It all started with a birthday party. Shahfri Muhamad Yusoff, a Malaysian living in Australia, had a housemate who had worked as a clown and street performer back in Malaysia.
One day, there was a birthday party at their house. His friend asked Shahfri for some help with the decorations, and ended up teaching him a little about balloon twisting, or the art of making balloons into amusing shapes for entertainment.
“Since then, I became interested in the art of balloon twisting. I wanted to learn everything about it,” said Shahfri, in an email interview from Melbourne.
From just doing it as a hobby, Shahfri found he had a passion for it, and eventually decided to make it a job. Like a fun-bringing superhero, Shahfri put on a brightly coloured suit, picked up a balloon pump, and went out to entertain people under the name Mr Shaballoons.
Shahfri, or Mr Shaballoons, has worked as a balloon twister for almost three years now. Starting as a street performer, Mr Shaballoons started getting invited to parties after becoming a bit more established, and now performs at birthday parties, festivals, grand openings, corporate events, local markets, and so on.
“I enjoy it so much. The best thing about being a balloon twister is getting to see children smile, and getting to dance with customers,” said Mr Shaballoons.
Born in Kelantan, Mr Shaballoons moved to Australia in September 2013, hoping to gain a job and experience. He first worked at farms and factories, before settling down as a balloon twister in Melbourne, where he has lived since 2016.
Learning to become a balloon artist, he said, was a challenge. Mr Shaballoons first picked up the basic techniques from his friend, taking about three to four weeks to do so. After that, he learnt to advance his skills through watching YouTube videos and looking at photos online.
“In the beginning, it was quite difficult. But after a lot of practice, and understanding the art of twisting balloons, it became easier,” he said.
Other challenges of being a balloon twister, Mr Shaballoons said, were getting to know and understand the Australian locals who invited him to events, and learning how to cater to their needs.
“Of course, there are also a handful of kids who are very excited to have their balloons, and sometimes they will fight over who will get the prettiest balloons,” he said.
According to him, the most crucial thing for someone in this job is passion for the art.
Now, Mr Shaballoons can make a variety of balloon shapes: when asked, he gave a long list of mostly animal shapes, including cats, dogs, giraffes, monkeys and bears, as well as flowers and more. The easiest shapes for him to make are swords, while the most complicated are large shapes, like excavators.
“It’s going to be fun if the customer requests for something out of the box. Like dragons, excavators, and cartoon characters. Sometimes even private parts,” Mr Shaballoons said cheekily.
As befitting a job requiring nimble hands, Mr Shaballoons also works on a pretty flexible basis. Most of the time, he is invited to open a booth at an event. During less festive seasons, when business is slower, he takes on other jobs such as an Uber Eats driver and tour guide.
The job can be hard at times. But Mr Shaballoons is certainly having a ball, and his customers love him. The Facebook page for his business is littered with good reviews, many giving him five stars.
Sharing some of his memories of being a balloon twister, Mr Shaballoons fondly remembers a time he was invited to perform at a prestigious wedding.