The Wild, Underappreciated Acrobatics of a World Champion Pizza Tosser

"Dough is going to make or break everything you do, whether it's cooking pizza or tossing pizza."

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Aug 3 2017, 8:00pm

Photo courtesy of Justin Wadstein.

Most people are like, "What the hell are you talking about?" when you bring up pizza acrobatics. People have no reference when you say you've won all these awards in Vegas and Italy for spinning dough. They just think you're doing tricks. Like, if you tell someone you roll the dough over your shoulder, their response will probably be, "That's gross, I don't want to eat that." You have to explain to them that it's just for show, you aren't actually eating that dough.


WATCH: Justin's Winning Routine at the 2017 World Pizza Games


I started spinning when I was 13. My grandparents opened a pizza place and I started working there. I wasn't tall enough to actually run the pizza oven when I first started, so I would wash dishes in the back and watch the guys throwing the dough in the air. From there, I started spinning towels. I would spin binders in class. I would spin pillows at home. I drove my parents and teachers absolutely crazy because I couldn't stop doing it. I had this borderline obsession of just trying to spin everything I could possibly get my hands on. I eventually went to work for my aunt in Santa Cruz and she was like, "You like spinning, go try out for the World Pizza Games."

People ask me all the time, "Do you still love pizza?" and yeah, I could still eat pizza every single day.

My first time at the Games, I had never even been on a plane. But we flew to Vegas and I got first place in the US and fourth in the world on my first try. From there, Tony Gemignani asked me to join the team and go to Italy with them. I was getting paid to travel and spin pizzas—it was awesome. There was about a three- to four-year period when, even if there wasn't a show I was getting ready for, I was still practicing every single day for two to three hours. It takes years and years and years to get to the point where you can spin blindfolded.

The World Pizza Games have definitely gotten more popular over the years. I've been several times and I've won quite a few times, but I hadn't won in a while. The difficulty level is now insane. Most of the Korean guys have gotten to a point where they're doing backflips on stage and all these other crazy things that I couldn't do if I practiced for a year. To be honest, that was really my biggest worry going into the competition this year. I mean, the kid who placed second was incorporating these really crazy breakdancing moves. Things are starting to become more acrobatic—and they should be; it's called acrobatic pizza dough spinning.

Watch: The World's Largest Pizza Convention

The win this year was huge for me. It's really changed the direction of what I'm doing with my life completely: I decided to open my own mobile pizza business. I bought a new truck and a wood-fired oven on a trailer about a month ago and I've been traveling around doing parties. I do really good wood-oven pizza that I tie into my spinning routines. I do the cooking and then I teach people the basics of spinning. I'm also now starting to work on opening a school to train kids how to spin. I want to work with local hospitals to get them involved too.

Most of the Korean guys have gotten to a point where they're doing backflips on stage and all these other crazy things that I couldn't do if I practiced for a year.

My new thing is training the next generation and judging. And also the food itself. Next year, I'll be judging the spinning competition, but competing in the cooking competition. I've got an oven in my house that I practice with pretty much daily. It's still all about pizza, but now the focus is now on the culinary side.

I've always loved pizza. People ask me all the time, "Do you still love pizza?" and yeah, I could still eat pizza every single day.


As told to Alex Swerdloff. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Justin Wadstein is a 13 time winner of the World Pizza Games.

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