USF student learns the ups and downs of yo-yo competitions

At the age of 16, USF student John Martin watched YouTube videos on yo-yos and became inspired to play with the toys.

“I saw the video on YouTube and thought, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. I bet I can do that,'” he said.

Martin, a senior majoring in computer engineering, said he then picked up a yo-yo and began playing with it on his own. He said he won the first state-wide competition he entered afterwards.

It showed him that he had the potential to keep moving up to an international contest, the World Yo-Yo Contest (WYYC) held in August in Orlando, where he competed against players from 20 different countries, and placed eighth. The contest lasted from Aug. 12-14.

He said he has participated in the annual event since 2005.

“Thursday morning (was) the preliminary round, which is a one-minute freestyle set to music,” he said. “The final round is different because you get a performance score, unlike preliminaries. This means you can’t just stand in one spot doing tricks which are not choreographed to the background music, like in preliminaries.”

Martin said the performance aspect of the finals round is worth one-fourth of the total score.

“The year before this, I had placed No. 10 at worlds, and I had been working a lot more in the past year than (in 2009). However, it is all relative to how well everyone else is doing. I didn’t know if they were improving much quicker than I was,” Martin said.

Once he made it past the preliminary round, he said he knew he could do well in the finals.

Martin spends about two hours per day and six days per week practicing tricks and working with yo-yos.

“It’s weird for me because I don’t see it as practice. It is more like playing,” he said.

Early next month, Martin will travel to California to compete in the national yo-yo competition and hopes to do well there, he said.

His girlfriend, Sarah Morelli, a senior majoring in psychology, said she sees Martin practicing every day.

“It’s definitely one of those things that set him apart from other people. I mean, we live together, and there are yo-yos lying about everywhere in our house,” she said.

Landon Balk, a senior majoring in chemical engineering and a member of the USF Yo-Yo Club, met Martin three years ago.

“I met him at a contest. Since then, he’s been really helpful with teaching me tricks and that sort of thing,” Balk said. “He’s definitely devoted to it, and he puts a lot of time into practicing his tricks every week.”

Martin said he was able to compete in the world yo-yo contest for free because he is sponsored by, the company hosting the event.

“Ideally, the best players are sponsored by different yo-yo companies because it’s fairly expensive to compete,” Martin said. “It’s between $100 and $200 depending on what you are actually competing in.”

Martin participates in a total of four to six events per year at the state, regional and national levels.

“He was No. 10 in worlds last year, and he wasn’t sure how he was going to do this year,” Morelli said. “It was really exciting for him when he got it. He hopes to be No. 1 someday.”

Martin said the competitions help validate the sport and he will continue to compete.

“It’s definitely a prideful thing. It’s part of setting a goal, but then again, it’s eighth and not first,” he said. “I would call this a benchmark.”