The crowd cheered as the lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies called 11-year-old Harrison Lee to the stage in Whistler, B.C., last summer. The pint-sized seventh-grader stood centre stage, hair slicked to the side and hands clasped behind his back, patiently waiting. On cue, he unleashed his yo-yo, flinging it in a dazzling display to the rhythm of the music, catching it just in time for the final bow. The audience erupted, but Harrison didn't seem to notice – his gaze barely left his yo-yo.
"I create my own unique combos, so they're things that only I do," says the unassuming but very focused little dude from Vancouver, who, less than two years after winding his first yo-yo, is on track to becoming a Canadian champion. "It's stuff that other people haven't seen before."
His repertoire is now so large he says he can't count how many tricks he has mastered.
Once introduced to the yo-yo, the dazzle of the tricks and precision hooked the shy kid. He soon picked up a basic, $10 black and blue yo-yo , but skipped past the traditional Walk the Dog and Around the World. Instead , he taught himself Brain Twister, a "front style string" trick starting with an Under Mount slung around the hands, then shooting the double-disc up through the tangle of chords and rotating it.
When Harrison heard of the Western Canadian regional competition in May, he decided to enter, just for fun. Clad in a Dr. Seuss "Thing 2" T-shirt, he puppeteered his yo-yo in and out of a complex web to the beat of the music. His one-minute routine earned him second place out of the 12 competitors in the under-14 division, a victory that convinced him to give competition a spin.
"He's got this likeability on stage that's really hard to resist, and this incredible natural ability," says Dennis Chui, head organizer of the Western regionals.
Chris Mikulin of Edmonton-based CLYW, a high-end "return top" maker, met Harrison at the Western regionals. It normally takes people a few hours, if not weeks, to perfect a new trick, says Mr. Mikulin, but Harrison was able to pick up skills "within 30 seconds."
The yo-yo has become Harrison's constant companion. His arsenal has grown to 30, including some high-performance competition "return tops" valued at up to $160. If he doesn't have a yo-yo twisted around his finger, he says there's always one in his back pocket. Videos from his YouTube page show Harrison spinning his yo-yo everywhere from New York to the top of Grouse Mountain .
"I'm going to keep competing and I'm going to see how far I can get, before the homework starts piling up," he says.
The Grade 7 student has worked his way up the ranks steadily. In February 2012, Harrison entered Seattle's Pacific Northwest Regional in the regular division, competing against candidates twice his age, the best yo-yoers from across the U.S. and Canada.
Harrison bet his sister he could beat at least half of the 60 contestants; the loser had to buy the winner the iPhone Plants vs. Zombies game. His performance won him 11th place, the wager, and the respect of his peers – some of whom asked for autographs. It also convinced Mr. Mikulin to sponsor the boy he considers to be a "yo-yo prodigy."
Harrison is now the youngest member of Mr. Mikulin's CLYW team, also known as "Caribou Lodge," a group of yo-yoers that once included the 2010 world champion, Edmonton's Jensen Kimmitt.
Harrison's mother, Elaine, describes her family as a team in itself; Harrison's sister is his PR rep while his parents wear a rotation of hats as managers, travel co-ordinators, and his biggest fans. Both teams will be there to cheer the yo-yo wiz on as he competes in the regular division at the 2012 WCR on May 19, marking the one-year anniversary of his competitive yo-yo debut.
Once a little introverted, now coming into his own, Harrison has 178 Facebook fans and a signature move: the "Harrison Hurricane."