Finding his calling in the most unlikely of places, Manny Espinoza, 20, just might be the best sign spinner in San Antonio.
After competing in local competitions, he recently earned the title of number one spinner in the city.
A soft spoken, flexible young man, he opens up and expresses himself with his over-the-top, sign spinning moves. Espinoza’s style includes jumping around like a kangaroo, spinning around like a dog trying to catch its tail, and contorting his body like a Cirque de Soleil performer, all the while, he spins a sign. One of his signature moves includes a backstand with one hand, and a spinning sign on the other.
Espinoza competed at the World Sign Spinning Championships in Las Vegas in February.
Aarrow Sign Spinning, an international business with locations all over the United States and 10 different countries, created the World Sign Spinning Championships in 2008, and participation has increased annually. Competition lasts three days and all participants are given two chances to showcase their sign spinning moves.
Espinoza said he’s been spinning since September 2015. This was his first time participating in the World Sign Spinning Championships. He placed 41st out of 150 performers. While his performance was more freestyle than rehearsed, he was very pleased with his placement and has no regrets at all.
“It was a fun experience,” Espinoza said. “I got to meet a lot of different spinners. I thought everybody was going to be the same, but everyone has their own style in the way they spin the sign.”
He hopes to return next year and perform better.
Sign spinning is Espinoza’s full-time job, and he works five to six days a week. He plans to remain with the company.
“Eventually I would want to move up as manager and open my own market here,” Espinoza said.
In San Antonio, where summer temperatures can reach over 100 degrees, who would choose to be in this line of work? For one potential future sign spinner, Julian Venzor, 21, says being indoors all day doesn’t sound appealing.
“I’m more of a physical outdoors person,” Venzor said. “I just like really being outside instead of just being indoors all the time. Being inside cooped up most of the time just irritates me.”
Sign spinners help promote companies, and attract new customers who might not have stepped foot in the store. Sign holding can be traced back to London in the 19th century. For the companies they are walking billboards at a fraction of the cost.
Debbie and Cliff Conkelton, co-owners of Liberty Tax Service, said sign spinners bring in new customers for the tax season.
“Outside of people telling people, that’s the only other thing that brings people in,” Debbie Conkelton said. “A lot of people tell us they came in because of our waver,” Cliff Conkelton said.
Sign spinning attracts a younger demographic due to the energetic, enthusiastic nature of the job. Performances include dancing, jumping, and even some acrobatic moves. For high school students Damian Stewart-Torres, 18, and Adolph Balboa, 17, sign spinning has provided a part- time job that has taken them all over.
“I’ve spun all over San Antonio, New Braunfels, suburbs of Austin, including Austin,” Stewart-Torres said.
“It’s amazing to see different parts of the city you’ve never seen before,” Balboa said. “Before this job, I’ve never seen any part of the city other than what I was living around.”
Many sign spinners have backgrounds in break dancing, gymnastics, professional dance, and even fire performance art. Most spinners consider spinning a part time job, including Hunter Serbin, 27, a part-time bartender and a fire performance artist. He became interested in fire spinning when he visited his brother in California. He was able to find a job spinning signs during the day for the Conkeltons.
“This is a great way to translate my skills into an economic means,” Serbin said.
For a company like Aarrow Sign Spinning, the profession is more than just sticking someone outside and expecting them to complete a day’s work. They take performance very seriously. Every week they train their employees to improve their skills and learn new tricks to keep things fresh. Everyone in the company is treated like family, from the weekly practices to local competitions, to helping out the new guy learn some moves.
“You try to have a close knit community,” general manager of Aarrow Sign Spinning, Peter Delfs said. “Our job is about fun.”
Delfs sees his employees as not only professional ambassadors for his company, but also for the companies they promote.
They are looking for people who are positive and energetic.
“Anyone who wants to work with us, we are always willing to give them a shot,” Delfs said.
With a profession like sign spinning and being outdoors every day, spinners are bound to end up with a story to tell. They have received numerous compliments by passersby, honked horns, thumbs up, high fives, bottles of cold water and even monetary tips.
“I started spinning and this woman pulled up and she was all like, ‘you’re doing a really good job. Here’s six dollars’,” Balboa said. “The day before that, I was sweating really badly because I ran out of water, and this dude came out of nowhere, pulled up and gave me a Bill Miller’s tea.”
And although the good outweighs the bad, there have been instances of unhappy drivers. Some have rolled down the window yelling vulgar language, inappropriate hand gestures, and even throwing things.
“A couple of weeks ago I got my first middle finger in the three years that I’ve been here,” Serbin said. “I like to act like I’m going to poke my sign out in front of them and someone was just having a bad day and all I see are two middle fingers come up coming down the road, and I was just absolutely shocked.”
Spinners just shrug it off assuming someone is having a bad day.