, down and around, in his hands, around his bicep and even behind his back, will leave you shaking your head over his mastery of the tiny toy.
He completes each trick so fast that it’s hard to keep up and fully appreciate what you’re seeing.
Over the summer, Jedrey, 21, of Union, competed in the wildcard division at the World Yo-Yo Contest in Cleveland, Ohio. Although he didn’t advance to the preliminary round, Jedrey is already looking forward to his next competition.
He plans to enter a big contest in Missouri in the spring and then the Yo-Yo Nationals next summer in Philadelphia.
The World contest was only the second competition Jedrey has entered. The first was an Illinois contest held in 2012 when he was just 14 or 15 years old, and he took first place in the amateur division.
First Yo-Yo Was Party Favor
Jedrey, the son of Jim and Tarena Jedrey, Union, picked up his first yo-yo when he was 9 or 10. It was a party favor for his younger sister’s birthday party. He was having such fun just bringing the plastic toy up and down on the string that he brought it to his grandpa, who remembered the yo-yo boom of the 1960s.
“He showed me how to do tricks like Rock the Baby and Walk the Dog,” Jedrey recalled with a smile. “That was so cool! So I just used that thing out of my mind, doing those tricks until the string broke.”
When he went online to buy a new string, he was introduced to the world of competitive yo-yoing, and that took his interest to another level.
If you thought yo-yos were just those cheap plastic string toys, you might not even recognize the ones Jedrey uses. They are aluminum and shaped more like butterflies when placed on their side.
Jedrey owns upward of 60 yo-yos of various types. Most are made of high quality aluminum.
“That is so they can machine them to really tight specifications so they spin smoothly,” Jedrey explained. “Really, what that does is it make it so when you get to doing advanced stuff, you can do it for longer and easier.
“The cheap, plastic yo-yos can do all those same tricks, it’s just a little bit tougher,” he said.
Jedrey buys most of his yo-yos online through Yo-Yo Expert. The different types and quality of yo-yos can range in price from $10 to $1,000, although he typically buys yo-yos in the $40 to $80 range.
It’s not just the metal that drives up the price, but the machining, said Jedrey, unscrewing one of his yo-yos to reveal the precision work inside.
“There’s a ball bearing in the middle of these guys,” he said. “The machining is where the skill is. That’s what is difficult.”
Jedrey replaces the string on his yo-yos fairly often. Some strings only last for a few days before he needs to replace them.
“It depends on how much you use them and what the string is made of,” he said.
Nylon string tends to be faster for yo-yoing and also last longer, but Jedrey said he actually prefers polyester string.
“I like polyester because it’s a bit slower,” he said. That gives him more control.
Yo-Yoing Helped Reduce Anxiety
On a typical day, Jedrey will spend 30 minutes to an hour yo-yoing.
“It’s kind of how I like to unwind,” he said. “I first got into yo-yoing because when I was younger I had a lot of anxiety. I stuttered a lot, had performance anxiety, social anxiety, and just growing up I had a lot of fear.
“What I like about yo-yoing is when you’re doing it, you’re only focused on what you’re doing,” he said. “When you have anxiety, it’s because you are worried about what is going to happen in the future. But when you’re doing this, you’re kind of in your own little world, and you’re completely involved in what you’re doing.”
That’s what drew him into the hobby, and as a result, it helped reduce his anxiety. And he’s found a hobby that he deeply enjoys.
“I don’t have that same type of anxiety now, but I still really, really enjoy this,” said Jedrey, who likes to yo-yo either first thing in the morning or right before going to bed. Sometimes he might listen to a podcast while he’s yo-yoing. Other times he’ll listen to music. In those cases, he matches the music to the intensity he wants to get out of his yo-yoing.
Before bed, the music will be calming and soothing, but if he’s yo-yoing before he heads to the gym for a workout, the music will be hard and fast.
“There are sporting aspects to yo-yoing, but to me it’s an expression,” said Jedrey. “It’s how I express myself, how I unwind. For me, it’s like yoga. It’s like a meditational exercise that I do.”
‘Repetition Is Mother of Skill’
Leading up to the World contest held in August, Jedrey was practicing as much as two or three hours a day. That sounds like a lot, but there are experts, like Gentry Stein, the man who won the 2019 World contest, who practiced as much as eight hours a day for a full year before the competition.
