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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 5, 2002

Around the world with a yo-yo phenom

By Zenaida Serrano Espanol
Advertiser Staff Writer

Evan Nagao's first word wasn't "mama."

It wasn't "dada," either.

Evan Nagao performs "Rock the Baby" at Ala Moana Beach Park near Magic Island.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

It was "yo-yo."


So it may not be a surprise that the now-5-year-old Nagao, of Hawai'i Kai, has become quite the yo-yo phenom, wowing onlookers ever since he was a toddler as his tiny hands performed the most skillful yo-yo tricks.

"I think (people) are intrigued because he's so little," said Evan's mom, Priscilla.

Intrigued, to say the least.

Evan's remarkable talent at such a young age was fascinating enough to lead to appearances on "The Hawaiian Moving Company" in January and April 2001, as well as an appearance in March 2001 on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," where the then-4-year-old impressed the show's host and a national audience.

The Punahou School kindergartner learned the basics of the yo-yo when he was about 1.

His teacher?

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"No one," said Evan, who played with his yo-yo throughout the hourlong interview. "I only saw other people play yo-yo, and then I got a yo-yo, and then I just copied what they did."

"He taught himself," his mother confirmed.

Evan's father, Alan Nagao, owns High Performance Kites, a store at Ala Moana Center that specializes in kites and yo-yos. Priscilla Nagao said that Evan grew up surrounded by people playing with yo-yos — from his father, a yo-yo expert and teacher, to his father's students, and even national yo-yo champions who would come from the Mainland for local demonstrations and stay at the Nagaos' home.

"He just naturally picked it up," his mother said.

Since then, the prodigy's interest in the toy has been unceasing. To say Evan eats, sleeps and breathes "everything yo-yo" would not be far from the truth.

"He takes a nap and when I wake him up, the yo-yos are still connected to his fingers," his mother said.

When he gets up in the morning and when he comes home from school in the afternoon, he goes straight to his yo-yos, Alan Nagao said.

"Anybody who plays yo-yo for that many hours is going to be good," his father said, laughing.

Honorable mention

Evan's most recent accomplishment was winning a championship title at a national yo-yo contest in October 2001 in Chico, Calif. He competed against about 200 children nationwide and won the sportsman division for children age 6 and under.

But Priscilla Nagao said that wasn't his most distinguished honor.

"I think the most prestigious thing was that he got to perform at the Hawai'i State Senate," she said.

Several members of the Senate, including Sam Slom, R-8th (Wai-'alae Iki, Hawai'i Kai), saw Evan's appearance on "The Hawaiian Moving Company" and "The Tonight Show," Priscilla Nagao said.

"They thought it was pretty remarkable ... so they asked him to come and do a demonstration at the state Senate," she said. Then Evan received a Senate Certificate Award for his accomplishments.

Evan also just wrapped up filming for a segment on "Ripley's Believe It Or Not," which will air on cable in the summer.

But O'ahu residents don't have to wait for his Ripley's debut to see Evan in action.

Evan and his father will make an appearance today at a Boys' Day event at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. Evan also gives free lessons to yo-yo enthusiasts of all ages at 7 p.m. Saturdays at the Ward Warehouse amphitheater.

Evan's parents try to keep his public appearances and demonstrations to a minimum. In addition to his weekly lessons at Ward Warehouse, his average schedule includes about one public demonstration every two weeks.

"We don't want to inundate him," Priscilla Nagao said. "He's only 5 (and) a 5-year-old sometimes needs a nap."

But Evan enjoys what he does. When asked if he ever gets bored or tired of playing with his yo-yos, Evan exclaimed with wide eyes, "No, not even!"

"I believe that he's so enthusiastic about yo-yos because we haven't really taken an active role to push him," Alan Nagao said. "He's just in love, that's all it is. He loves to play (with) yo-yos."

The reason for this "love" is quite simple.

"Well, it's kinda, like, fun," Evan said.

More besides yo-yos

Evan aims to improve his skills. After easily mastering the basic classics as a toddler, such as "Rock the Baby" and "Walk the Dog," he quickly conquered the more difficult tricks, like "Roller Coaster" and "Man on the Flying Trapeze."

Evan's goal now is to master five simultaneous, two-hand "Shoot the Moons," he said. Evan has even invented his own tricks, he said, like "Rain Drop," which he created when he was 2 years old.

But Evan does have other interests, like flying kites, as well as throwing tops — something his 2 1/2-year-old brother Aidan likes to do. Aidan isn't as much of a yo-yo fan as his older brother, but "he's very smart in his own way," Priscilla Nagao said.

Like many other boys his age, Evan also has an interest in capturing bugs and putting them in bottles, especially "catching flies," he said. "I love that! I love that!"

"You know, typical boy stuff," his mother said, smiling.

But playing with yo-yos, flying kites and catching flies will only take a person so far: Evan said that when he grows up he wants to be "a good soccer player."

Until then, he plans to continue doing his thing.

"He has something to share ... it's part of giving," Priscilla Nagao said. "I'm proud of him. I feel like he's done a lot for a 5-year-old."