Down, then up. Down, then up, in a motion familiar and usually taken for granted.
But tied to the index finger of Keiran Cooper, a yo-yo can swing to places few others can send it — left and right, swinging in circles, even bouncing around the box the Napa teenager forms with his outstretched hands and the yo-yo’s string.
A time-killer for millions but an art to Keiran, the pastime of stunt yo-yo casting has consumed the 14-year-old’s spare time for more than two years. Armed with a 3-inch-wide, $80 metal disc whose spinning wheel-bearing hisses with his throws, Cooper will test his skills at the World Yo-Yo Contest, scheduled for Aug. 2-4 in Orlando, Fla.
The gift had its beginning at Donaldson Way Elementary School in American Canyon, where his family lived after moving from Newport Beach.
“I just found there were new tricks and my friend was doing them, and I just went, ‘Whoa!’” said Keiran, who will enter New Technology High School later in August after the yo-yo tournament. “The only other hobby I had at the time was guitar, and I wasn’t very good at it, so I needed something new,” he added.
Since then, his bag of spinning tricks has steadily expanded, fed by friends, yo-yo videos on YouTube and hours of pure brainstorming. Inspiration often strikes at the oddest times, even late at night in bed or on the road.
“He figures out new tricks while we’re in the car, even on the trips down to Southern California,” said his mother, Suwinder Cooper. “There’s strings on the floor all the time, in the car, all over his room,” she said, laughing.
In a ballroom at Orlando’s Rosen Plaza Hotel, Keiran will be joined by hundreds of other yo-yo enthusiasts performing in various disciplines. Along with the traditional disc attached to a string, contestants can perform with “counterweight” discs with a die at the other end, or “off-string” types the competitor must creatively keep on the string for as long as possible before the unattached disc skips away.
Despite a yo-yo technique as natural-looking as a handshake, Keiran freely admits to being a long shot to win the World Yo-Yo Contest’s $1,000 top prize for his category. But he sees his appearance at the event less as a rivalry, more as a chance to enjoy time with a quirky but tight-knit fellowship.
“The contests are a great place for meeting people, having a great time,” he said. “People tell me these awesome stories like people practicing on the (competition) stage, yo-yoing until 2 in the morning, even sleeping on the stage. It’s a rare thing, going places with yo-yo friends and talking yo-yos.”
“He will engage anyone, whether it’s a 4-year-old or an 87-year-old,” Suwinder Cooper said. “Everyone has a yo-yo experience, a story to tell. Especially the older people; they’ll ask, ‘Can you walk the dog? Can you do the around-the-world?’ He’s so good with them and he educates as he goes.”
“Everyone says they don’t like them because they’re annoying,” her son said. “But I think they’re just jealous.”