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What poi should I buy?

For beginners and anyone looking to explore knowledge gaps that might need filling...


Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the variety of types and preferences you need to choose when shopping for poi? what are all these tether and knob styles? which one will be best for me?


Here is a guide exploring all the things you need to think about and why when choosing what poi to buy. If there is anything I have missed in this guide your input is warmly welcomed in the comments section, AVFL is all about growth and learning ! Of course, within this guide AVFL poi will be featured because it is a crew member's project and we love and are proud of it. However, as dedicated spinners ourselves this post has been written with objectivity towards its cause. "Orange" links have been placed throughout the post for you to access the information sources and shops mentioned.


Purchasing a set of new poi is very exciting, but there are also questions of preferences that can really influence your spinning relationship with a set of poi such as: spinner experience and style, ball weight, tether type/length/width, grip type/size/weight, colour impact even...


So lets dive in...


Spinner experience and style:


Poi come in all different shapes and sizes and each design or added design elements put into them caters to styles of spinning or specific moves, When choosing what type of poi you want to purchase, its a good idea to know what your spinning style is and what spinning style you want.


If you want to learn the traditional Kapa Haka style spinning that the name "poi" was first derived....you will get a poi that looks like this, its very short which makes spinning fast but precise. The traditional Kapa Haka is a very fast style of spinning done in a group with constant plane changing and bending. There is also a lesser known long style, with much slower more classical circular movements.


Image 1

(Image 1 taken from Spinpoi website, follow link to find accredited courses and learn more about the art)


If you want to learn a contact poi spinning style involving throwing and catching the poi with more use of the handles to make patterns, along with ball manipulations "contact rolling" it around various parts of your body; then contact poi like below are what you are looking for,





Image 2



Image 3

(Image 2: AVFL T1's 3 poi version. Image 3: Dark monk's non-rope contact poi...select hyper links to visit these shops )


However, I would advise... ("If you want to learn..." style types continued further down)


If you are a beginner, it would be much better to get a good all rounder so that you can explore and find the style that comes to you. Sometimes the style we end up gravitating towards is completely different from the style that originally inspired us. Not only this, but contact poi are actually quite heavy and I would always recommend beginners start with poi much lighter than they think they need. The reason for this is because no matter how easy it is to initially pick up a set of poi, continuous spinning uses complex dynamic muscle movements from muscle structures that kind of need to be built from scratch. Not having these developed fully leave you're joints vulnerable to injury. Even a body builder could start spinning and get injured for this reason. It is always best to start lighter than you think you need, and build the weight of the balls up slower than you think you need to. This also applies to experienced spinners who have not spun for a long time, it is always important to build back up slowly to prevent injury. Injuries are a spinners worst nightmare so prevention cannot be emphasised enough.


Moving on from this, if you are starting from scratch I would recommend spinning a pair of sock poi to start with (which in no way prevents you from shopping for the poi you want to level up to if you are that way inclined). Firstly, it isn't wise to buy posh expensive poi when you don't know if it is the flow prop you are going to take to. Socks (and AVFL contacts) are relatively cheaper than other types and can even be made for free out of a pair of real socks (AVFL plan to give tutorials on making you're own monkey fist poi too, sign up to the website to share experiences and learning). Secondly the weight of sock poi can be adjusted from light to heavy; so you could start with tennis balls, move up to juggling balls, then start making your own balls with balloons or socks filled with rice to your weighted preference. This responds to the points I was making about taking things slowly in the paragraph above. Thirdly, because of the long wide coloured lines they create when spinning, it is easier to see the patterns you are making more clearly to learn from and tidy up.



Image 4


(Image 4 taken from Sockpoi store select shop name for hyperlink)


If you want to learn or are interested in more Classical style spinning which is less throws, ball rolling and more about moving freely around a space making continuous circular patterns around your body then you can go for any type of poi, but the tether will need to be thinner and quite flexible like cotton or smithy cored (this is not always the case but shall be discussed in further detail below)



Image 5


(Image 5 taken from Nick Woolsey's PlayPoi.com probably the most renowned spinner associated with classical style spinning. Follow the hyperlink to his blog with inspirational photos, videos and links to his online courses)


If you want to learn what is referred to a more "tech" style, which is about precision of movement and exploration of variations on the quest to discover new things, tech spinners traditionally nearly always have poi with a shorter tether length and this probably marks a...



