This year we are honoring Donald Watson, a major figure in the modern history of American Yo-Yoing with the "Harvey Lowe Lifetime Achievement Award".
From humble beginnings, in his own words, "a street kid from the Great Depression" to one of the most analytical minds in yo-yoing, Donald Watson, aka "Captain Yo", has helped revolutionize the world of yo-yoing. Don can fairly be called one of the fathers of modern yo-yoing, as his work with Tom Kuhn to produce the first ball-bearing yo-yo has changed they way people play.
Don has an extensive engineering background, having earned degrees in Mechanical Engineering as well as Electrical Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, South Dakota. He has applied his engineering background to the world of yo-yoing, with spectacular results.
Don's first yo-yo was the Duncan Beginner back in 1932 or so. He had to steal a couple Canada Dry bottles under the family's sink to get the money for it. He turned in the bottles for a 5 cdnt deposit to be able to afford the 10˘ yo-yo. Don got more interested in yo-yos when his family moved out of New York City to Long Island in the late thirties. He would make a point to be in front of the local store when the Duncan demonstrators showed up. He would meet them at the bus stop and hang out with them and learn tricks while they waited for the bus. He won a couple of the neighborhood contests, scoring a couple Duncan sweaters. When he was 16, he won a bike, winning a loop-off by almost a hundred loops! Don graduated high school in 1942, and entered the service in February of 1943.
During World War II, Don was trained as a bombardier on the B-17 and B-29 bombers. After WWII, Don attended the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, South Dakota. He earned degrees in Mechanical Engineering as well as Electrical Engineering. The two degrees have come in handy, "I:ve literally never had a job that didnŐt require both disciplines." He's worked for numerous companies throughout his career and retired from corporate work in 1980. For 15 of the last 20 years, Don has operated as a "small business planner, " helping small businesses control operations like cash flow and inventory. For the past five years, Don has considered himself "pretty much" honestly retired.
Don hadn't touched a yo-yo since he entered the service, but on a fateful day back in 1986 or 1987, Don was shopping for toys for his grandkids at Toys R Us. He picked up a couple of Duncan Imperials . While watching the Smothers Brothers 20th Anniversary in 1988, Don noticed that Tom Smothers was doing the same tricks Don had done as a kid. His interest piqued, he researched yo-yo companies and ended up with the contact information for Playmaxx. Don decided to pull an old trick that he used to talk to the head honchos at small companies, he called Playmaxx during lunch hour, figuring the employees would be eating and the boss answering the phone. It worked! Donald Duncan Jr. answered the phone and talked yo-yos with Don for quite a while. Duncan ended up referring Don to Bob Malowney's shop in Chico called Bird in Hand (Bird in Hand is now the home to the US National Yo-Yo Contest that is held every October and the National Yo-Yo Museum). Don traveled to Chico the following Saturday and picked up a couple yo-yos. Don competed at Chico every year up until about 7-8 years ago and has finished as high as third. His Freestyle won raved from the likes of Dale Myrberg and Tommy Smothers. He has attended most of the National contests since then.
It was Don and Tom Kuhn who introduced the ball-bearing yo-yo to the world. Tom Kuhn came to Don with a wooden ball-bearing yo-yo prototype that was not giving him a consistently balanced response. Don worked with Tom and helped design the guts of the first ball-bearing yo-yo, the SB-2. They installed an adjustable gap, which let the player choose how responsive he wanted the yo-yo to be. Ball-bearing yo-yos have fundamentally changed the way people play with yo-yos. The introduction of tricks has expanded exponentially since the advent of the ball-bearing. Tricks that only the highest level player could perform with a fixed axle yo-yo have become commonplace today thanks to the ball-bearing yo-yo. Ball-bearing yo-yos were largely responsible for the yo-yo boom in the late 1990's. The next time you throw a complex trick like "Shockwave" or "Spirit Bomb," give props to Don and Tom, without who you wouldn't be doing the trick.
DonŐs most recent project has been the publications of five monographs dedicated to the physics of the yo-yo. These are an absolute must read for anyone considering designing a yo-yo and are a great resource for the amateur modders out there.
Where did his nickname, "Captain Yo," come from? ItŐs all thanks to Stu Crump's Yo-Yo Times magazine. Stu was publishing a list of yo-yoer nicknames. Don wanted "Captain Yo-Yo," but someone in Alabama had already registered it. He chose "Captain Yo."
It was thanks to people like Bob Malowney, Tom Kuhn, Dale Oliver, Brad Countryman and John Stangle who helped shape Don's interest in yo-yos and influence him.
Don's 80th birthday is coming up this October. He's been married over 60 years to his wife Bianca. They have two children, Cheryl and Denise. Don and Bianca reside about fifty miles north of San Francisco in Rohnert Park, California. His other hobbies include the making and playing of Native American Flutes.