Sebastian Brock ’11 reaches into his bag, pulls out a small
round object, and places it on the table between us on the Sadler Center
Terrace. Small, blue, and roughly the size of a can of tuna, it is the
Bassalope. The product of 18 months of expert craftsmanship and analysis and
fetching a retail price of $115, the Bassalope’s name originates from a
rudimentary sketch of a Sea Bass adorned with glasses and caribou antlers. It is
a yo-yo which was designed by and for Brock in conjunction with his sponsor
Caribou Lodge Yo-Yo Works, and as such it bears his name in curving white
script along one side.
Since he took up the hobby which he is just shy of calling a sport in 2003, Brock’s prowess with a yo-yo has not only garnered him national awards and a spot on a professionally sponsored yo-yo team, but also a reputation around the William & Mary campus as ‘the yo-yo guy.’
“I have this kind of weird reputation on campus where people know that there’s a yo-yo guy and then they find out that it’s me, you can just see the light bulb go off in their head and they’re like ‘ohhhhh, alright.’” said Brock, who will travel to California this weekend for a national yo-yo competition. He’s also attracted some national exposure. A double major in government and film studies, Brock recently spent a day on campus with a camera crew for an upcoming yo-yo feature on CBS Sunday Morning.
“Some kid came up to me yesterday and said that that’s what William & Mary is kinda known for now,” he added, quickly amending with “That’s probably not true. I’m pretty sure he was just kidding. But just to hear that. I don’t know what to say to people who are like ‘oh, that’s so awesome’ I’m just like ‘thank you?’ or ‘It’s cool.’ But I don’t know where to go beyond that.”
The beginning of yo-yo-ing
Brock fell into yo-yoing during the “boom” of the late ‘90s when his mother’s toy store closed down and he found himself to be the sole inheritor of most of the inventory. The respect Brock holds for the yo-yos of yore comes through in the reverent way he speaks of the Yo-megas and Fireballs he learned on, and in the way he describes the Duncans and the Butterflies of the 1960s as “influences.”
However, Brock was quick to outgrow his own influences, and he was soon looking online for new tricks and tactics when he stumbled upon the world of professional yo-yoing. “I just started looking online for stuff,” he said. “I wanted to learn more because I had kinda surpassed all the how-to videos at the time and I found web-boards and saw videos for competitions and started watching them. I found out there was a competition up in Delaware and I went.”
It’s possible to tell simply by the way he talks about it how star-struck Brock was at his first yo-yo competition. “It was pretty intimidating and at the time I was a very shy person. I was like fourteen and I saw all these people I’d been seeing on the internet and they were like stars to me. It was so intimidating,” Brock recounts. “I don’t remember saying much but it was still fun.”
And yet for a shy newcomer Brock did remarkably well for himself. He placed third overall, beating out a competitor who had once placed second nationally and fifth globally. “I mean granted it wasn’t his best day,” Brock recalls of his unanticipated performance “but the fact that I could do that, and I hadn’t even been yo-yoing for a year yet either. I was so shocked.” He recounts that his ranking that day was so unexpectedly high it even was the cause of some mild confusion when awards were announced. “They went through the list of people calling their names and my dad turned around to me and asked ‘do you think they forgot about you?’”
However, Brock’s skill with a yo-yo is not always met with so favorably. He recalls one story where he was approached at a party and sarcastically asked by a fellow student not to get angry and “break out his yo-yo” on her. When asked where he knew her from, the student replied that she had placed second in a recent talent competition. Brock and his yo-yo placed first.
“I was like, ‘I’m sorry, I showed up ten minutes before my act and did it and they gave me the award that I won and I left. I didn’t hang around and watch everybody, I just heard a couple people playing the piano while I was getting ready to go.’”
But he added, “I think that she was in good spirits about it but the fact that she remembered it.”
The professional yo-yo-er
Brock was picked up by Caribou Lodge Yo-yo Works in 2007 and asked to compete on their team, which has led to a number of uptakes in Brock’s status as a professional yo-yoer including but not limited to the birth of the Bassalope. “It was pretty cool,” Brock says of the process of crafting his own signature yo-yo. “It was weird because I had never had the ability to choose exactly what I wanted. And I’d never been so much hyped into the actual yo-yos part of it, it was mostly just I would pick up something and if it worked well for me I would use it. But now I had a choice so it took me a long time to decide and to hammer down something I really, really wanted. But I definitely like it now.”
“I was looking for something that played well, something that was unique,” he adds. “It seems to have worked.”
In addition to designing his own tool for his trade, Brock is grateful to CLYW for putting him in touch with some of the other team members. “It’s pretty amazing,” Brock says when asked about being a member of a professionally sponsored yo-yo squad. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and at this point I’ve been yo-yoing for six years and involved in the community for six years and I know a lot of people really well. [The guys on the team are] some of my best friends, I’ll call people up if something’s going on, I’ll just call them for fun, hang out, we talk on Web-boards to keep in touch. I plan on being involved in it for a long time.”
Life after William & Mary
So where does the professional yo-yo world take one after college? ““I have no clue. Hopefully at least decently far… but as far as a career-wise, it’s not much. But I’m always gonna do it regardless. Hopefully I can make some money off of it.”
This weekend however, the professional yo-yo world will take Brock to Chico CA, home of the National Yo-Yo Contest, “the national contest for the U.S.” where Brock placed second in the 1-A division last year, and where he has high hopes for this time around.
“I wanna win. I came in second last year and I was this close. I really wanna do well.”
The CBS news crew will also be on hand. They will be doing a story on Brock and a handful of his teammates as they compete in this weekend’s contest, which will hopefully bring some attention to what has recently become an overlooked pastime.
“There are some smaller kids who have come up to me and asked their parents ‘what is that?’ because they haven’t had that exposure to it yet. They didn’t know, they’ve never seen it before.”
Yet despite the apparent gap between being the practitioner of a hobby vastly unknown to today’s elementary schoolers and his reputation as ‘that yo-yo guy,’ Brock says that the pastime is something he plans to keep with him long into the future.
“It’s fun. People should try it… Even though I perform with it and compete with it, it’s not necessarily for impressing anybody,” Brock says moments before nonchalantly dazzling passersby with a demonstration from his latest toy.
“At the very least I’ve found something I love to do.”