Image 6

(Image 6 taken from front cover of Zan Moore and Alien Jon's revolutionary DVD in spinning world for the part it played in spinning "tech": The Encyclo-Poi-dia. Follow hyperlink for its download page.)


...good time to move on to tethers.


(If you want to learn more about spinning styles and their evolution Drexfactor made a very informative video called: The 6 schools of Poi Spinning)


Tether type:


It's always confusing going on to the poi selling websites with a million different types of tether. I've seen so many people (myself included) choose a tether for its colour later to find that the feel of it was not what they were expecting. Here is a summarised guide to the different types of tether as understood from The Poi Mechanic's excellent "Poi rope series" on youtube.


Thin rope is best for tangles, wraps and orbitals. Thick can slow down the spin and increase weight which is good for contact spinning; semi static (often thicker) can be a good all rounder for both contact spinning and styles that hit tighter angles*, however, even though its possible and many spinners adapt, for some, getting used to semi-static may cause a little inconvenience. Absolutely a worthwhile choice when bringing a contact style into you're flow, static and semi static ropes are great for making straight lines and stalls, throwing is made easier and more precise due to the taught rope. A good way to identify whether a tether is right for tight angled spinning is to see how it bends, the wider the bend, the less efficient it will be for hitting tight angles.


*When I say styles that hit tighter angles, I'm talking about styles that involve tangles wraps and orbitals, along with spinning that involves changing and bending planes such as 3d, or long runs of flowers and fountains without changing direction.


Static: Excellent for tosses, stalls and contact rolling.

Technora: Semi-static. Hugely popular for fire poi use, highly versatile in both day or fire spinning but criticised for degrading and becoming "dreaded" quickly.

VPC: Semi-static. Is a reasonable all rounder, its semi static which is good for contact spinning, but has enough bend to do some tighter angled stuff...in my experience this is with more effort than I would like (I enjoy bending planes with short tethers a lot requiring tighter angled rope).

Dynamic: Semi-static. Good all rounder semi static like VPC but has a little bit of stretch which makes it good for orbitals.

Parachord/survival rope: This rope is often used for glow stringing, a type of spinning that though they share the same genre, it kind of has its own scene. It has been criticised for causing friction burns on the hands.

Cotton: This rope has excellent twist and flexibility. Perfect for tight angles, isolations and repeated rotations but is criticised for degradation and sensitivity to water (causing it to stretch and shrink).

Smithy: Excellent for tangles but possibly frustrating for learning tangles because it tangles so easily.

MFP (Polypropaline): Great all rounder, good bend and twist but when spinning in harsh dusty conditions the rope around the handle degrades and hardens over time which can "warp precision" (PoiMechanic).

Polyester: Great bend and flexibility, no hardening around the handle but wears quickly.


Tether Length:


Moving on to tether length. It is currently quite popular to spin with a longer length tether, but different tether lengths can influence what you can and can't do. Firstly, if you are new to spinning, I agree with Drex's recommendation to start with a medium length that can be wrapped around your fingers to become a shorter more "technical" length until you find you're "sweet spot" (Drexfactor). Drex refers to an "all round" spinning option as measuring from your thumb joint to your shoulder (I think ball to knob grip and not exclusively tether); for me personally even this would be slightly too long and my poi usually measure ball in hand to grip, approximately 2 inches above my elbow at their longest, but tech length is just my sweet spot because I enjoy inversions and plane bending so much. Shorter tethers make spinning a little faster, but they allow you to move more freely in your space without hitting anything or yourself. They allow you to change direction more quickly and experiment with and master transitions between a larger range of planes. Learning to stall is also much easier with shorter tethers. However, unwrapped, the longer rope opens up a whole school of other possibilities with all the wraps, tangles, orbitals, throws and body rolls to play with.

