Chris Neff has made a name for himself in the yo-yo and spin top universe.
Chris Neff wasn’t looking for prizes or recognition when he walked into Downtown Book and Toy in 1992 and bought a yo-yo, but that’s exactly what he found. That simple toy came with him when he left town for college and kept him entertained as he studied to be an architect at Kansas State. After mastering several tricks and teaching them in Kansas City, Duncan Toy Company offered him a position as a traveling demonstrator. Soon, he was competing around the world — and taking home titles. Today, Neff is back in Jefferson City, where he works as a project manager at The Architects Alliance, and his passion has expanded to include spin tops. In 2016, he received first place in the World SpinTop Contest. Here, we talk to Neff about the hobby, as well as what he loves about Jefferson City.
What do you enjoy most about yo-yos and spin tops?
I enjoy the sense of accomplishment when I learn or invent new tricks, and it feels just as good when I’m able to help somebody with a trick they were having trouble with. Also, the global skill-toy community is a wonderful thing to be a part of.
What are some of your favorite moves?
There is no shortage of tricks to learn — you can pick and choose your challenges. I am known for a few yo-yo tricks, namely Black Hole and Meltdown. Some spin top tricks I can call “mine” include Zorro and WWW (wrist wrap whip).
What’s the difference between a spin top and a yo-yo?
A spinning yo-yo is supported by a string on a central axle, and as long as it is spinning fast enough, it will stay steady on a plane perpendicular to the axle. The Around the World yo-yo trick illustrates that plane fairly well. As long as your tricks move along and within that plane, it is easy to maintain control.
A spin top is shaped more like a cone or a teardrop and is traditionally spun on the ground, point-down, by way of a long string or some other spinning mechanism. This is super fun for many types of “battle” games which exist all over the world.
You’ve competed at a global level. What’s that experience like?
As a competitor, it is deeply frustrating when you don’t do your best, but for me that quickly turns into determination to apply to the next contest. When you’re able to do your best, it’s a phenomenal feeling, but for me that means I will be moving on to something else, because why climb the same mountain again?
How has the sport changed since you started? What do you expect for its future?
The yo-yo scene is much, much bigger than when I started. The regional, national, and world contests are well organized and legitimate in every way. The spin top world grows slowly but steadily, and I expect it to continue to do so.
Tell us a little about your family.
My wife, Jennifer, is known for her murals and sidewalk chalk, and also for writing about living with me and our two boys: Eli, 12, and Charlie, 6. We are apparently very entertaining to her, and when we’re good, she cooks dinner for us! (We are rarely good . . . send snacks!)
What’s your favorite thing about living in Jefferson City?
Meeting people who say, “I know your parents and think very highly of them.” I hope my children have the same experience.
Where’s your favorite place in town to grab a bite to eat?
Madison’s and JQ’s on High. Rick’s Cafe was amazing.
Outside of yo-yo-ing, what are your hobbies?
Disc golf, bicycle restoration, woodworking (including making my own spin tops), juggling, sling shots, and stunt kites would be the main ones in addition to skill toys that I tend to cycle through. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you give up television.