Patrick Borgerding took a deep breath to calm his nerves.
He knew what he was doing – he held, and still holds, the title of national yo-yo champion – but still his body was shaking. White stage lights blinded his vision.
He knew that beyond them sat a panel of 10 judges who would be meticulous in their evaluation of a three-minute routine he had been ardently practicing for months.
He also knew that beyond them was a jam-packed room of more than 2,000 spectators.
In the 12 months leading up to that moment, he had devoted more than 300 hours to yo-yo practice. The song he was using as a soundtrack for the routine he was about to perform had a play count of 1,400 on his iTunes
It was early August, and the 19-year-old Redondo Beach native was in Florida, standing onstage at the World Yo-Yo Contest. He knew that his final score depended on his ability to wow the audience – that’s why he had incorporated a number of “flashy tricks” – and his technical execution.
Borgerding launched into the routine that he had been fine-tuning and dreaming about for months. Three minutes later, the room rose in a standing ovation. He knew he had pulled it off.
“It was one of those moments that felt surreal,” Borgerding said. “You can’t prepare yourself for 2,000 people clapping for you and cheering for you. Last year I felt like maybe I was just yo-yoing for fun, and I should forget the whole competitive thing. I was discouraged and frustrated; it was a lot of work for not that much payout, besides prestige.
“But to get that standing ovation was so gratifying. My dad was there to watch it. When I got off the stage he came up to me, and that was the second time I’ve ever seen my dad cry. The other one was when his father passed away.”
Borgerding learned later that evening that he had placed second amongst the world’s yo-yoists.
“The guy who won is the defending champion and just so good,” Borgerding said. “It was like losing to Michael Jordan – like, what can you do?”
Borgerding, who now studies economics and psychology at UC Santa Barbara, first picked up a yo-yo in the fourth grade. It was a fad at Alta Vista Elementary School – “like Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh! or basketball,” he said – but only for a time.
Its popularity faded, but Borgerding was hooked. In 2004, he entered a beginner’s yo-yo contest and won first place. Two years later, when he was 15 years old and a student at Redondo Union High, he went to the national competition and made it into the finals.
He placed fifth, but he was encouraged. In following years he placed in the top three at nationals, despite a few setbacks – including a broken leg and the SATs – and last year he swept the national competition to become the reigning champion.
It was then that Borgerding resolved to put on the best yo-yo show of his life at the world contest. In December he started practicing for an hour a day, carefully crafting his own tricks, and performing them until they were embedded into his muscle memory.
“It takes a long time. It’s not like, ‘I have an idea, and boom – it works.’ My big tricks – we call them bangers – take three or four months. There was one trick – for the longest time I couldn’t get it to work. I couldn’t get the yo-yos to rotate at the same time,” said Borgerding, who competes in Division 3A, which denotes a class of competitors who spin two yo-yos simultaneously. “One day it clicked and I ran to find my roommate and asked him to film it.”
Borgerding attributes his much of his yo-yo success to his mentor, Yoshi Mikimoto of Sunshine Kite Company on the Redondo Beach Pier.
“I’m very indebted to him because he’ll sit there for an hour and watch me do a trick over and over,” Borgerding said. “He’s been there from the beginning and he’s really one of my biggest influences.”
With Mikimoto’s help, Borgerding is now preparing for the regional contest, which will be held Sept. 15 in Costa Mesa, and the national competition, scheduled for Oct. 7 in Chico. As he enters another yo-yo season, his vision is trained on his long-term goal: to win the world contest in the Czech Republic next year.
Juggling a double major in college, intramural basketball, a social life, and a yo-yo career has been taxing, but for Borgerding it’s worth the sacrifice.
“Yo-yoing has given me so much,” he said. “I get to travel” – in April he judged Mexico’s national competition at the behest and expense of his sponsor, YoYoFactory – “and meet so many people. I’ve learned work ethic, determination, definitely creativity. It’s helped me to mature because I’ve been around older people at yo-yo events. It’s given me so much and it’s just a little toy. Whenever people heckle me for it I’m like, ‘Hey, man, you can make fun of me all you want but I have so much fun with this. I meet so many cool people and now I’m making some money off it. I couldn’t ask for anything more.’”