Jesse Christe waits in line with the others to perform a minute-long routine for the judges. The 15-year-old has already won several tournaments on the East Coast, and he owns between 75 and 80 yo-yos. Back home in Somerset, Pennsylvania, he’s a local yo-yo star and makes up to $100 doing private parties. His mother, Sharon, sits nervously in a folding chair, cradling a digital camera.
“He’s been doing it since he was nine years old,” Sharon says. “I have no idea why. He learned it from printing diagrams off the Internet.”
DJ Scuba Steve kicks up the tunes, and as each competitor hits the stage, the entire room grows quiet, hyperfocused on the tricks and loops. Parents sit with an expression of patient wonderment, proud of their kids but at the same time slightly baffled at the spectacle. One boy does his routine on crutches, with a cast on his leg. Another, a 12-year-old kid from the suburbs of upstate New York, comes up and does tricks to a rap song that’s blasting very unsuburban lyrics.
Emcee and tournament organizer Pat Cuartero then introduces Christe as the junior world-record holder for “most consecutive Suicides” -- the first time, I believe, that I’ve ever heard those words uttered in that order. Christe spins through his tricks as his mother snaps photos, and he finishes to big applause. To his dismay, though, he finishes 14th, which is not enough to qualify for the main event.
After the competition, the 21-and-over yo-yo crowd migrates to after parties, swarming nightclubs like Madame X, a lounge modeled after a French bordello, and Lucky Cheng’s. They may be yo-yo geeks to some, but they can party like Britney Spears -- even though it’s the eve of the biggest tournament in yo-yo history.
South Street Seaport, which juts out from the shore of southeast Manhattan, is a touristy cluster of more than 150 shops and restaurants and shows off a collection of historical sailing ships. On one side of South Street Seaport lie the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River. On the other, the looming skyscrapers of Wall Street. Oddly enough, it was in one of those office towers that the International Yo-Yo Open & New York State Yo-Yo Contest was conceived.