My name is Evan Nagao. I am professional yoyo champion from Honolulu Hawaii. I created this website to give people an inside look into my world as a yoyoer.
My story is actually quite long as I have been yoyoing for over 19 years now but I'll try tell it in as concise a way as possible.
I started yoyoing when I was 1 years old. "1 years old?!?!?" you might be thinking to yourself. Yes, I started at a very young age, before I could even walk. Now you may be asking yourself a whole lot of other questions such as, "How did you become interested in yoyoing as a baby?" or "How the heck did you even play with such a short string?"
Well, to be honest, I really didn't learn how to throw a yoyo until I was about 2 years old. I would just hold the strings and pretend like they were spinning. Here's a photo of one of the first moments that I picked up a yoyo.
Now to answer the question of what got me interested in yoyoing in the first place I have to go off tangent a little and tell you about the story of my dad, Alan Nagao. My dad made millions of dollars as a marketer of yoyos in the 1990's-2000's. How you may ask? Well he started his ventures as an entrepreneur at the young age of 19 by opening his own kite shop in Honolulu. He was not always successful, and if you ask him, he will admit that being an entrepreneur was not an easy choice. By his late 20's, he was hungry for success and tired of simply getting by paycheck to paycheck. In 1989, he met a mentor who taught him the secrets of success that were written in the book "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. His mentor was actually taught by Napoleon Hill himself. He also attended many personal development and life success seminars (such as one called PSI seminars) to learn to better himself. From these teachings, he discovered how he was going to make his fortune. In 1995, he saw a small boom of yoyos coming to Hawaii. This boom happened because he created a card system to show the completion of tricks. The system was kind of like karate. Kids would start at "white belt" (the yellow card) and after completing the first 10 tricks they would move up to "orange belt" (and receive the blue card), and get a prize yoyo for hitting the benchmark. By using this leveling system, kids were practicing all over the streets and in their schools to try and complete all the tricks. This was his greatest marketing plan. Around the whole shopping center where he had his store, there were lines of parents waiting to buy yoyos for their kids. From this small boom, he decided to take the idea to japan. He made a deal with every big yoyo company at the time (duncan, yomega, proyo, etc...) to make a dollar royalty off of every yoyo sold in Japan. His goal was to sell a million yoyos at a dollar each to make... a million dollars. So he put together a team of yoyoers called Team High Performance (THP), and brought them to Japan to promote yoyos. After 2 years of basically becoming homeless and losing everything trying to make the Japan boom happen, he missed his goal... He struck out with the biggest toy company called Bandai Toys, and ended up selling 10 million yoyos in their first year of sales. Eventually he would go on to sell 30 million yoyos worldwide and launch almost every market in the world. If you owned a yoyo from 1995-2003, there's a good chance he was responsible for getting that yoyo in your hands. To give you an idea of how big yoyos were back then, here's a picture of a yoyo event that had over 70,000 boys and girls ages 7-14 playing with yoyos.
So back to the initial story of how I got into yoyoing, I was born in 1996, so I came out of the womb just as my dad was creating this yoyo boom. Every single person around me that I knew played with yoyos. We had new yoyo demonstrators at my house everyday. In my mind, every single person alive played with yoyos. That was the reality I grew up in. Just as babies look around and see that all humans eventually learn to walk, I looked around and saw that all humans eventually learn to yoyo. In my mind, I thought "Well, I'm a human... I guess I must be a yoyoer." So with that thought, I picked up my very first yoyo. My dad was all excited and started taking pictures when I did. I learned really quickly how to throw. Tricks came very naturally, and by 3 years old, I was proficient in 2A (doing tricks with 2 looping yoyos at one time).
You may have heard of a kid named Kazuya Murata or "The Yoyo Baby" who's freestyle video has been circulating all over social media. Well, some people say that I was the orignal "Yoyo Baby". By the year 2001, at 5 years old, I was featured on many giant TV shows for my yoyo skills. To be honest though, it's just because I was so dang cute back then. I wish I was still that cute, haha. I was featured on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Steve Harvey, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, and Ellen DeGeneres.
My mom even told me that Nickelodeon called and asked if I could be an actor on one of the kids shows back then. That would have been really cool, but she told me that she wanted me to have a chance to grow up and enjoy my childhood, and not have to worry about working, and constantly being under scrutiny like many child actors today. I thank her for that. I definitely am grateful to have had the chance to enjoy my time as a kid. Anyways, to continue my story, I had won a few national titles in the sport ladder at the ages of 5 and 6 (I had to beat many older people) and I was really quite successful... but after years and years of yoyoing, I got bored of the repetition. I quit sometime around 2002-2003. School had me distracted, and I was busy just being a kid.
