Sam D’Arco spun two yo-yos and pulled their strings as he spoke, making them dance around each other.
That was just one of the tricks the 14-year-old will use at the 2013 World Yo-Yo Contest, which began Thursday in Orlando, Fla. The Lakeside High School freshman is already a champion, having won the Southeast Regionals in the 3A division in November.
His passion for the activity began three years ago when his mother, Ruth Ann D’Arco, put a dollar store yo-yo into a care package for him while he was at camp in North Carolina.
There were no games, TVs or electronics of any kind, she said.
“So he’s up there with nothing to do, and he starts playing with that yo-yo,” she said. “He came home and he was trying to figure out how to do tricks.”
Sam said that while searching for tricks on the Internet, he found forums for yo-yo enthusiasts and how-to videos on YouTube.
“I was just messing around, learning tricks,” he said. “At the beginning I did (watch a lot of videos), but now I just make everything up.”
Quickly, the mother and son realized Sam’s yo-yo wasn’t good enough. They began buying higher-quality yo-yos from makers in Japan.
“These yo-yos are like a minimum of $100 apiece,” his mother said. “They’re all manufactured like helicopter machine parts.”
That’s often what Sam asks for at Christmas, and he now has two plastic containers filled with yo-yos that cost between $100 and $200.
Two months after he returned from camp, Sam asked his mom to take him to the World Yo-Yo Contest in Orlando to watch the professionals.
He found that the yo-yoers are warm and welcoming people who don’t didn’t mind teaching a young man new tricks.
“It’s not just watching the (competition),” he said. “You want to watch, too, and observe stuff, but it’s also the people and the atmosphere, too.”
In Orlando, Sam plans to perform a 1-minute routine set to music he put together with tricks that involve two yo-yos. He will be judged on performance and technicality.
“The harder the tricks, the more (points) they score,” he said.
No matter where Sam goes, if he has a yo-yo, people become fascinated and start talking to him. It breaks the ice, his mother said.
The family went on a cruise last year, and D’Arco said there didn’t seem to be a child on the ship who did not know her son.
“He literally had a flock of people that would follow him around the ship, and they hung out all week,” she said.
“He’s a people person, and he really does love meeting people, and that’s just a great way to get to know people.”