On the mighty Machu Picchu in Peru, on a camel in Jordan, underwater in Hawaii, on the beaches of New Zealand, near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, 2014 Yo-Yo World Champion Gentry Stein and his yo-yo, have been to all of them! In fact, 23-year-old Stein, who was born and raised in Chico, CA, has journeyed to 28 countries to participate in yo-yo competitions, teaching people how to yo-yo along the way, and shooting mind-blowing photos and videos of himself and his travels.
When I asked Stein when and why he started to yo-yo, his response was something most of us can relate to, with a twist, “My mom gave me a yo-yo when I was eight years old, and I was immediately hooked, I started taking classes and just never stopped.”
We were all given a yo-yo as a kid at some point, right? The twist, however, is that Stein’s classes at The Bird in Hand Toy Shop in Chico, California — which also happens to house the National Yo-Yo Museum — inspired him never to put his yo-yo down and his weekly yo-yo classes piqued his interest in competing, which Stein began doing once he started middle school.
Competing allowed Stein to experience traveling firsthand at a young age, and he found competitions to be “a cool outlet to be creative and meet new people.” His talent flourished knowing that it was all up to him, “Nobody could stop me from being successful except myself, and when I realized the direct correlation between hard work and success, I began winning.”
“Nobody could stop me from being successful except myself, and when I realized the direct correlation between hard work and success, I began winning.”
– 2014 Yo-Yo World Champion Gentry Stein
At the age of 18, Stein became the 2014 Yo-Yo World Champion. At this time Stein was sponsored by YoYoFactory, resulting in his signature lines of yo-yos. “When I got my endorsement deal, one of my goals was to create a quality yo-yo that was accessible and affordable for kids to learn on,” Stein shares, “winning the world contest and going on tour was what really encouraged me to create the beginner yo-yo.” He succeeded in meeting this goal by creating the Gentry Stein Replay yo-yo, which costs only $14.99 and is available on his website and sold online through YoYoFactory.
So, Stein is a World Yo-Yo Champion. But what does that mean? “As competitors we are judged on a three-minute, choreographed routine set to music, showcasing our individual creativity by way of our own unique yo-yo tricks,” says Stein.
While the competing field of yo-yo’ers is comprised mostly of 15-25 years olds, hailing from 33 countries, Japan historically dominates the IYYF (International Yo-Yo Federation) competitions, taking home 80 world titles in the last 22 years. Japan also happens to be Stein’s favorite place to travel, saying “I’ve been to Japan six times, and I love it there. I’ve developed such great friendships with people in Japan, and I love the culture so much. It’s also been a hotbed of inspiration for my artistic creativity.”
Stein frequently travels internationally for competitions as part of the IYYF, allowing him to engage in cross-cultural engagement. Stein takes his notoriety as a Yo-Yo World Ambassador seriously. In his words he is “committed to mentoring youth and coaching anyone I encounter, anywhere along my travels” His 6’3” frame towers above throngs of children vying for his attention and yo-yo wisdom, he is all smiles as his yo-yo flies around, behind and above him in ways that are best left to videos for description.
He has also earned a potent social media presence. He posts yo-yo tutorials on his “Gentry Stein” YouTube channel, furthering the role of mentorship in his community. His Instagram @GentryStein is a testament to the adventures he has taken as he travels the world searching for the most intriguing and exceptional places to yo-yo. He even takes the time to respond personally to his followers, who ask questions in his threads about where the heck he is, yo-yo moves and even stage fright. His approachable presence on social media and desire to engage with his fans and followers has led to some unique opportunities “I’ve been approached for all kinds of things, and I’m always down for whatever.” says Stein. “I was in Hawaii on vacation when I met photographer Connor Trimble. We quickly became friends and a few days later he got this idea to shoot me and my yo-yo underwater and I was all for it, we got some unbelievable shots that are pretty unreal.”
Stein was even approached by the Brooklyn- based band, Baby Raptors. “They saw some of my yo-yo videos online and reached out because they had this song titled ‘Strings’ they wanted to loop me into, so I played this bartending yo-yo dude in the music video.” Stein played a bartending yo-yo dude who saves a girl from her bad-boy boyfriend. Stein ended up collaborating on two music videos, “Strings” and “Lost Bois.” His hypnotizing moves added artistic dimension to the videos, making them addicting to watch, and I have to say personally made me see the yo-yo in a whole new sexified way!
At the age of 23, Gentry Stein has won several National Titles, a World Title, traveled the world many times over and had more awe-inspiring experiences than most Americans can comprehend. And yet he is still this down to earth guy, unassuming, generous and excited to yo-yo anywhere, for anyone.