After about 6 years of retirement, in 2009 I rediscovered my passion for the yoyo. I remember my family and I were on a family vacation visiting California. It's funny because being from Hawaii, it's hard to find good vacation spots that are nicer than where we live. Anyways, We visited sunshine kite company at the redondo beach pier where my dad and I used to do performances and promote yoyos. We went just for old times sake. While we were there, we met up with an old friend who was running the shop. He let me try some of the yoyos that were on display. There was one yoyo called "The California" by YoyoFactory. He took it out of the package, slipped a brand new poly string on it, and I cut a new loop to the length I was used to. I put it on my finger and took the first throw... It was pure magic. Landing tricks felt like I was cutting warm butter with a sharp knife. It all came back to me like riding a bike. I was throwing brain twister combos, and split-bottom mount combos like it was just yesterday. I remember thinking to myself "Oh my gosh, this is nothing like the yoyos I used to play with." The one thing I didn't quite understand immediately was how to bind, but I figured it out within a few throws. "How much is It?" I asked. He replied with, "120 dollars." Wow, that was a lot. I looked at my dad with a hesitant look because I knew that was a load of money for one yoyo. "Ring it up!" my dad said heartily. And with that, I was back on the scene.
I started learning all sorts of tutorials from Andre Boulay at YoyoExpert.com. I remember having a particularly difficult time with the trick 'spirit bomb'. But the challenge was what made yoyoing fun for me. There was so much more to learn than I already knew. Each new trick that I learned was like a new level being unlocked.
I eventually felt like I was good enough to enter in competitions, so I decided to compete at the US National Yoyo Contest in 2009. I didn't have a seed, so I asked Bob Maloney politely if I could enter. I secretly slipped into the contest. I ended up placing 25th in the preliminary round out of about 35 competitors. I wasn't too proud of my result. I then came back in 2010 to compete at a number of contests. I competed at the California State Yoyo Contest, Bill LIebowitz Classic, and the World Yoyo Contest that year. I was placing 10th, 6th, and didn't even make it past prelims at worlds (there was no wildcard at the time).
Maybe you can understand how I felt during these years. Here I was, the "Legendary" Evan Nagao, who had been yoyoing since 1 years old not even making it to semi-finals at the world yoyo contest. It was really starting to get to me, and I decided it was time to take a break again. The thing that I have been recently realizing is that I always have loved yoyoing in and of itself, but when I started to compare myself to others in the yoyo scene, it caused me to have a very low self-esteem, and was just generally unhealthy and unenjoyable emotionally. These years of my break really gave me a chance to re-center myself, and realize why I started yoyoing in the first place. I started yoyoing because I enjoyed to yoyo, and because I could create happiness and joy in those who I was performing for. I didn't yoyo to prove that I was better than anyone else or to try to have cooler tricks and make people feel less than me. Sometime in 2013, I decided to pick up my yoyo again. But I was not on the quest to be the best. I was simply looking express my love for the toy and perform for those who could find entertainment in my tricks and showmanship.
On a trip to Singapore in 2014, I visited a yoyo store there called Spinworkx, and met up with some really cool yoyoers there. Just like the first time I got back into yoyoing, the people there were kind enough to let me try the yoyos that they had on display. After testing a few of them out I found the one that I really liked. It was Marcus Koh's yoyo called The Magnum by Auldey. Oh man, talk about re-living my previous experience with getting back into yoyoing. This yoyo was smoother than silk and prettier than Hawaii's sunsets over the beach.
I threw a few tricks and had the people in the shop astounded. I remembered at that moment why I started to yoyo in the first place. To entertain others, and to express my inner creativity. That moment was short lived, however, when a kid came up to me and asked if he could try my new yoyo. I asked him if he knew how to use it, and he said, "yes I'm and intermediate yoyoer". I took his word for it and handed it over. Apparently he wasn't an intermediate yoyoer because he didn't make a slip-knott, and when he took his first throw, the yoyo string came off his finger, and I saw my beautiful new yoyo bounce on the concrete. I was pretty pissed, but hey, kids gonna be kids sometimes. I picked the yoyo back up, and saw the vibe wasn't too bad. The shop owner asked if I wanted to replace it, but I kindly declined. The kid was also pretty horrified, and extremely sorry. I realized that his own embarrassment was punishment enough and I told him, "It's alright, i was bound to hit it on the ground at some point. Now I'm not as worried about it." If you've been yoyoing for a while, you probably can relate to this story, haha.
