Payson does things with a twist.
Usually, a town would have great Frisbee throwers, hacky-sack players or skateboarders, but in Payson, we have sponsored nationally competitive yo-yoers.
Yep. Yo-yo experts live among us.
Driving down the street, you might have seen one of the Ex-yo teammates lurching from side to side and up and down, a plastic or metal sphere flying out at odd angles from their hands.
“I’ve had the police stop me because they thought I was drunk,” said Daniel Walling, the newest member of the troupe.
The inspiration for Team Ex-yo came from founder Newman Becker. A tall, lean brooding poet and drama fanatic in the sophomore class, (he recently played Cogsworth in the Payson High School musical “Beauty and the Beast”), Becker said he watched a friend yo-yo one day and was hooked.
“I was in sixth grade and saw some friends doing tricks like Walk the Dog and Rock the Baby,” he said. “I thought that would be really cool to do.”
Soon he dinked with a yo-yo everywhere, between classes, on weekends in Green Valley Park and walking to friends’ houses.
Teammates and best friends Steven Martinez, Ryan Ayers and Cody Rislund quickly got hooked and joined Becker yo-yoing all over town. “We get made fun of,” said Cody.
Cody’s twin brother Cameron was one of those guys making fun.
“I was mean,” he said.
“Yeah, I wanted to punch you,” laughed Becker.
But then Cameron got the bug.
“I picked one up this random day, and I just worked it and looping it,” he said.
“That was annoying,” said Cody to his twin.
Now the whole team works together, the camaraderie showing through the bantering.
Some play with yo-yos that pop off string, others play with counterweight yo-yos. Some do simultaneous tricks in each hand with perfectly balanced yo-yos.
“We learned a lot from yo-yo experts.com, it’s the best place on the Web,” said Cody.
After a year of playing around, the group gelled as a team in the seventh grade. But they needed a name. “We were walking down Main Street to go get pizza,” said Martinez, “we said, ‘We’ve got a bunch of people, let’s call ourselves Team Yo-nerds,’ but that didn’t work.”
Instead, they went for Team Ex-yo for Extreme Yo-yoers.
Now the teammates own more than $10,000 worth of equipment. Yo-yos from plastic to metal, large to small, nestled in felt in a metal box the boys carry around.
“I have 29 (yo-yos),” said Ryan Ayers, a founding member.
The guys study YouTube videos to pick up new tricks.
“Tricks are made of different elements,” said Cody. “It’s all how you tie them together that makes them unique.”
Each team member has their own style, said Ayers. “Some go for speed, some are technical, some like to play with a lot of slack, do body tricks or are flashy,” he said. “I’m more the flashy type.”
Increasingly, team members are winning competitions. Becker led the way in June of 2010. “I found it on the Internet, it was in Hollywood, Calif.,” he said. “My first time (at a contest) I learned how much better a person is than on the Internet.”
Watching fellow yo-yoers in action surprised and inspired him. He came back and worked harder.
Since that first contest, Becker has received a first highest scoring player in the Independent 3A division of the 2012 Bill Liebowitz Classic (BLC) contest. He’s also placed first in the two-handed division and first overall.
The team has competed in the BLC Arizona State Yo-yo Contest, California State Yo-yo Contest and Southern California Yo-yo Contest.
The team has attracted a sponsor — the YoYo Factory.
“They give us free stuff,” said Ayers.
The Ex-yo members get shirts and yo-yos to support their passion.
Lest people think the lads are wasting their time, yo-yoing is big business. Becker said skateboarding contests often have yo-yoer’s entertain the crowd. One world-class yo-yo champion, Tyler Severance, makes six figures designing yo-yos for Team Ex-yo’s sponsor, the YoYo Factory.
Newman and Cody both hope to make it in the professional yo-yoing world.
For now, the team hires out to entertain at birthday parties and school events.
Already, team members have been given money and pizza for entertaining people they meet on the street. “We can have a career yo-yoing,” said Cody.