He doesn’t have to put a spin on what he does. Alex Hattori’s hobby does that automatically.
At the age of 15, the Torrance youth has become the yo-yo king.
He has his own sponsor, his own trading cards and his own line of yo-yos — the “C-Force” and the “Collid3r” — which the YoYoJam Co. sells for $57 and $107.
And now, after stiff competition at the yo-yo nationals in the Northern California town of Chico, he has been crowned the top double yo-yo player in the nation.
“I yo-yo everywhere I go. At the supermarket. In the classroom. When my mom is talking to me,” he said.
Alex picked up his first yo-yo four years ago when a group of his middle school friends sneaked some on campus and were playing with them at lunchtime.
Since then, his own yo-yo career has had its ups and downs — although for the most part it’s been on a steady ascent.
By the time he was 12, his skills earned him the title of America’s junior national yo-yo champion. In 2011 he won several regional yo-yo contests and had his name inscribed on a permanent trophy that honors this country’s “most inspirational player” in the sport.
Alex’s winning streak continued in 2012 when he won more regional contests and snagged first place in a state yo-yo competition. Then came Chico and the national title.
He credits his yo-yoing mentors for helping him hone his skills.
One day at a kite shop on the Redondo Beach Pier, he ran into Yoshi Mikamoto, considered one of the top yo-yo players in the world. He taught Alex the five basic styles of yo-yoing. Alex’s specialty is the “Triple A,” a technique that uses two long-spinning yo-yos.
Alex is unflappable during competitions. When one of his strings snapped last year and his yo-yo sailed off the judging platform, he calmly reached into his equipment bag and smoothly replaced it as he kept yo-yoing with his other hand.
He’s saving the money he has earned from his contests and his yo-yo royalties for college, although he spent some to pay for a visit to eight East Coast schools that he is considering attending when he graduates from Torrance’s South High School, where he is a junior.
“I was impressed by MIT. I really like math and science,” said Alex, who is interesting in studying computer engineering.
Teachers and administrators at his Torrance high school tolerate his yo-yoing on campus, he said. “Some people think, ‘Oh, a yo-yo is just a toy.’ But then they see what you can do with it. They ask me to teach them how to do it.”
Alex’s sister, Tiffany Hattori, 17, said others look up to her brother and his yo-yoing skills.
“My friends think it’s really cool. Some of them thought at first that yo-yos just go up and down. I’ve tried it, but the yo-yo is not my thing,” she said.
As for the yo-yo king, his favorite trick is the “coro coro.” Explains Alex: “It’s where two yo-yos seem to get tied in a knot but then you untie them.”
One trick he won’t do is the familiar “walk the dog.” That move can damage expensive yo-yos like his ball-bearing-equipped aluminum models .
“I’ve got a T-shirt that I wear that says, ‘Don’t ask me to walk the dog,’” Alex said.