Inside the Life Of A Teenage Trick Shot Star

From flipping water bottles to internet fame

YouTube has minted whole genres of sports celebrities—from avant-garde dunkers and teenage gymnastic teachers to benevolent bodybuilders and video game commentators—but perhaps the most successful are the trick shot auteurs. Frisbee savant Brodie Smith, Australian trio How Ridiculous, and the five Texas bros behind Dude Perfect have accrued millions of fans for their impossible feats of athleticism involving Nerf Blasters, go-karts, paper airplanes, and every thinkable variation of basketball shot.

They’ve also spawned a generation of followers. Tommy (who didn’t wish to disclose his last name), a 15-year-old from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had been watching Dude Perfect for three years when he started his own YouTube channel, That’s Amazing, last January. He originally used the channel to demonstrate cheat codes for the mobile game “First Touch Soccer 2015,” but last fall he and his younger brother Matthew decided to pivot, dusting off an old mini-cornhole set and posting a video of beanbag shots from behind trees, off walls, and while riding waveboards.

Subsequent videos, edited by Tommy in iMovie, showcase the siblings’ skills at long-distance Frisbee throws, blink-once-and-you’ll-miss-it ballpoint pen tricks, and four-year-old brother Colin’s precocious ability to throw objects into a mini-basketball hoop. Some of their shots were featured in People Are Awesome’s “Best of the Week” videos, but the breakthrough came in August, when they posted their first video flipping water bottles—this summer’s hottest trend. That video, in which Tommy flips a water bottle 100 times in a row, now has over 2.6 million views. Its two sequels, which also feature sisters Maggie and Isabel, have over 19 million views.

Tommy and Matthew’s output has slowed since the school year started, but they’re still plotting ways to capitalize on the audience—now 250,000 subscribers strong. Over Skype, the boys and their dad, Jim, opened up about the art of flipping water bottles, how they balance school with burgeoning internet fame, and where the advertising money goes (college savings and clean water charities).The call ended because it was past their bedtime.

How much time do you spend each week on trick shots?

Tommy: The good thing about our first water bottle flip video was that it was during the summer, so we had all day to practice. But now that I have school, I have so much homework, so I basically only have time to do trick shots on the weekends. But Matthew can do it on the weekdays, which is pretty convenient. If I can't do one, Matthew's there. And I can come on the weekends. It's not as efficient as during the summer, but we still can get it done at a good pace.

Jim: If you look at their videos, you can see, some of them are from Thanksgiving and then Christmastime. It's when they're on vacation. Parents don't go out. They spend those days doing trick shots.

How did you get good at flipping water bottles?

Tommy: We first got our water bottles and were not good at all at flipping. We would battle it out and whoever would make it three times (in a row) first would win. It would take probably five minutes to get three. But over time, we gradually got better. In our first video, we actually have one where we did four in a row down a table, where each person flipped one bottle. That took, alone, forty minutes, to just make four in a row.

Then Matthew wanted to get 20 in a row so we could beat Dude Perfect's 15. It took him like three days of trying outside in the rain to get 20. He was so excited. He went for 65 and got super excited at that. We figured out that if we could get 65, we could get 100. So that's what he did.

Did you train Colin? How did he get so good?

Tommy: We were originally just doing the video with Matthew and (me), but Colin wanted to be in the video. He’d get angry if he wasn’t. He just practiced by himself. He’s motivated by himself to flip water bottles. He just loves it. I think his record’s over 60 in a row, but we haven’t actually posted it. He doesn’t get nervous at all. He just flips.

Do you have fans? How do they act?

Tommy: There was a freshman in my math class. I had no idea who he was, but he recognized me from the video. I started getting my friends saying that they watched the video and they didn’t know it was me. They were all really surprised.

We definitely have some fans. They’re small trick shot channels, especially. They love us, comment on our videos all the time. We try to reply back to all their channels and support them on their videos. They're always super excited when we reply to them. Some of them consistently comment on the same video, over and over again, like every day, a new comment. But a lot of the people are also channels we knew before we went viral, so they feel like they've been with us since we were at only 1,000 [subscribers].

Which water bottles are the easiest to flip?

Matthew: We started out with a Dasani bottle. We were not that good back then, but they also weren’t the best for us. Their caps were sort of curved, so they’d be harder to land. Since then we’ve used many different kinds of bottles. We use Trader Joe’s Mountain Spring Water, Ice Mountain water bottles, and Roundy’s.

Do you want to make a career out of trick shots?

Tommy: I feel like it would be great to have a trick shot career. But it's really hard to keep up the audience like Dude Perfect can, and get a lot of money from that. We're also going through school obviously. It helps to always have a backup plan if a trick shot career doesn't work out. It would be really fun to have one, but I feel like we'd be able to do better with a regular job. We can always give Colin and Owen the channel when we graduate from college or something.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

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