Yo-Yo Kid Dreams of World Championship

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Charlie Braun, 13, is a master at handling ups and downs. He has high hopes of becoming a yo-yo champion.

When Braun isn’t busy attending Scholars’ Academy or doing homework, you’ll find him with a yo-yo in hand. “Some parents hear the sound of video games. I always hear the string,” Braun’s mother, Tara Ris said. “I never have to tell him ‘go practice yo-yoing.’ It’s ‘put the yo-yo down!”

Braun hasn’t put the yo-yo down since after Hurricane Sandy. After being displaced from his home, at a time when electricity was still out, Braun returned to something simple. He found an old yo-yo in a box and started to play with it.  “I just found it stupidly fascinating,” Braun said. When he was able to charge his phone, he began to watch YouTube videos and learned some new tricks. It wasn’t long before he was hooked. His father took him to Toys R Us to get him some new yo-yos and soon after his mom bought his first metal one online at a price tag of about $50. “I almost had a heart attack,” Ris said. “When he tried it out, it wouldn’t come back up. We thought it was broken.” It wasn’t your everyday yo-yo that comes back up on its own. “We learned that it was a non-responsive yo-yo,” Braun said, and it wasn’t long before he learned how to control the device and had it wrapped around his fingers, on purpose of course. 

It’s easy to be mesmerized as you hear the buzz of the string and watch Braun swiftly maneuver his fingers around it as he sends his yo-yo flying in all different directions. It’s hypnotic. And for Braun, it’s a relaxing form of expression. “It’s a good stress reliever. I have problems sitting still, but I’m able to focus with it. Everyone has a way to express their creativity. Some people draw or play sports. I was never that good at that stuff, but yo-yoing is my way,” he said.

Ris soon discovered that despite its uniqueness, Braun wasn’t alone in his hobby. They found out about the New York Yo-Yo Club, which meets every Sunday afternoon in Washington Square Park. “It was the most welcoming little community. There are guys and girls of all ages, all backgrounds that come out to the park to yo-yo.” Through this group, he discovered the world of competitive yo-yoing, and he also made several supportive friends. “My main motivation to keep pushing forward is having the friends I do. If I had done this alone, I’d probably be long out of it by now because it would get boring. Without them, I wouldn’t know about competitions and I would have no reason to practice. Friends motivate you,” Braun said.

His new friends told him about the first state contest in New Jersey. “We took a road trip out there in the summer. It was his first contest. It was a great experience having everyone there and he got to meet all of these other advanced people. He was so nervous to compete for the first time but he killed it,” Ris said.

From there, Braun had the competitive bug. And his talent has granted him further opportunities. “We went to a competition in Massachusetts and he did well in that. One of the judges, Daniel Dietz, took a shine to Charlie. He also works for Hasbro Toys,” Ris said. “Dietz was looking for young yo-yoers to join the Blazing Team and be a part of a marketing campaign for new Hasbro yo-yos. “Charlie sent in a 60-second video and was chosen for the team. We drove up to Rhode Island where he did some video shoots,” Ris said. “It was cool going there. That’s where they shoot all the Hasbro commercials, so there were toys everywhere. I got a free yo-yo,” Braun said. He was then given the opportunity to do demos of the new Hasbro products at Toys R Us stores.

Braun was paid for the Hasbro gigs and decided to put that money towards entrepreneurial pursuits.  Wanting to design his own yo-yo, Braun used the money and located a producer in China to create it. “The boy found a manufacturer in China to produce a yo-yo, but I can’t get him to make his bed,” his mom joked. Braun’s first product, “The Bobcat,” was a big hit. He sold a few through online forums and a retailer eventually picked it up. “They sold out of it,” Ris said. The new design interest led Braun to starting his own company, Riverbay YoYos. He just released his latest product, “the ginger,” paying homage to his red hair. He even uses Instagram to market his products, which Ris says has helped her son to develop another hobby: photography. Influenced by a fellow member of the Yo Yo Club, Brian Melford, Braun learned many tips about photography. “When he got his yo-yo, he started taking pictures and now he loves photography. He takes pictures of yo-yos at all different angles and uses filters, and it sparked this whole new hobby for him, which is great, because there’s no yo-yo college,” Ris said. “I needed to find something that pays,” Braun joked. But yo-yoing has also paid off. He’s made some decent money doing occasional street performances. He’s also performed for fellow students at Scholars’ Academy.  “Everyone knows him at Scholars’ as the yo-yo kid,” Ris said. “At an assembly, he got up on stage and did a five minute standup routine and then he did his yo-yo routine and the kids went crazy because you’re not used to seeing a kid yo-yo like that. Everyone that sees him loves it.”

In between his business venture and performances, Braun spends plenty of time practicing for contests. Last year, Braun and his mother made the trip out to Cleveland for the 2016 World YoYo  Contest. Braun didn’t enter, but he got a sense of what goes into becoming a world champion. And he was inspired. Braun is ready to take his shot at the 2017 World YoYo Contest, as a wildcard entry, at the event being held in Iceland this August. When they learned of it, Ris told Braun not to get his hopes up. “I thought, if I can’t drive to Iceland, I can’t take him there.” However, family friend, Theresa McCann, found a way to possibly send Braun to the big time. She started a GoFundMe campaign to cover the travel expenses on Braun’s behalf. As we go to press, the campaign has reached more than $1,100, but there’s still a long way to go. Any bit helps and the campaign can be found at www.gofundme.com/send-charlie-yo-yo-world-champs

Ris says she’ll support Braun’s hobby no matter what. “I don’t know where he got it from, but I’m not going to take it away from him. He’s great at it and he loves it. How can you not support something that your child loves this much? I’m going to encourage him and help him do what he loves to do, as long as he remembers to make his bed,” she said. Braun says he doesn’t know how far he’ll get in the competitive world championship this year, but he hopes to win one day. “I want to win some competitions, especially Worlds. That’s where I’d like to see myself. I’m not stopping anytime soon,” he said.

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