Drex comments that shorter tethers make it harder to control planes (Drexfactor), but I have not found this. I wonder if perhaps it is something that I have naturally overcome and in doing this might mean I shall be much tidier if I switch up to long? I am excited to experiment and find out. If this is the case then it could be argued that shorter length can facilitate plane control learning when moving to longer lengths? Drex makes the same argument with long poi and stalls, because they are harder to do when long, switching back to short after a period of trying stalls with long will suddenly be cleaner and feel easier. It is important to be precise the longer you use because lack of precision is much more noticeable the longer and slower you go. Shorter tethers also allow you to explore moves without getting caught on body parts. There is a whole family of moves called inversions that make circles inside of your arm and wheel plane in-front of your body or makes wall plane circles at the side of your body or between your hand and arm which obviously cannot be done if the poi are longer than the space between your body/arm and the hand.


The super long gang are slow and graceful. There is a common phrase you will see mentors write in response to videos people post in the forums which is "its great, now slow it down" ...its almost become meme worthy, well that's how I take it. Drex points out that long tethers can create a much more dramatic effect that can be seen from a greater distance (Drexfactor) as the circles are much larger as well, but I argue that while the long may have a further crowd reach, the short have their own charm with the huge range and variety of angles they can hit.


There is a mantra in choosing length to always go slightly longer, because "you can make long shorter but cant make shorter longer". I view this with caution, because although it has truth, making longer shorter isn't always as easy as it sounds with certain tethers, some you can just tie in a knot, some you can cut and burn...but some tethers have outer and inner layers that melt at different heats, some have a terrible fray factor and these things rarely get mentioned when dishing out that mantra as if shortening your poi will be some easy task. It would be good if there were more tutorial guidance videos to help the less experienced learn how to do this. Perhaps this will be something the AVFL crew will look into doing in the future. So, I would advise taking this mantra but not going crazy with it and still trying your best to hit you're "sweet spot" length as well. Its highly likely that if you're new to poi and it becomes a "thing" you will end up with 5 sets of poi in your first year anyway.


AVFL have just recently designed the new T4 range of poi which have an adjustable length. I have actually ordered a pair myself for the exact reason that as a tech length spinner, I'm too scared to spend the money on a set of long poi and not be happy with them. With the T4's I can spin at my "happy" length and also work on some contact moves with the slow and meditative longer length....They look amazing and I can't wait for them to arrive and have a play !


Grips and Handles:


While traditional Kapa Haka spinning of the Maori people always used knob handles, early on in the rise of contemporary westernised poi spinning, loops, which you could thread or hook your fingers onto were more commonly used on poi. These days most people go for knobs which they hold on to. I have spun mostly with loops but also enjoy knobs which are more versatile. Some would say there is no reason to use loops, which might be true, but then I ask if that is the case, why is it I haven't switched permanently to knobs despite having the resources to? I believe the reason may be in the discoveries I made in recent discussions in Poi Chat on facebook. Its to do with weight which I shall discuss further down.


Knob shapes and WEIGHT:


Knobs come in all different shapes, weights and sizes (like my old granny used to say!). As the purpose of this post is to assist with the confusion of choice when purchasing poi, it may be less necessary to discuss the feel of the different shapes because these are much easier to understand when viewing their pictures than ropes. One interesting thing Beacon Poi Mechanic spoke about was how swivel performance can be affected by a knob and spoke well of Home of Poi's swivel knob because it had a space between the swivel and the area you grip which prevented the swivel performance from being compromised through obstruction; this gap also protects your fingers from rope burn. I thought that was quite cool. I really recommend going to see his video about the strengths and weakness' and stories behind all of the brands, there's' lots to of interesting stuff to learn.


Knob weight: In researching for this blog, I could find very little about handle weight and asked about it in the Poi Chat discussion forum. I learnt so much from experienced folk in the spinning world including from our experienced people here at AVFL. Weight of handles play a really important part of spinning physics which is why I capitalised it in the heading above.


