Many Stanford students achieve national recognition for their intellectual, artistic or athletic pursuits, but every now and again a resident of the Farm will gain fame for something entirely unorthodox. In the case of Ravi Fernando ’14, that unique skill is juggling.
Fernando, a math major, attained online stardom for his ability to juggle two small balls and a Rubik’s cube while simultaneously solving the difficult puzzle. The video, filmed by Chi-Ling Chan ’14, has surfaced on multiple sites and currently boasts over 4 million views on YouTube.
Chan was working on a project titled Humans of Stanford, an online photo journal featuring diverse images of the Stanford community, when she came across Fernando juggling in White Plaza.
“At the time she was a complete stranger to me,” Fernando recalled. “I was with the Juggling Club, and she was walking through. She stopped by and started talking to me, and eventually introduced the project and asked if she could take pictures and a video.”
And the rest is Internet — and juggling — history.
Roots of a hobby
Fernando first learned how to juggle from an instructional book about 10 years ago, and was introduced to Rubik’s cubes after he received one as a Christmas present when he was in middle school.
While he has long harbored a strong interest in the Rubik’s cube — he is a member of the World Cube Association and president of Stanford’s Rubik’s Cube Club — Fernando’s passion for juggling actually emerged during his freshman year of high school.
“I didn’t get seriously into juggling for a while,” he said. “One summer I picked it up again: the summer of 2006. I’ve been into Rubik’s cubes since 2004, but I didn’t think of combining the two until a couple years later.”
When Fernando came to Stanford in 2010, he brought his skill set with him and taught members of his freshman dorm — Otero — how to solve a Rubik’s cube. One such student was Elena Ayala-Hurtado ’14.
Ayala-Hurtado explained that she didn’t know about Fernando’s juggling when the two were first introduced.
“I can’t remember about the juggling. I remember about the Rubik’s cube solving, since Ravi taught us in our freshman dorm how to do it,” she said. “He had these events in the lounge and people [would gather] around.”
Now a junior, juggling has become second nature to Fernando, and he frequently practices his famous trick by himself and with friends in the Juggling Club. He noted that the actual process of solving the Rubik’s cube is the hardest part.
“I’ve gotten to the point where the juggling is automatic,” Fernando said. “I focus on what one step I am working on [with] the Rubik’s cube at the moment. A lot of the thinking I have to do is how the cube moves in the air.”
The emergence of Sir Ravi
After Chan’s video went viral in March 2013, Ravi’s skills gained an audience that extended beyond his freshman dorm or even the crowds that often gather to watch him perform in White Plaza.
Known as Sir Ravi the Juggler, Fernando has been featured on many online publications because of his unique skill.
“The video was first posted on Facebook, and was getting hundreds and thousands of views and likes and shares,” Fernando said. ”It really started taking off when this comedian named Steve Berke posted the video of my juggling on YouTube. On YouTube, he has around 40,000 or 50,000 subscribers. So, after a day or two it had a million views.”
After the premiere of the video on Berke’s YouTube channel, media outlets across the country began to contact him, among them The Today Show, National Public Radio and Good Morning America, as well as some from other countries like India, Brazil and Japan.
Fernando was slated to perform on NBC’s The Today Show, but his appearance fell through because they wouldn’t let him juggle live on the show and instead opted for a pre-taped routine.
“I was not really on board with that, so I decided to cancel,” he said. “Good Morning America contacted me right after The Today Show thing, and I was sort of sick of talking to the Today Show people, so I decided that I didn’t really feel like doing Good Morning America.”
Fernando said that his recent 15 minutes of fame has been difficult to get used to. For instance, on the first day that Berke shared the video, Fernando received so many friend requests on Facebook that he had to change his privacy settings.
“It’s been stressful at times,” Fernando said. “The video started blowing up towards the end of winter quarter with classes going on.”
The juggler’s future
In addition to performing his tricks on campus, Fernando also participates in national competitions, like the United States National Rubik’s Cube Championship in 2011 in Las Vegas.
“National Championship is fairly intense,” he said. “There are usually 2,300 people there. There are 15 or 20 events, not just solving a Rubik’s cube directly. I participated in speed-solving — it’s always been my main event.”
For such competitions, Fernando continues to practice with the Stanford Rubik’s Cube Club.
“Stanford used to have [Rubik’s cube] competitions on a quarterly basis, but lately Stanford’s club hasn’t had really enough people to organize things effectively,” he said, referencing a trend he hopes will change.
Still, Fernando said that he had never seen juggling and solving Rubik’s cubes as anything more than a hobby. Instead of clasping onto his fame, Fernando hopes to settle back into normal life on the Farm, continuing to develop additional tricks as part of his beloved hobby.
“My latest idea is to solve a Rubik’s cube while juggling on a unicycle,” Fernando said when asked about any new tricks he was coming up with. “I tried it a couple of days ago, and there might be a new video coming soon.”