RB_20160118_0003Kanoa Igarashi. Photo: Ricardo Bravo

"It wasn’t the same sense of happiness you get from a normal win. I went into shock."

According to Kanoa Igarashi, that’s what it feels like to qualify for the CT.

That moment came to him in Brazil last fall. He’d just turned 18 and things happened fast. Too fast, maybe. Kanoa went into 2015 with the goal of staying ranked in the QS’s Top 100 and was running the risk of missing that target halfway through year — he’d lost first or second round at every single event. Then everything changed.

He got a big result in Ballito, South Africa and never looked back. His qualification became official on a podium in Brazil. Apparently, that’s when the shock kicked in.

In January, I spent a week with Kanoa to feel him out, learn more about his dreamy year and get a sense of what the future holds for him. We turned it into a profile in the current issue of SURFING, and an interactive feature with photos and clips on the site. Check it out here.

The piece left a few questions unanswered. Yesterday, I called him and he answered them. —Brendan Buckley

In our interview, we talked about how you had the opportunity to surf for either USA or Japan. Both options had their perks — you had the chance to be the first CT surfer to represent Japan on Tour. According to the WSL site, you chose to surf for America. What went into that decision?
I feel more comfortable surfing for the USA. That’s what I’ve done my whole life and I didn’t see any reason to change that now. It feels natural to me, and I’m really excited to represent America on Tour.

Did you sense any disappointment from your fan base in Japan?
No, not at all actually. People were stoked. They realize how hard it is for a Japanese surfer to get recognition in America, so they’re really excited that I’m doing it. It’s awesome.

You’ve been to a lot of CT events as a spectator and we talked about how it’d be weird experiencing the event as a competitor — you even joked that you might ask Mick for an autograph. Has your mindset changed now that you’re actually there?
Definitely. Before I even got here, I was feeling really focused and ready to compete in this event. I’ve been surfing out front a lot instead of trying to dodge the crowds and go on little missions out of town. I feel like I deserve to get waves out there now, which is obviously different from when I would come here as a kid and just try and stay out of everybody’s way. And it’s pretty cool to not get hassled by security every time I go into the competitor’s area of the scaffolding [laughs].

Do you have any goals for the event that you’d like to share?
Sure. I want to win. And I think I can do it. I have really good boards, and I’m feeling really confident and focused. The forecast looks really fun and I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t win this event.