Interview by Neal Kearney
All the years of scrapping in one-foot contest surf, collecting disposable trophies, and dreaming of a shot at joining his heroes on the illustrious World Tour are now behind 18-year old Kanoa Igarashi. A few weeks ago, at the Quik Pro Gold Coast, he found himself in a surreal position. Not only had he joined his heroes, but he was beating them, securing a 9th-place result in the first event of the year. His surfing was crisp and springy, and it was clear the teenager was building confidence with every heat. I spoke with Igarashi before the next stop on the Australian leg, the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach, and he reflected on his first go-around with the big dogs.
You’ve had time to prepare mentally and physically after qualifying, and you just completed your first WCT contest. What was your headspace like going into that first heat?
I was feeling good that day, but as soon as I put the jersey on, I freaked myself out and got all nervous. Thankfully, it’s all something to learn from for future competitions.
Every competitive surfer goes into a contest hoping to win. However, setting realistic goals, and surpassing them, can be very rewarding for your confidence. What kind of start were you looking for at this first event?
I was looking to make some heats and prove to myself that I can compete on the same level as these guys on Tour. I’m definitely happy with my result at Snapper.
Were you able to get some good freesurfing in before the event, or did you stay at home and take advantage of the quality surf we’ve had in California this winter?
I was in Australia for a while before Snapper, doing some 6-Stars and hanging out with some friends. I love being in Australia this time of the year. I got that good swell at Snapper, too, so that was a lot of fun, and great practice for me.
Let’s talk about the surf. How did the surf during this event stack up?
The waves this year at Snapper were pretty fun, but they were also super tricky, and it was hard to pick the right ones. The heats I lost were mostly due to bad wave selection, I think, so I learned from my mistakes and will look to improve at Bells.
What’s the vibe like in the competitors’ area? Have the other, older tour guys been welcoming?
Yeah, for sure. Everyone has been nothing but supportive. The feeling is so weird: Last year, I was getting kicked out of the competitors’ area, and now this year, there’s a locker with my name on it (laughs). It’s so strange.
You placed 9th, a pretty solid result for a rookie surfing in a Tour jam-packed with talent. How does this success at Snapper help you prepare for Bells?
Snapper gave me a lot of confidence, and I’m going to roll that momentum into Bells. I actually came here to Bells 4 years ago and broke my leg surfing Winkipop (laughs), so there’s a little bit of history already. But yeah, I love this place, and I have such good friends around here who are helping me out with the wave, so I feel really good for this contest.
This Australian leg is a long one. How do you keep yourself in a good headspace being in one country for so long? How does having a solid support team help you deal with all the traveling and downtime?
I feel lucky because I’m always with good friends everywhere I go. I have a group of friends at Snapper, Bells, and West Oz, which helps me feel a little more at home. I also have Stephen Bell and Tom Whits in my corner, so that keeps me in the right mindset at all times. I’m loving every second of the downtime — just more time to cruise, surf, and hang out with my friends.
What are your goals going into Bells? And are you putting any pressure on yourself to make a statement with a Rookie of the Year title once the dust has settled after Pipe this year?
My goals for Bells is to make the Quarterfinals. As far as my long-term goals, I want to stay in the Top 10 and get Rookie of the Year. I know they’re big goals, but that’ll push me to do my best during each event.