After a long day of trying to solve the mysteries of the universe, there’s one thing that always brings Wayne Ngan back to earth — his yo-yo.
He spins and criss-crosses a yo-yo behind his back, he throws two yo-yos out at the same time and loops one around the other without ever interrupting their spin. All of this done in beat with a chosen tune.
It used to be just a way to take to break from his from his PhD studies in astronomy, but now the 26-year-old University of Toronto student is launching himself toward a higher goal of becoming a national champion.
Ngan will be in Calgary this weekend to compete at the Canadian Yo-Yo Nationals 2012, where the winner earns a spot at the World Yo-Yo Contest 2013 in Orlando, Fla., next year.
“I find yo-yo to be a pretty good stress release,” Ngan said. “When I’m yo-yo-ing, I’m not really thinking of anything else. It’s a good getaway.”
Ngan is completing studies for his doctorate at the University of Toronto. He models computer simulations of galaxies interacting with each other. When his computer programming or algorithm is running, or when he’s stuck, Ngan whips out a yo-yo and relaxes.
“One of the really nice things about the yo-yo is you can do it anytime, anywhere,” Ngan said. “So even when I’m sitting at my office, or sometimes walking on the streets — I have my yo-yo on me all the time.”
Ngan, a member of Yo-Yo Toronto and president of the University of Toronto Yo-Yo Club, first picked up yo-yo-ing as a teen — back when yo-yos were enjoying yet another of several comebacks in the toy’s 150-year history. He took a brief hiatus at the turn of the millennium but picked his yo-yo back up again in 2008 when he found it lying around in his room.
Yo-yos have changed quite a bit since Ngan first started. No longer are they wooden or plastic; no longer do they simply come straight back up when you flick them down — modern yo-yos are precision-made metal devices complete with ball bearings.
“The tricks in the ’90s were a lot simpler, and the tricks today were not really possible 10 years ago,” he said.
Ngan said all his tricks in his routines are unique and nameless. After spending two weeks in May developing a routine for the upcoming contest, and practising for months to perfect it, Ngan feels ready.
“I’m a little nervous because this is my first time ever competing,” Ngan said. “I’ve been doing my routines in front of some people a few times before. I’m mostly prepared, but I’m still a little bit nervous.”
Ngan will compete in two divisions: freestyle single yo-yo-ing and open freestyle. For the open freestyle, Ngan will be performing his music-matched yo-yo choreography with two yo-yos, two hands. Competitors will have one minute to perform their routine in the preliminary rounds, then two minutes to perform in the final round.
Guillaume Couture-Levesque, a 26-year-old software developer at IBM in Markham, says the atmosphere can be “crazy” when you get on stage. After four years of competing — his highest ranking was seventh in 2010, with a routine performed to French electro band Ocean Drive’s Because — Couture-Levesque will be one of the five judges this year.
“Once you get going, you forget you’re up there and you have fun — until you mess up,” Couture-Levesque said. “Then you suddenly realize there are hundreds of people watching you.”
Couture-Levesque said Ngan has a fair shot at the title on Saturday.
“I think he’ll be great,” he said. “I’ve seen him perform his routine in front of people and he’s started to nail his tricks.”
How are yo-yo-ers judged?
In freestyle and open freestyle categories, a preliminary round determines the top 10 yo-yo-ers to move forward into the final round.
Freestyle scores are based on four main criteria:
• Technical execution: How difficult and risky were the tricks? How perfectly were they executed?
• Technical evaluation: How cleanly were the tricks performed? Was there variation and originality in the tricks? Were the trick combos well thought out and seamless?
• Performance: What was the overall impression and entertainment value of the routine? Did the music enhance it? Did the yo-yo-er show professionalism, style and showmanship on stage?
• Deductions: After the above scores are tabulated, the judges may deduct for errors, such as restarting a yo-yo because it stopped spinning or allowing a yo-yo to fly off the stage past the judge’s table.