Ben Conde is a yoyo player from the USA. He’s originally from Kansas but he currently studies in Chicago. His dominant style is offstring and he’s pretty good with 1A as well. He’s best known for his freestyles which are full of great performances and fun elements. Ben also has a whole variety of signature yoyos made by his sponsor, YoyoJam. But most importantly Ben Conde is a super cool guy who we have nothing but love for. Doing this interview was a real pleasure as well because he replied super quickly and all his answers are super thorough and inspirational. Thank you Ben!
Many people ask me what do you actually do? Are you a YYJ team member or something more as well?
Yes, to both. I am on Team YoYoJam’s Pro Team as a sponsored off-string competitor, which means I go to contests and represent the brand.
I also work for the company as the Team Manager. In this position, I act as a liaison between YoYoJam’s players and upper management; so I work closely with the owner, Dale Bell, and the Vice President, Valerie Aaron, with product development and marketing campaigns. I also run YoYoJam’s social media pages: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
I know you might not be the right person to ask this but how’s YYJ doing? Is there anything new and exciting we should look forward to?
YoYoJam is flowing at the moment. The company hasn’t had the crazy hype it used to receive back in the early 2000’s, but I am pleased with the newer products and I know we have a talented team.
New and exciting products to watch out for are Tessa’s Transcend and Bryan’s new off-string yo-yo! I can’t put either down. New videos too!
What do you think about the current situation in competitive yoyoing?
It’s exciting! I have been in the game since 1998, and I never thought I would be seeing so many good players from all around the world. The professionalism of contests is really starting to amaze me as well. And as the sport continues to grow, I think rules will continue to adapt just like in any sport.
Do you think the old concept of USA x Japan still exist or are other countries getting into the top league?
Other countries are definitely rising to the top. A lot of countries are making a statement with their players; it’s just a matter of time till all these great players can make it out to Worlds.
If you had to chose three milestones in yoyo and trick development, what would they be?
In my development:
- In 2005, when John Narum won worlds… that made me realize that age didn’t matter, nothing did. The only thing that could stand in my way was whatever I let get in the way.
- Getting up after every time I feel like I failed on stage. And the people who help me get up.
- This one’s yet to come.
Do you think that the rivalry between yoyo companies and stores is created by the community rather than the businesses themselves?
I don’t think you can put blame on the community, they’re people. Every yo-yo player likes something different, and companies position their products toward what players want. It is a very competitive industry, and there is always going to be a rivalry created amongst businesses. That’s business.
Just an important note though: It’s difficult from both ends. Players lose sight at the fact that yo-yo companies help the community grow by sponsoring events and supporting players. They need to make money to stay alive. On the other end, sometimes yo-yo players just want yo-yos they can afford and don’t look into how that brand is helping the community.
Where do you look for inspiration for your new tricks? Is it other yoyo players, other skill activities or somewhere completely different?
If I see a yo-yo concept I like, I’ll play with it. Players in the community definitely play a role; I appreciate players that visually represent the music they are yo-yoing to. Dance has influenced some tricks as well; it’s helped me work on incorporating more body movements in tricks.
What was your first yoyo and why did you decided to get one?
I want to say my first yo-yo was either the Yomega Brain or a ProYo… one of those two. It’s hard to remember because I was so little. I started when I was four years old because my older brother got into it. As a kid, his interests would influence me so I picked one up as well. It only took me 11 years to catch up (he placed 5th in the World in 2000, but I took 4th in 2011 haha)
How did you end up doing 4A?
Funny story — John Narum convinced me to compete in 4A at US Nationals in 2004. I ended up making the finals for the first time ever (at a big contest). I scrambled around the contest trying to find back up yo-yos, then when I got up on stage, I somehow landed 2 behind the back whips. Those two whips earned me 4th in the nation that year, and that made me feel like I could go somewhere in 4A. Then John won Worlds the next year so that motivated me to try to make finals at Worlds. Once I got there, it was all history.
Are there any new trends in 4A which you noticed?
I’ve never actually seen trends in 4A. I feel like the style incorporates so many elements from different styles and eras of yo-yoing. That’s what I like about it.
Are you any good in other yoyo styles as well? And how about Kendama?
I have a 1998 level of 2A and I like to mess around with 1A a lot. People think my 1A game is like my 4A style, but with a string attached. There are some videos out there with my tricks, but nothing crazy.
Kendama’s are fun, for sure. I know the basics and will play KEN or Spike It with anyone any day (I’ll just probably need to borrow a Kendama).
How long before a contest you start preparing your freestyle? And what would be your advice for players who are struggling with theirs?
