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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Wailuku's Nagasako getting air, exposure on pro circuit

By Stanley Lee
Advertiser Staff Writer

Thumper Nagasako

Yes, that is his real name. He got it from the kicking he did in his mother's womb.

Born: April 13, 1983

Hometown: Wailuku, Maui

Height: 5-11

Weight: 175

2003 Results: X-Games (13th). Gravity Games (seventh). World Championships (fifth).

2004 Results: Core Tour (fourth).

When not skating: Nagasako is a supervisor for the YMCA Keopuolani Skate Park. He also has a salmon business with his father and likes to bodyboard.

Favorite place he's been to as a pro: Woodward Camp West and East in California and Pennsylvania. The camps are open to children and also serves as one of the top training facilities for in-line skaters, skaterboarders, BMX bikers and gymnasts.

"The best part about being pro is you use the best training facilities in the world and stay for free," said Nagasako.

If he weren't a pro skater, he'd be: A counselor and instructor working at Woodward Camp West in Stallion Springs, Calif.

What they're saying:

ASA president Rick Bratman: "He has great support from his family and the desire to do big things in skating. I think he'll be around for a long time."

Thumper Nagasako's first year of professional competition wasn't about making it rich or becoming famous.

Since the 21-year-old from Wailuku, Maui, competes in vert in-line skating — an extreme sport that involves a pair of rollerblades and airborne tricks and maneuvers on a half pipe — he has yet to become a household name.

Except to his peers.

Nagasako rose out of nowhere to become the top American and No. 4 skater in the world at the end of his rookie season in 2003.

"Through your rookie season, you learn how to perform under the pressure and on demand," said Nagasako. "You definitely got to get used to competing. You have to build a performance on demand."

A former world amateur champion, Nagasako built himself up from being unranked at the beginning of the year to being one of the best out of 29 in the world at the end of the year.

"He certainly improved from the start of his rookie year to the end," said Rick Bratman, president of the Aggressive Skaters Association. "He gained confidence and poise that comes from experience.

The rankings are based on a skater's top-five performances on the year. Skaters receive bonus points for competing at the X-Games and Gravity Games, two of the premier extreme sporting events in the United States, and the World Championships.

Nagasako competed in all three.

"At every contest I learned a little bit," Nagasako said. "It's pretty difficult to put together a run that showcases your most difficult tricks, that is consistent and clean that the judges will like. It's hard, but I changed a bunch of things like 'I need more speed for this trick' or 'I should add this trick in.' "

Bratman added: "Once he gains international competition, he will be a contender to make (the) top five at every event.

"Thumper is a terrific kid and one of the future stars of the sport."

Nagasako spent most of this year at home practicing, working as a supervisor at the YMCA Ke'opuolani County Park and for his father's salmon business.

He practices six days a week, two to four hours each day. He also lifts weights and does cardio exercises to prepare him for competition. During this time, Nagasako has improved on his consistency and added more power to his routine.

He recently qualified for the X-Games again after earning a berth at the Core Tour in Venice Beach, Calif., on June 12.

Nagasako wasn't expecting to qualify for the X-Games. He thought his chances were slim since seven of the 10 X-Games berths had already been secured and only one was available at the Core Tour. His competition at the Core Tour included Marc Englehart, the top-ranked American in-line skater, and Brazilian Fabiola deSilva.

"There's a lot of heavy competition for this contest," Nagasako said.

Knowing what was at stake, he went in with his usual mindset of skating his best.

"My goal was to just do my run and skate well," said Nagasako. "If I made the X-Games, it would be great."

He finished fourth at the event but since the top three finishers had already qualified for the X-Games, Nagasako received the berth.

"I skated well. You never know how it's going to work out in the end (but) it worked out," said Nagasako.

Prior to the event, organizers changed the format from a best-of-two skate to a best-of-three, meaning skaters had three tries to achieve the highest score. This benefited some of the competitors who are less consistent but have stronger routines.

"It was a disadvantage for me," Nagasako said. "My strength is consistency and I rarely ever fall."

Nagasako nailed his highest score on his first try while Englehart fell during his first and third runs.

"Thumper combines big spins with technical grinds, which gives him an edge over most skaters that specialize in one aspect or the other," Bratman said.

Nagasako is now the only American out of the eight X-Games qualifiers. Only two more spots are available for the event scheduled for Aug. 5 through 8 in Los Angeles.

"I just want to skate well," Nagasako said of the X-Games. "I try not to go into events thinking I want to do this high or do this. If I skate well, I'm stoked, whether I'm 10 out of 10 competitors or in the top five. As long as I skate well, that's all that matters."

By doing well, he hopes to attract a few more sponsors to pay for his airfare, which used up most of his prize money last year. After all of the expenses, Nagasako said he just broke even.

Nagasako also has handled the attention that comes with being a pro. He is unfazed by the television cameras at events like the X-Games, but said it's strange skating next to those he once looked up to.

"You don't think about the cameras and crowds too much," he said. "You just block everything out. It's just me and the ramp. Even when there are people standing around, it doesn't affect me."

Not much has affected Nagasako's rise as a pro. All that really stood in the way was learning how to handle the pressure.

"I've learned to be a better competitor," said Nagasako. "I've learned how to compete. People expect you to skate on a certain level when you're a pro.

"Now that I got the hang of that, I feel better."

Reach Stanley Lee at slee@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8533.