Say hello to one of the 2016 tour rookies. Photo: Burgess

Mr. Kanoa Igarashi, an official 2016 WCT rookie. Photo: Burgess

When I met 18-year-old Kanoa Igarashi outside the Quiksilver house on the North Shore last week, he had just paddled in from a session at Pipe. He said the waves were a bit funky, but he didn't seem too bothered. The kid had recently found out that he officially made the 2016 World Tour.

Igarashi has been training for the 'CT practically since birth. He's pocketed over 30 NSSA wins as a grom and crushed it on the World Junior Series. And now, after just a year on the World Qualifying Series, the Huntington Beach native has fulfilled his childhood dream and joined the elite ranks.

Congrats on making the Tour, man!
I'm so happy. It's been a pretty long year. Qualifying wasn’t even my goal until about halfway through the year. Even after my first quarterfinal finish in Balito, I was still feeling happy to even be competing in the Prime events and surfing around the world. And then I kept getting results, and people started talking about the possibility of me qualifying. Then I was like, “okay, I'm going to try to put my head down and focus.”

Did you feel the pressure when people started talking about you potentially qualifying?
A little. When people were talking about me being able to qualify, I was competing in Virginia, and I actually won that event. I felt like I was in a really good spot. But then I started thinking about it a little too much and had a really bad European leg– I lost pretty early in the two Portugal events. After that I just went home and took a breather and was like, "even if I don't qualify I'll be alright with it because it wasn't my goal at the beginning of the year." Then I went to Brazil with that mindset and had a lot of fun and I think my good result came from having fun.

Do you think you'll go into next year with that mindset? To avoid putting too much pressure on yourself?
Yea, I'm glad I lost those two events, honestly. It was like a slap in the face like, "Okay you're not there yet, there's still work to do". I took a step back and told myself I just need to do what I've been doing and not over-thinking everything. I think that's the reason why I qualified. I'm going to take that mindset into next year, try not to put too much pressure on myself and just have fun.

Igarashi, Photo: Carey

Igarashi, enjoying a freesurf in between contests. Photo: Carey

Some guys grind it out for years before qualifying for the ‘CT. It must feel pretty nice to make it after your first year on the QS.
Yeah, I feel like a little kid next to all these guys who have been on the road their whole lives working hard to qualify and support their families. They've been putting in 110 percent into to make the tour and I kind of felt like I didn't want to get in the way. But then I had to change my mindset in order to get results, and I had to start looking at myself as a veteran.

What do you think you'll bring to the tour next year?
Well, I'm the first Japanese surfer to qualify for the Tour, and even though surfing is still kind of small in Asia, there's a huge push to make it grow right now. It's pretty overwhelming, so I want to get good results.

Do you have to change your approach to compete against the big dogs?
I feel like you have to be a completely different surfer to be on Tour. I have to put on more muscle and become more confident in the choices I make during heats. I need to be able to surf bigger waves with more confidence and more control. One of my goals next year is to get results straight away. I know that's a really hard thing to do and I'm really reaching, but I don't want to waste my first year just trying to stay on Tour. I have some time until Snapper and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure I'm surfing a lot better than I am now, because I know that's what I have to do.

How do you feel about surfing against legends like Kelly and Mick?
One of the things driving me to make the tour was the opportunity to surf against those guys. My goal when I was really young was to surf against Kelly Slater one day and it looks like he'll be doing the Tour again next year. It'll be weird surfing against him because he’s my favorite surfer but I still need to beat him.

What are you looking forward to most next year?
Pipe. I've been coming here my whole life. People look at any rookie and think they're not going to do good at Pipe, but it's probably one of the places I feel most comfortable on the tour because I've been surfing here since I was 9.