Behind the Balls: An Interview with Flying Clipper

We were going through some old emails and found this amazing review one of our avid customers made a few years back. We haven’t changed our hybrid Tossaballs a bit since those days and we’re proud to say this review is still valid today as it ever was :)

Over the past couple of months I have had the privilege of testing and juggling of Flying Clipper’s
Tossaballs. The specific model I was using was their Hybrid 2.55” inch Orange Balls.

Flying Clipper can be found here: http://www.flyingclipper.com/

The specific ball I was using: http://www.flyingclipper.com/home/fly/page_752_87/tossaball_hybrid_2.55_tx_juggle_ball.html

I figure that rather than giving a typical review, I would present this as only I can, as a Behind the Juggler
interview with Jim Fitzgerald, President of Flying Clipper. So, “Behind the Juggler” proudly presents:

Behind the Balls: An Interview with Flying Clipper

Interviewer: It seems that Flying Clipper has a huge focus on footbagging, and understandably so from reading through your “About Us” and FAQ sections. When did the company start moving towards incorporating Juggling Bags as well?

Jim Fitzgerald: We have been making juggle balls since the very beginning. All if our footbag designs were enlarged to make juggle balls. As you have read, we (the partners) followed the footbag sport and competed at the world championship level but we have also been jugglers for fun. Most footbaggers juggle. Check out Peter Irish. He is doing the kind of movement that footbaggers have dreamed about for years. Using hands and feet together is what is fueling our latest line of products, the Hybrids.

Interviewer: How many workers does the company employ for the actual assembly of the bags?

Jim Fitzgerald:Right now about 20 people, the partners being retired from production sewing for a few years now, sewing more than 100,000 footbags and 50,000 juggle balls between them.

Interviewer: Obviously your bags have a high number of panels in comparison with other Juggling props on the market, what advantages do you see the extra panels give your bags?

Jim Fitzgerald:We have made juggle balls from four panel construction to sixty two panel construction. The roundest pattern we have found is the pentagonal dodecca hedron.. We also are designing a rhomboidal dodecca hedron for a near future release.

Interviewer: How do you find the process of designing and making juggling bags compares to footbags?

Jim Fitzgerald:Designing is the fun part, coming up with new ideas to make a better “mouse trap”. All of our products are hand made and therefore labor intensive. Juggle balls are as easy or difficult to design as footbags, but of course the parameters for each are different.

Interviewer: Explain about your concept of “hybrid” juggling balls, what makes them “hybrid”?

Jim Fitzgerald:Hybrids are our attempt to “crossover” as it were, and bridge the gap between hands and feet. Also hybrid juggle balls/footbags are an attempt to add heavy and light filler on the interior of the ball in an innovative way. The concept isolates heavy filler on the outside rim of the ball while light filler material on the interior gives the ball volume. Heavy filler material is trapped between two layers of fabric leaving most of the balls weight on the outside of the rim. The physics of such a design, we believe,gives the ball several advantages over all other hand made balls.

1. true flight
2. double durability (two layers of material)
3. rolls like a contact juggle ball
4. easy to stall
5. complete washability
6. keeps its shape

Interviewer: In my experience a lot of bags are filled with millet or a similar material, what fillings do the Tossaballs® use?

Footbags are filled with plastic pellets or sand. Our juggle balls traditionally have been filled with millet (seed) or plastic pellets. Millet never has set well with us because organic material breaks down, especially if it gets wet and also some people are allergic to millet, etc.. On the other hand plastic pellets usually do not give the juggle ball enough weight. Adding crushed rock adds enough weight to make a superior juggle ball.

Interviewer: Where did the name “Flying Clipper” originate?

Jim Fitzgerald: Our home town of Eugene, Oregon is the birth place of footbag freestyle. As far as anyone knows, the first footbag trick ever done was the flying clipper and that is how we took our name.

Interviewer: Tossaballs®”?

Jim Fitzgerald: Tossaball® is our registered trade name for our line of juggle balls and they are very “Tossable”. We considered other names but felt Tossaball® was the most playful.