Handle weight has a big influence on the rotation of the poi. The closer the handle comes to a balanced weight between the handle and the ball, the more uniform the timing of the spin which is significant and beneficial for moves such as gunslingers and throws. When the handles are light, the rotation of the ball is what pulls the handle around it, this can cause a delay in the rotation rhythm and the tether may be less taught or curve differently. Those who prefer lighter knobs will comment that this becomes a new element of their spinning in itself, using the force and angle that they throw their poi to manipulate the rhythm, curve and shape that the tether follows the ball. The heavy knob crew have a degree of control over this, and absolutely exercise the same skill with the force and angle they throw their poi, but it always achieves a more uniform rotation in the way the weighted handle spins around the ball/head. This brings me back to what I was saying further up about my loop love. I believe that perhaps it is because they are so light that I enjoy using them. It gives me a different kind of control. When I am doing stalls or isolation, I find a pleasurable lightness that allows me to move my arms and body quickly around the poi that something more weighted would not allow in the same way being locked in some kind of dynamic with the counter weight of the head it is attached to.

So, a heavier handle will facilitate balanced gunslingers, and a more uniform spin when throwing, but lighter handles, while perhaps being off balance or require more control can influence the rhythm of the poi's rotation that can give a unique look and effect.


Swivels:


These are excellent for moves that involve continuous rotations in the same direction because they prevent the rope from becoming twisted. So if you enjoy tangles, wraps and orbitals, or continuous flower or fountain rolls, or isolations, then having a set of poi with swivels on can be fun to play with and even essential depending on your level and specialism in these moves and choice of rope. I've found that I can still go fountain crazy with poly mix ropes that AVFL use, but the semi static and VPC rope start to be a little too inflexible which perhaps a swivel might remedy.


Ball size and weight:


Balls come in various weights and sizes. As per advise given at the start: Its always best to start or come back to poi after a break with a weight much lighter than you think you need. I actually started with tennis balls and increased my weight by approximately 50g every couple of months. I spin for 1+ hrs every day and since January this year have been spinning with 260g balls every practice and I've never had an injury and no hints of repetitive strain which can be common in spinning world. I attribute this to my gradual increase in ball weight at the beginning (which gave the muscles surrounding my joints, ligaments and tendons time to build up to keep everything supported and aligned) along with my daily warm up routine (join the site to see the tutorial vid coming soon). Its also worth pointing out, if you are new you may want to start with something softer like a tennis or juggling ball, because your head may get hit quite a lot.





There is very little guidance about ball/head size which suggests it may be less important than the weight, however it may need to be considered within the context of contact spinning and how the ball fits comfortably into our hands. A person with larger hands may want a larger contact ball for contact rolls and fish tales.


Colours:


Do I really need to write anything about this? Probably not, but here are some things to think about. What part of the poi do you want to stand out the most when you are spinning? The balls? The knobs? The tethers? Our eyes are naturally drawn to warmer colours or brighter richer shades first. So which ever part you want people's eyes to follow make the warmer brighter richer shades and contrast this with cooler darker softer shades on the other parts. Eyes will be naturally drawn to the entire poi as a whole if you contrast between the two equally or max out on brightness and contrast all over. Making the poi two different colours can add a very interesting and unique effect almost giving moves a natural trace or echo where one colour pops more than the other. Why might this be something to consider more deeply? Well, the colour of the different parts may also suit different spinning styles. For example, because I enjoy isolation and plane bending, I often choose warmer brighter colours for my tether so that I and viewers can see the direct lines of my spinning rather than focusing solely on the ball. Contact spinners, especially those who play with fish tales and gunslingers may want to have both the knob and ball warmer brighter colours to emphasize the patterns these make as both the ball and handle move around their body. Having different coloured poi works particularly well with 3d spinning and atoms, because the contrast in colour creates perspective making the angles that are being hit stand out better. Of course there are no fixed rules, the colours you want are the colours you want. This is merely some things to consider for those interested that might not have.


So here we reach the end of the post. I really hope that for those who needed it, this post may have given some information that makes navigating all the shopping options and choices easier to understand, and perhaps even some information to consider about how our spinning set up influences our spinning style. It is a very big subject and I have only included what I felt to be the most important details for beginners or people who have not approached this subject before. There may be things I have missed that you feel I should have included and you are warmly invited to leave any comments. AVFL is all about growth and learning !


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