Prague’s Underground Yo-Yo Scene explores the weird world of Czech yo-yoing

Non-Czechs don’t normally put the words “yo-yo” and “hip” in the same sentence. While most Americans—and most of the rest of the world for that matter—may consider competitive yo-yoing to be bizarre, here in Prague, yo-yoing is a growing pastime, from professional players to amateurs of all ages. In the last four years, this peculiar hobby has moved from a fringe activity to a full-blown sport. 

While yo-yos can typically be found in hobby shops alongside juggling pins and frisbees, it is incredibly rare, even in a major city, to find a store that exclusively sells yo-yos. Slusny and the Yo-Yo Store are not just Prague’s only brick-and-mortar yo-yo stores, but the only ones in Europe.

Prague’s Underground Yo-Yo Scene

Located on the same side of the Vlatva river, the shops are rivals—the Montagues and Capulets of yo-yo, but without the messy violence. Both stores opened up around the same time in 2010—first the Yo-Yo Store, and then four months later, the Slusny store. Also, both are sponsored by rival yo-yo manufacturers—the Yo-Yo store by Duncan, Slusny by YoYoFactory. “The kids take the rivalry more seriously than the owners,” says Hank Freeman, an American Yo-Yo champion living in the city. “It’s not like West Side Story, though.” 

Situated at V Jirchářích 12 in Prague 1, the Yo-Yo Store is devoted almost exclusively to the sale of…well…yo-yos. Inside, the store is packed with hordes of teenagers in flat-rimmed baseball caps and tight jeans, some practicing new yo-yo tricks, others helping to run the store. Along the walls are rows of yo-yos, still boxed in pristine packaging. 

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At the back of the shop, I met with Jan Kordovsky (a.k.a Korda), the owner of the YoYo Store and also the president of the Czech Yo-Yo Association. He offered me a can of Mountain Dew (the Yo-Yo Store has a deal with the Candy Store, which sells American sodas not found elsewhere in the Czech Republic), and told me about some recent developments in the Prague yo-yo scene. 

Apparently, business is booming. “Czech yo-yoing started around 2001, when someone brought a box of imported yo-yo’s into the country,” Korda says. “Recently though, it’s really taken off.” 

In fact, the yo-yo scene in Prague has become so big that it has attracted talent from abroad. Two former Yo-Yo world champions, Hank Freeman from the U.S. and Kentaro Kimura from Japan, currently reside here and participate in the emerging yo-yo scene. “The yo-yo scene is largely why I came here,” Hank tells me. For the last three years, the European Yo-Yo Championship has been held in Prague (with the exception of last February, when it was held in Budapest). The competition has attracted competitors from over twenty different countries. In 2014, the World Yo-Yo championship will be held in Prague.

But just how expensive can a Yo-Yo be? Simple models run from 200–300 CZK, but the more advanced models can go all the way up to 3000 CZK. “The price depends on a couple of things,” says Korda. “First is collectability, if the yo-yo is a signature model used by a famous player, and then whether it’s made of high-grade aluminum or a cheaper material. Also, the brand matters too.”

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I also spoke with Vashek Kroutil, the former Czech and European yo-yo champion and a co-owner of the Slusny store, about the exploding popularity of yo-yos in Prague.  “I think are two reasons,” he told me. “Firstly, there was the construction of the YoYo and Slusny stores, so now there are places for people to hang out. And secondly, there was the Yo-Yo team, the Sleeperz, who made it to the semi-finals on the television show, Czech-Slovaks Got Talent (Česko Slovensko má talent) in 2010.”

Prague’s Underground Yo-Yo Scene

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Similar to skateboarding, yo-yoing in Prague has inspired new fashion trends with teenagers here. “What is yo-yo fashion? Typically baseball hats, t-shirts, skinny jeans, straightened hair, and a lot of Vans shoes.” Vashek tells me. 

“A couple of years ago, it was difficult to find a kid who yo-yoed without a weave in his hair,” says Korda. Tomáš Bubák, two-time champion of the Czech Yo-Yo Nationals and a member of Slusny’s in-house yo-yo team, echoes this sentiment, “The older yo-yo players all wear the same hipster dress. And the younger kids look up to them.” 

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“There is nothing like this in the United States,” confirms Hank. “In the U.S, yo-yoing is seen incredibly nerdy, on the level of Dungeons and Dragons. Also, in the U.S., girls don’t come to the contests. But here, in Prague, girls come to the contests. That’s the big difference.” 

In a yo-yo competition, each player goes through a choreographed routine of tricks, set to music (usually hip-hop or dubstep). A group of five judges award points, using specialized hand-clickers, each time the yo-yo player performs a difficult trick or maneuver. “You really show yourself in your routine,” says Vashek. “You choose your own music, your own choreography, what tricks you do.” 

If you are interested in checking out this emerging hobby, there are a variety of yo-yo workshops held around Prague, run by each store. Also, there is a free Yo-Yo session held at 17:00 every Thursday on Střelecký Ostrov (“Shooter’s Island” in English), conveniently located between the two stores. 

“Anyone who is interested can come to the store and ask for a beginner yo-yo,” says Vashek. “All of the yo-yo players are very friendly—they can help you out.” 

For more information, Slusny is located on Ladova 5, Prague 2, open from 10:00–18:00, or on their website and online store, The Yo-Yo Store is located at V Jirchářích 12, Prague 1, and is open from 11:00–19:00, or on their online site.

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