Interviewer: I know your products have a lot of history behind them, so tell us about the history as well as awards and competitions that your products have won.

Jim Fitzgerald: As far as competitions or awards for our products, I cannot say, however we have been producing footbags and juggle balls for more than 26 years now. Approximately 20 years ago an article was sent to us that showed the results of several different manufacturers’ juggle balls being dropped from a ten
story building onto the street in Chicago. Ours was stated as the only one that survived the impact. We build our products to last. Rhys Thomas of the Portland (Oregon) jugglers has Flying Clipper juggle balls he has juggled that are more than 15 years old and are still going strong. Many pro jugglers and footbaggers come to our products because of our quality standards and our commitment to service. I guess that is more of a reward than an award but it keeps us going.

End of Interview

Needless to say, Flying Clipper creates incredibly durable and well made balls.

I might as well tell a little about my personal juggling ability so that anyone reading this can know where my opinions are originating. Juggling wise, I can juggle 7 balls, but I spend the vast majority of my time working on 3-5. I am particularly proud of some of my three ball work, but find no pattern more relaxing then a 5 ball cascade. As many jugglers know, the bulk of my time contributing to the juggling world is spent working on the Synergy Projects, as well as with my Behind the Juggler interviews.

As far as balls go, I have juggled my fair share since I started juggling. Originally I used “klutz” bags, and then moved on to lacrosse balls. I can most likely attribute the cleanness of my 5 ball pattern to the use of lacrosse balls and their tendency to fly away if even the slightest collision is made. After that I started
to make my own which was quite an experience unto itself. I made everything from 4 -8 paneled bags, though they were hardly ever spherical. I currently am using 6 panel fergie-like bags.

These hybrid Tossaballs are certainly bags that I could not even dream of making on my own. The intricate design patterns detailed above are simply a wonder to behold. Flying Clipper creates a bag that no other juggling company can, because they have the knowledge of footbaggers. I have had the privilege of watching Peter Irish perform and there is nothing quite like the kind of manipulation that footbaggers can accomplish when mixing juggling and footbagging. That is  exactly the idea that Flying Clipper is attempting to capture with their hybrid products. It is the fusion of footbags and juggling bags.

I personally do not footbag, and I so I bring a different perspective. I did wonder at first how these neon orange bags were going to hold up and handle. The first thing that of course deserves note is the fantastic color. I really needed something that would show up against both sky and gym, and these balls definitely do the trick. Of course the shape is another aspect that cannot be understated. The 12 panel hybrid design creates a near perfect sphere. Thanks to the unique “hybrid” design, they do not lose their shape or “sag” while they are in the air. At the same time they are able to come to a stop after being dropped without rolling away. They accomplish this much better than my set of MMX balls.

An understandable worry regarding any set of bags is how they will break in over time. Tossaballs not only break in to a comfortable and relaxing feel, but they do not lose their shape. No doubt due to their “hybrid” design and mixed filling, the bags consistently keep their roundness. In fact one comment I got about these bags were that the person thought they were oranges. In this case that is a definite compliment to Flying Clipper for creating great looking bags. [Trust me, I know about citrus comments because my personally handmade yellow bags were once called “lemons” and that’s how I know I did a bad job sewing them]

In terms of normal wear and tear, I would say that these bags hold up equally if not better than most that I have juggled. Simple soap and water will clean up scuffs and marks. Cleaning also brings back a bit of the luster of the color which understandably will begin to fade over time.

At first I only used these bags for my 4 + work because I did not like the feel that they had with my 3 ball patterns. Over time as they began to break in, I found them a solid substitute for some of my lower patterns. These balls have a unique property in that they almost seem to “float” through the air. Physics tells me that this isn’t the case, but be that as it may I still feel as though they have a great ability to hang. For this reason I really enjoy using these bags for my juggling with more than three objects. They really give patterns a great solid look and feel that cannot be found in “saggy” or “rock hard” bags.

Tossaballs look great, feel great, and juggle great; I have no qualms about slapping my seal of approval on these bags!

-David Stephens
jugglernextdoorATgmail.com

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