In-line skater from Maui rises in professional ranks
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
It's a heady experience for the Wailuku-born Nagasako, who in his rookie year will be Hawai'i's first competitor to skate at both the nationally televised ESPN X Games and NBC's Gravity Games, two of the premier extreme competitions in the United States. The X Games will be Aug. 14-18, in Los Angeles and the Gravity Games Sept. 10-14 in Cleveland.
"It's crazy," Nagasako said. "You see the guys on TV and you think, 'Wow, it would be great if I could be there.' I always dreamed of it. It probably won't hit me until after I'm there."
Nagasako competes in vert in-line skating, where competitors perform airborne tricks and other maneuvers on a half pipe. He won the World Amateur Championships last October and finished in the top eight in his first two pro competitions this year.
He is ranked No. 23 in the Aggressive Skaters Association (ASA) Pro Tour vert rankings, which feature 90 of the top skaters in the world.
ASA president Rick Bratman said Nagasako put himself in elite company by qualifying for the X Games and Gravity Games in his first season. Nagasako qualified for the X Games by winning the World Amateur Championships and the Gravity Games by placing sixth in his first pro event in May. The games each have a field of 20 professional vert in-line skaters.
"It's a tremendous honor, especially for a rookie," said Bratman, who has traveled on the pro tour for seven years. "There are a very few rookies in the history of the sport who have qualified for the X Games and Gravity Games in their first year."
Bratman said Nagasako "could become a top 10 skater pretty quickly" with more experience, hard work and a few lucky breaks.
"Thumper is one of the better up-and-coming young skaters in the world," Bratman said. "Most of the vert skaters who are at the top professional level, with a few exceptions, are getting toward the prime or advanced stage of their careers and Thumper is one of the bright young stars on the horizon."
Bratman said Nagasako is a "wonderful ambassador" for the state.
"I think it's great for Hawai'i to have an individual who has been born and raised there to go and travel the world and to represent Hawai'i," Bratman said. "Not only is he a good skater, he's a terrific kid, too. He's always extremely polite and courteous. He's definitely a joy to work with."
And at 5 feet 11 and 165 pounds, Nagasako can hold his own out there, said ASA executive director Todd Shays.
"He's a lot bigger and stronger, and that really has allowed him to go big on ramps and to be more competitive," Shays said. "He's a very strong rookie."
In-line skating was not Nagasako's first sport. He first played in-line hockey but switched to in-line skating when he was 12 after being impressed by a demonstration on Kaua'i.
"I never saw anything like it," Nagasako said of the 540-degree, or 1 1/2 spins. "I was just hooked from there."
Between competitions, Nagasako hones his skills and develops new tricks at Maui Central Skate Park.
Nagasako said competitions are judged on difficulty (harder tricks are better), consistency (clean landings), style (tight, clean and smooth tricks), amplitude (height and sliding) and line (how well competitors link each trick).
"The hardest trick I can do right now is a '900,' which is 2 1/2 spins," Nagasako said. "I'm working on a bunch of other stuff right now. Being in Hawai'i, most of the stuff I've learned, I've learned from watching people on TV. I've got my own unique way of doing certain rotations where it's a little different than everybody else, which is actually benefiting me. (Judges) want to see diversity. You want to stand out."
Nagasako's mother, Gail, will accompany him at the X Games and Gravity Games.
"It's just so exciting to see your child doing what they really love, and being able to make a career out of something that they picked up because they loved it," she said. "It's been fun."
Gail said she and her husband Jordan think their son's name has become "a great stage name."
"No one ever forgets his name," she said. "In his first demo, they would thump their skates on the deck while Thumper skated."
Thumper Nagasako said he has earned several hundred dollars from competitions and photo incentives, but nothing really big yet. He said the "top guys" can make a living by securing sponsorships that pay several thousand dollars a month.
"It's all about getting your name out there and getting a good sponsor and doing demos," said Nagasako, who has already done demos at Central Pennsylvania's Camp Woodward East, the top training facility for in-line skaters, skateboarders, BMXers and Olympic gymnasts.
"It feels really good to be where I am and the level I've achieved," he said. "Every time I reach a new level, I'm looking toward the next level. In a way, I'm like a perfectionist. It's helped me get to where I've gotten."