Life’s A Juggling Act
So Why Not Buy the Right Equipment?
By Kimberly Hickok
As a quirky, eclectic beachside community, it should come as no surprise that Santa Cruz is home to Renegade Juggling, a small, family-operated business that is one of the biggest manufacturers and retailers of juggling and circling equipment in the country. Since 1982, owner, founder, and juggler extraordinaire
Tom Renegade has been using his juggling and manufacturing expertise to craft and sell every kind of juggling device or circus prop you can imagine. If you need a rechargable LED lit juggling ball, he’s got them for $33 each. How about a Fire Devil Stick for twirling on the street? Yup, it’s only $45. Flying Hats go for $110 and he’s got DVDs to teach you all the tricks you need.
Here’s what Renegade had to tell us about his company and the art of juggling.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
How did you get into the sport and make a business out of juggling?
I got interested in juggling initially from going to renaissance fairs around California when I was in high school, but I didn’t really get into it until I joined a juggling club at UCSC. I got a degree in geochemistry, but when I graduated from the university I thought I’d rather do something with juggling. So I started making juggling equipment.
When I was in highschool in Redwood City I took a plastics technology class as part of an occupational training program, and then I was the TA for that class for a few years. I knew all about plastics manufacturing from this class and realized I could just make the juggling equipment I wanted, so that’s what I did.
What made you decide to stay in Santa Cruz to start your business?
Because Santa Cruz is the best place to live. Everybody knows that!
Did your business immediately take off?
It was just a hobby business at first, and it took a long time for this to be a real business, I would say at least 10 years. It was very difficult pre-internet because there was no way for a small business to advertise or to market anything.
So I would go to juggling festivals and meet people and they would juggle and tell their friends about my business. That was the only way that I could sell stuff. If someone wanted to buy some juggling equipment pre-internet, they had to know somebody, or know somebody who knew somebody. It was way different – guerilla marketing, really. But the juggling festivals are really fun, so that kept me motivated.
Why do you think kids should learn juggling?
It’s good for building self esteem because kids learn to do something by themselves that other kids can’t do. If you can juggle, you have a specialized skill. And if you can accomplish something that’s a little bit complicated and takes a lot of practice, like learning to juggle, then you start to realize that other things aren’t so out of reach, even if it’s something unrelated to juggling.
It’s also good for developing motor skills, and can help kids learn other sports that involve catching and throwing, or anything that involves coordination – even something like bowling or golf. And it’s good for the mind because it takes concentration and focus. Plus it takes research to figure out, and kids have to be self-motivated because they have to practice to get better.
But the great thing about juggling is that you don’t have to be gifted to do it, you just need to persevere. Anybody can learn it. In fact, a lot of jugglers I’ve seen over time are generally clumsy people!
Why do you think parents would be interested in juggling?
A great thing about juggling is that parents can also participate and learn alongside their kids, and the kids can be better than the parents at it. I think that’s an advantage for the kids, because they can show their parents how to do it. That makes it special because usually the parent is better at whatever they’re doing, but kids can experience this role reversal with juggling that builds their confidence.
What is your advice for kids or adults who want to get into juggling?
Nowadays you can teach yourself and learn everything by watching videos on YouTube. But also look into things locally, because there’s all kinds of different circus schools and circus camps that are great for kids.
Check out Capitola Mall’s Cirque, Tumble, Cheer for free juggling classes every Tuesday at 6:30 pm. (Not during the summer, sadly)
Visit Juggling.org to learn about juggling festivals and clubs around the country.
The JCC in Los Gatos also offers circus summer camps for kids in grades 1-8. Check out their website for more info: campshalomjcc.org/specialty-camps-2021/