HONOLULU (KHON2) — In 1997, when most 1-year-olds were still learning how to walk and talk, Evan Nagao was playing with yo-yos. Little did he know his talent would put him in the national spotlight on stages like “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
Fast forward to 2022, the 26-year-old Punahou graduate has his own yo-yo brand, with hundreds of thousands of tricks in his back pocket. He’s also won multiple championships along the way.
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On June 26, Nagao came out of a short retirement to win first place in the National Yo-Yo Contest held in Mesa, Arizona. Though he’s always been yo-yoing for fun, constantly creating new tricks over the years, it was the first time he’s competed since 2019.
“The competition was good,” Nagao said. “I competed for the first time in like three years, and despite that, I felt really, really good. This is definitely the cleanest freestyle I’ve ever hit. So I’m pretty happy about it.”
All he had to do, he said, was figure out what music to use and then add the tricks he’s been doing for fun to his freestyle — it ended up being a winning routine.
“There’s a trick called the Evan Nagao Special that I think people really like,” said Nagao, “and it’s basically where I whip the yo-yo under my leg, and then I whip it behind my back, and then I do this like 2.5 hook.”
Watch the Evan Nagao Special below:
Yo-yo has always been a part of Nagao’s life. In 1995, his dad Alan Nagao — who owned the High Performance Kites store — became a yo-yo salesman after he saw a boom of yo-yos hit Hawaii.
“So back at that time, like everybody on the island was using yo-yos, and he thought it’d be cool to bring this trend around the world,” Nagao explained. “So he went to Japan, basically sold like 30 million yo-yos, and then, you know, went all the way around the world — Singapore, Hong Kong, France, England, whatever, all these different places.”
In 1996, Nagao was born. It was a time when yo-yo demonstrators would be around the house, and yo-yos were just everywhere.
“So, like one day, he just came into my room, and I was just yo-yoing,” he said. “I had two yo-yos in my hand, and yeah, the rest is pretty much history.”
It didn’t take long for people to start noticing his talent. After Nagao appeared on local talent show “Hawaiian Moving Company,” the television program submitted the episode to “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Shortly after, 4-year-old Nagao and his family were headed to California.
“One of the biggest things that I remember was like they’re picking us up in this big limousine at the airport, and then I remember they had champagne for the adults that came on the trip,” said Nagao, “and then there was like apple cider. I got apple cider because I was this little kid.”
Click here to watch Nagao’s appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Nagao has also made appearances on “The Steve Harvey Show” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Nagao said after the Ellen show, Nickelodeon called his mom to have him try out for “iCarly.”
“Which she turned it down because she wanted me to have like a normal life as a kid,” said Nagao. “So I think I’m pretty happy about that because I don’t think I would have been a very good child actor.”
Time will tell, but there’s a chance Nagao could return to the entertainment stage again. His good friend Shu Takada — who also yo-yos — made it past the first round of this year’s America’s Got Talent competition.
“We’re trying to work this out, but if he gets through the next round, there might be a situation where me and a bunch of other of the top competitors will kind of join him as like backup yo-yoers,” said Nagao. “It might not even happen, but yeah, that’d be cool.”
Watch Evan Nagao win the 2022 National Yo-Yo Contest below:
Nagao was very happy to see his friend on the AGT stage, making yo-yoing look cool. He thinks the only chance Takada has at winning the whole thing is if they can choreograph something together as a group.
“I would love to help him with that,” said Nagao. “We’re all really dedicated. We all do it on our own, but if it’s for a bigger purpose, like to win America’s Got Talent, that’d be so cool. So I think we can pull it all together, we’d figure it out.”
If they do win, there’s a cash prize of $1 million and a headline slot at the AGT show in Las Vegas.
While there was no cash prize for the 2022 National Yo-Yo Contest, Nagao did receive a medal and was able to promote his signature yo-yo brand “The Edge.”
“Whenever I would compete, I promote my yo-yo, and then I could actually make some sort of income from it. So it just kind of grew from there,” he said. “And now, like my brand is like my own thing. I own the brand itself. So now I’m making my own videos, and it’s slowly adding to the fire.”
Making videos, he said, is what got Nagao to come out of retirement and compete again. His friend, who’s also part of the yo-yo scene, showed him what’s possible on social media platforms.
“After like a few of my reels blew up and got like 10 million views or something, I started getting a lot of followers,” said Nagao. “Then I realized, okay, maybe I gotta get back into the yo-yo game.”
Nagao is also making his moves into another industry. Last July, he moved from Hawaii Kai to Los Angeles to pursue music, which he says is going well. He’s using the profits he makes from yo-yoing to support his music career.
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