Anyways, on to the next phase of my yoyo career. By this time, in 2014, I was traveling around the world with my dad learning from him about marketing. Though this time around we weren't marketing yoyos, but rather, skin care, supplements, and other forms of personal care products. I was fortunate enough to have him cover my flights to travel the world with him, and basically learn the tools he used to become successful. Among these tools was something called the "definite purpose statement". This is a statement containing your biggest goal in your life, when you wish to achieve that goal by, how you plan to attain it, and what you intend to give for its attainment. I live by these success formulas now, and can attribute lots of my different successes from his teachings. It was in these couple years of traveling that I truly discovered how much I can accomplish, and how much others could accomplish if they desired to succeed. During these trips, I would play with my yoyo at any chance I would get. In between business meetings, on the plane, waiting for hotel check-ins. I started putting together freestyles in my head, and remember feeling pretty confident that I would be successful if I re-entered the contest scene, especially with my newest trick I created; "the floor trick".
In 2014, I entered my first contest after a 4 year rest period. It was the West Coast Yoyo Championships. I re-connected with some of my old friends such as Alex Hattori, Keiran Cooper, and Daniel Kim, and they helped me to acclimate back into the scene. After my prelims, I was a bit nervous that I wouldn't make finals, but Alex re-assured me, "don't worry, you made it". Well, sure enough, I did, and it was on to finals. I remember practicing my "floor trick" far away in the grass so nobody could see what I was about to bring to the table. When I finally got on stage, I told myself "well, hope these guys are ready to get their minds blown..." then proceeded to dish out the most ridiculous bangers ever. People were loving it. I felt like a badass. When I got off stage, I remember Keiran coming up to me saying, "dude, what the heck was that?!?" I got tons of congratulations from many of my friends, and some of the other yoyoers I didn't know well.
I felt pretty confident with 0 knowledge of the judging system that I had won the contest. I really put on a good show. Then the results came in... they called 3rd place, "Paolo Bueno!", 2nd place, "Michael Nakamura!", and finally as they were gonna announce 1st place I prepared to hear my name. Then the announcer said, "Finally, in first place... Anthony Rojas!" My excitement instantly turned into disappointment. I didn't understand at the time how such an epic routine could have scored so low. After chatting it up with Alex a bit to distract myself from my disappointment, I decided that I wanted to learn why I didn't place higher than I did (for those wondering, I placed 5th). I noticed that Gentry Stein was one of the judges at the contest, and wanted to say Hello to him since we used to hang out before I quit. I also saw earlier that year that he had won the World Yoyo Contest. I went up to him first to congratulate him for his win at worlds, then to get to the bottom of why I placed lower than I had expected. "I loved your freestyle at worlds, man. You totally deserved to win. How long did it take you to create that freestyle?" I asked.
"Hey man, long time no see. Thanks man. It took me about a year to completely get that routine how I wanted it." he responded.
"A freaking year?!?!?" I thought to myself. I couldn't really speak as I was still in shock at how long it took him to create and perfect his freestyle, so Gentry kept the conversation going.
"Hey I really enjoyed your routine as well, man. It was super fun to watch. I didn't click very much when you were doing those wrap elements though."
"What?!" I exclaimed. "Those tricks are so hard!"
"Yeah, but unfortunately they don't score well with the current judging system."
I argued with him for a bit, and finally put my ego aside enough to ask what I should've done differently. that's where I learned the basics of how judging worked.
I took my newfound knowledge, and practiced with intent to score higher. During this time, I discovered that placing 5th at West Coast gave me a seed to prelims at US Nationals.
I headed to US Nationals 2014, with the intent to take home the win. I did my best performance I'd ever done in my life up to that point. Actually, my routine was the only freestyle to get a full standing ovation from the entire audience. When they were calling the winners, however, it turned out that I didn't even place top 3. I looked at the score sheet and saw that I got 6th place. To be honest, I felt a little robbed, because at the time, I felt that the person who wins should also be the one to get the biggest crowd reaction. I have changed my perspective drastically since then, but that was my feeling at the time. These results really discouraged me from yoyoing. I didn't compete at all until the World Yoyo Contest 2015 in Tokyo, where I didn't make it past preliminaries.
