Bonz Atron of Boulder is a world champion kendama competitor. (Photo courtesy Bonz Atron)

Bonz Atron never aspired to be one of the top competitors in kendama,

a popular Japanese cup-and-ball sport that looks like a cross between juggling and yo-yo. For starters, he’d never heard of it until shortly after high school.

The Boulder native says that his love affair with kendama stemmed from his passion for hacky sack.

“I was super into hacky sacking forever, and then I saw my friend with one and was like, ‘Whoa, what is that?’ And from that moment I was hooked.” Atron easily mastered tricks that his friend had been practicing for months and soon found himself addicted. “I would spend over eight hours a day just practicing these tricks.”

Atron entered the realm of professional kendama through a friend who was employed by a company that manufactured kendamas. “He told me they were having this video contest, and my buddy happened to be film savvy, so we went and shot this video and everything just kind of took off from there.” Atron ultimately earned the sponsorship, and to his surprise, won his first competition, “Battle in Seattle” in 2013. The following year, Atron took home the world champion title at the first Kendama World Cup in Japan.

Atron is a Kendama World Champion in three different styles of kendama, with his favorite being the freestyle. “It’s definitely less rigid and more relaxed, like you can just be an artist on the stage and do whatever you feel.”

—Grant Frickey