Jedrey generally taught himself how to yo-yo, using tutorial videos online.
“A lot of it is seeing someone else do something and putting your own spin on it,” he said. “Everything builds off of one move.
“The trapeze is the most basic move, and from there you can roll it, spin it, land it, do all kinds of stuff.”
Jedrey admits he experienced a lot of frustration as he was learning, and there still is frustration today, and sometimes he gets his string tangled in knots, just like a beginner.
“A lot of it is patience, figuring out how do I get out of this? How do I not get into a knot again?” he commented. “Repetition is the mother of skill. If you do something enough, you get good at it.”
So far Jedrey hasn’t been too involved in the competitive yo-yo world.
“I think it limits the creativity aspect,” he said. “In the competive scene, they score based on certain types of tricks. So something that may be really cool and really creative may not score very well, but something that people know will score really well, every competitor will do it.
“So I just like to yo-yo for myself. I like to compete sometimes just because it’s fun to go see other yo-yoers and hang out with people like that.”
What a Contest Is Like
Back in 2012, Jedrey said he was shocked to be named the winner of the amateur division, not just because he was young, but because “I was going up against people who were so much better than me.”
The way a yo-yo contest works is each competitor has a predetermined amount of time — generally one, two or three minutes — to perform a free-style routine, which is done to whatever music he or she selects.
At the World finals, the time was three minutes. In 2012, his free-style routine was one minute long.
“You are basically doing the tricks that are going to click the best,” said Jedrey, explaining that a click is like a point or a score. “You get a click for each unique element that you do.”
Competitors stand before a judges and the crowd to perform their routine.
“It is intense,” said Jedrey. “I was so nervous my first time . . . I went up there and was like a deer in the headlights. But I just was doing my thing. I’d done it so long, it was like muscle memory.”
At the 2012 contest there were two divisions — amateur and pro. There were no age groups, because age doesn’t mean anything in yo-yoing.
“Some of the top competitors in the world are like 12,” said Jedrey.
At the World Yo-Yo Contest, Jedrey only had 30 seconds to perform his routine before nine judges in the wildcard round.
“The judges are all people who have been yo-yoing for a long time, and they are looking for different elements (or tricks and combos),” he said. “Once you get to preliminaries, they score things like stage presence, how much you move around, audience interaction, like getting people to yell.”
Just like any other sport, audience members get very excited to see impressive trickss.
“I have been in the crowd screaming when cool stuff happens,” said Jedrey. “It can get really loud.”
He has seen people receive standing ovations for their yo-yo routines, and one performer, Nate Dailey, got a crowd so excited that they were chanting his name, Jedrey noted.
The judges also are scoring performers on trick diversity.
“You can do tricks horizontally, in front of you, behind you, hops, slacks, whips . . . and then there is an X factor, like just your swagger when you’re up there,” said Jedrey.
There also are points for choreography and matching up tricks and body movements to the music.
After Jedrey placed first in the 2012 Illinois sate contest, he took a break from yo-yoing for three years.
“I had practiced so much for it, I just got burned out,” he said.
He also was a teenager and, like most, he was concerned about what other people would think about his hobby.
“I didn’t want to do anything that would make me seem not cool, but now that I’m older I realize that part of being cool is just being who you are,” said Jedrey. “Now I’m not really worried about that, and my girlfriend thinks it’s super cool anyway.”
These days, Jedrey is focused on improving his elements and combos to be ready for that next competition.
“Right now I have three or four go-to combinations I’m trying to get 10 out of 10 perfect by the next time I compete,” he said.
“I’d like to do better than I did at Worlds. The competition there was very, very fierce.”
Out of the 300 competitors at the World Yo-Yo Contest, only about 30 made it to the final.
Open to Giving Presentations
Jedrey works as a real estate investor, but he is his own boss and works from home, so his time is flexible.
In the past, he has been asked by groups to give a presentation or demonstration on yo-yoing, and he is happy to do so. He doesn’t charge a fee.
“My goal is really just to get more people to do this, because I really think too much of our culture right now is about instant gratification,” said Jedrey. “This is something that can take three months to be proficient at it, just to be able to do those basic tricks.”
To contact Jedrey about scheduling a presentation, email him at email@example.com.