I was so disappointed from the last two results, that I wasn't even planning on competing in the upcoming US Nationals 2015. I also knew that I didn't have a seed for the contest that year. When I looked on the contest site, I saw that Hawaii and Alaska weren't included in any of the regional contests, so I petitioned to get a seed. My request got passed even though they said they wouldn't accept any petitions, haha. I figured, "eh, I got the seed, I might as well compete." So I did a routine that year and made it as fun as possible. I knew I wasn't going to win, and my goal wasn't to win. I did the most insane routine I think I ever did, and ended it with the "wombo combo" sound bit while rolling around on the floor yoyoing. Needless to say, I got a complete standing ovation, and I was the man of the room. Though I knew after seeing the other routines that Gentry had for sure taken the victory, after 3rd place and 2nd place were called, everyone was cheering my name as if I had won. It almost made me believe that I could've won, until the truth I knew logically came to fruition as the called, "and the winner is... ...Gentry Stein!!" It was so strange because even though I knew the outcome this time I was still disappointed. People kept coming up to me that day telling me I should've won, and that I had the best freestyle of the contest, and that was satisfying for me, but I still had the drive to take home the victory.
After that contest, I contacted all the people I knew who could help me learn about the judging system. I got help from Colin Beckford, Patrick Canny, Keiran Cooper, and many others who taught me about tech score and clicking. They helped me understand which of my tricks scored high and which scored low. On top of that, I consistently talked to people like John Ando, Zach Gormley, and Brandon Vu on how I could create good scoring performances all together. I spent a solid 3 months preparing the my freestyles for Worlds 2016 that year (not just finals, but also prelims and semi-finals, since I didn't make it past prelims the year before). Not only did I make it past prelims, but I made it to finals, and despite an unlucky switch out, I managed to take home 14th place in the world!
Though I did well, I kept refining my freestyle and tricks to fit the contest judging criteria. When I entered in US Nats 2016, I took out all of my floor tricks, and replaced them with higher scoring tech. It wasn't as fun, but was getting me the contest results I was looking for as I placed higher that year than I had ever placed in previous years. That said, my exciting style had not completely gone away, and people were still enjoying to watch my freestyles. I got 4th place that year.
So my record up to that point at US Nationals was 6th place in 2014, 5th place in 2015, and 4th place in 2016. I vividly remember Ben McPhee telling me in 2016 that I better skip a few places in the upcoming year as we both laughed wholeheartedly.
In the 2017 season, I worked really hard to create tricks that would score very high, and incorporate those tricks into a freestyle that also had performance value. What I came up with was my "look at me now" freestyle. I competed at worlds using part of this freestyle, and for the first time ever, I placed top 10 at 6th place. I was a bit disappointed because I made many errors on stage that I hadn't been making during practice, but hey, that's how it goes sometimes. Also, I did substantially better than I had done in previous years, so I was satisfied.
I took this personal victory into the 2017 US National Yoyo Contest, where I decided once again to focus on being entertaining, and putting on a good show as I had in 2014 and 2015. Apparently, this mindset payed off as I FINALLY took home the victory, and the gorgeous trophy for achieving first place. I beat Gentry Stein by 1 point to a freestyle that was possibly one of the best he'd ever hit in his life as well. It was insanely satisfying not just to win, but to win to someone who was considered the best in the Nation, and who had a good routine himself. When they called my name to receive my trophy, so many things flashed through my head. I had memories and flashbacks of every single year before that where I hadn't placed. I remembered the feeling of trying so hard but falling short, and of being the crowd favorite, but not the favorite by judging standards. I remembered the crowd cheering my name as the announcer called someone else. Most of all, I remembered all the friends that I met along the way who had helped me to culminate my yoyoing to where it was at the time of accepting my award. I felt the satisfaction of working for hours and hours each day for months, and glory of finally achieving something I had been working my whole life for. It was every positive emotion you could ever imagine in one moment. I felt the support from my peers, and the faith that my sponsors had that I would one day accomplish what I had set out to do. There was also some sort of humbling experience within the win as well, as I felt that this was something that anyone could achieve if they truly put in the time and effort that I had. Tears ran down my eyes as all the emotions eventually assimilated into me while I processed all that was happening. The YoyoFactory crew and I celebrated very well that night, and I ended up having one of the happiest memories of my life that day.
So coming off of that win, I hope to inspire people to realize that success is not easy. There is certainly a level of effort and time that you need to be willing to put in. The biggest advice I can give though, is that if you truly do the disciplines required to create success, you will succeed in whatever avenue you are taking. If you truly want it, you will have it. It's just a matter of time and effort.
I used to understand this idea at the conscious level, but finally coming home with a big win, I can say that I do truly understand what it takes to have faith to stick in there and try again even when something seems impossible to achieve.