It varies every contest depending on how much time I have. I wish I could spend two months in advance preparing, but I get busy with school, work, other activities, and people.
I’m always keeping an ear out for freestyle music though. When I’m feeling a new song, I’ll take note of it and when it comes time to put something together, I’ll have a long list to pick and choose from.
My advice would be to first focus on the tricks. Master your basics, style, and uniqueness. Then you can start choreographing your tricks to music and figuring out how you want to present your freestyle. Constructive criticism is your best friend!
Are you trying to understand the judging rules and build your freestyle around them or you just go for it?
Haha both, sort of. When I’m preparing a prelim, I know I need to understand the judging system to get to the finals. For finals, I always aim to drop new tricks and put on a show. If all goes well, it usually fits the judging criteria or gets somewhat close.
What else, apart from yoyoing, do you enjoy doing?
I truly enjoy growing as a person and being a part of something bigger than myself. That’s why I’m a fan of all arts; it’s endless creative growth.
Our slogan is “There’s no drama like a yoyo drama” – what do you think about these batrachomyomachias that we often see in a yoyo community?
The community is so diverse; conflicts are bound to happen, especially when the community communicates online. I try not to get caught up in drama; it never feels worth it.
Are you following the current political and cultural affairs?
I try to stay as up-to-date as possible. It’s a big topic in one of my courses at school.
What are your top 3 yoyos if you exclude the ones from your sponsor?
I like the Crucial Cupcake, YoYoFactory Popstar and Shaqler Loop 900.
Worlds in Tokyo coming up! Are you planning to attend? What do you expect?
Yes, I am currently working on travel plans. Japan’s been my favorite place to compete in so you can expect me up on stage!
What do you like to do apart from yoyoing?
When I’m not yo-yoing, I’m playing soccer, working out, learning how to breakdance, working on graphic design/film/photography or spending time with people.
What does yo-yoing mean to you?
Yo-yoing’s a creative outlet that drives me to bring something new and unique to this world. It’s helped shape my mindset to go big and really try to reach my greatest potential, no matter what I’m doing.
Are you sometimes fed up or not in the mood to yoyo?
Usually after big contests… after putting so much time and effort into practicing, it feels nice just to shift my mind to something else.
What would be your advice to a player who learned the basics but is struggling to come up with his own stuff?
Find players or tricks that you like and try to make variations. Add new elements to your old tricks. You can even try setting rules to come up with something new, like “both hands must be moving” or “there must be a slack concept within this trick”… anything that will get you thinking more creatively.
What keeps you motivated?
People. Knowing that I have the opportunity to impact people with what I do inspires me to keep at it.
What title / success do you cherish the most and why?
It’s not a title, but I cherish the standing ovation from my Worlds 2011 freestyle because that’s all I wanted that day. It was an awesome feeling seeing how shocked everyone was. I just wanted to make up for previous years, and I felt like I had accomplished that.
One of the most asked questions that we get is “how do i get sponsored” (i bet you get these as well) so what would be your advice for players who desperately want to get sponsorship and how did you get into your current team?
Zach put it in a good way – focus on becoming a better player and not about sponsorship. Companies are interested in what you can offer them before they want to offer you anything.
I got on YoYoJam because the owner saw me yo-yoing near his booth at Worlds, and he liked what he saw.
Do you think that the current competition system (one minute prelims, 3 minute finals) is the best one can come up with or would you rather do it differently?
I like 3 minute finals, it seems traditional for me. Prelims are okay, but I know they can be brutal from a judge’s perspective. A good judge knows if the player is good within the first 10 seconds. I have not put too much thought in how I would do it differently.
Do you enjoy shooting yoyo videos?
Yes, it’s definitely cool showcasing tricks through video. I’ve learned a lot working aside Grant Johnson, and I hope to make more soon!
What social network do you use the most and why?
Instagram – I’ve recently gotten into exploring the city I live in, Chicago, and trying to document my experiences through photos. It’s an awesome tool that pushes my creativity much like yo-yoing.
Are you a Mac or a PC guy?
Mac. I like the simplicity.
What do your classmates think about you and yo-yos in general?
Most classmates don’t know I yo-yo. Those that do are pretty intrigued by it and are supportive; other times, they get annoyed if I am randomly in Prague for a competition haha
What would be your message to yoyo players everywhere?
Give ‘em a reason to watch you. And don’t ever give up… whether it be yo-yoing or whatever. Keep at it and you got it.
Any last words?
Thank you for the interview! I’ve visited YoYoStore several times, and it’s amazing what you are doing for the community. Hope to be back in Prague soon!