Photo courtesy of Bryan Sanchez)
Bryan Sanchez started spinning signs while attending college in Tempe, Arizona, at age 19 — and never stopped. After getting a taste of the freedom of the street corner and the personal challenge of mastering new tricks, a regular 9-to-5 office job no longer appealed to him. For 15 years, he’s been spinning signs around the country, from Arizona to Texas, and, most recently, South Florida.
Chances are that if you’ve driven in the tri-county area, you’ve spotted the 33-year-old Sanchez or one of his protégés with AArow Sign Spinners, a Los Angeles-based company that employs thousands of sign spinners to advertise for businesses around the world. Locally, Sanchez has worked on the streets of Hialeah, North Miami, Pompano Beach, Sunrise, and as far north as Port St. Lucie for a roster of clients that includes cellular phone providers (T-Mobile, Boost Mobile), cable companies (Xfinity), and furniture stores (CITY Furniture, Ashley HomeStore).
“We love an eight-lane intersection, double turning lanes are exciting, and anything off U.S. 1 or in Las Olas and Wynwood is really fun,” Sanchez tells New Times. “The one specific thing we aim for is honks as a way of acknowledging your skill. It’s pretty rewarding to see someone try to get your attention after you’ve tried to get theirs.”
Sign spinning is a lucrative guerrilla marketing strategy. It’s also a competitive sport, wherein judges grade 30- and 60-second choreographed performances on style, trick difficulty, and execution. Each year, hundreds of competitors nationwide submit videos of their acrobatic feats with their signs, hoping to win regional competitions. Then, the top ten spinners from the East Coast, West Coast, and Central divisions advance to AArow’s annual World Sign Spinning Championships in Las Vegas, where competitors have traveled from as far away as Germany, South Korea, and Puerto Rico to compete.
Of the dozens who competed, Sanchez is the only sign spinner from Florida to place in the top ten. He’s in Las Vegas ahead of the world championships, which take place tomorrow at the Fremont Street Experience, where he’ll face off against elite sign spinners like Davis Davis from San Diego, Kadeem Johnson from L.A., Matthew Doolan from Fort Worth, Texas, and Kendrick Washington from Washington, D.C.
“I didn’t realize how strong the competition was going to be,” Sanchez says. “But a single drop [of the sign] can change the outcome of a championship.”
Sanchez was a quick study at spinning quickly, mastering the basic spins — flipping the sign over the head, and twirling it between one’s legs like a pair of nunchucks. He soon branched out and began incorporating gymnastics, breakdancing, and martial arts into his street-corner performances. He can throw the sign way up in the air in what’s called a “helicopter toss,” and then perform a karate kick or a one-hand cartwheel and catch the sign without letting it touch the ground.
In South Florida, Sanchez works as a local manager overseeing and training other sign spinners, as a sales executive, and as a graphic designer. It’s especially rewarding, he says, to see a neophyte sign spinner master a new trick. One of his favorite perks is visiting a potential client dressed in a button-up shirt and slacks, only to bust out some tricks with his sign in the middle of his pitch.
“It helps clients knowing that I can do it myself,” he explains. “Spinning a sign is not a normal activity when you’re wearing a suit and tie. They’ll be like, ‘Whoa, I was not expecting you to do that!'”
Though Sanchez is a veteran sign spinner and estimates this will be his tenth time competing in the world championships, he always feels a rush of nerves leading up to the finals. He’s heard of some people spinning two signs at once, and he’s nervous about competitors who haven’t posted videos on their YouTube channels in a few months. He wants to know “what they might have up their sleeves.”
“I’ll be in my hotel room, and I’ll look out my window and see six sign spinners still trying to land that trick on the top of the parking garage,” he says of previous championships. “It’s intense.”