A spirited defence of the world number two…
In 2010 Kanoa Igarashi went to France for the first time. He was 12 then, just about to turn 13 and the waves pumped every day of his trip.
I was there filming and chaperoning for Quiksilver and I’ve never seen the banks as good as they were that year. Kanoa was small for his age, but maybe up for it with incredible technique in small waves.
He put on a full mini-shred tube and air show on a small dreamy day in offshore beachbreak. When it was six foot, though, he looked out of sorts. Leo Fioravanti and Mikey Wright found a spot they liked one morning and sprinted through the thick, grainy sand to get after it.
They were pulling into stand-0up barrels within a minute of paddling out. Kanoa, on the other hand, sat on the beach and looked scared. He was a nice, friendly kid and I didn’t want to give him a hard time. I said, “Look you’re definitely more than good enough to surf waves like that, but if you don’t want to today it’s ok. But if you do go out and get a barrel then Leo and Mikey won’t be able to give you any shit.”
Eventually, he paddled out, took off on the shoulder of a couple waves and came back in. Leo and Mikey of course teased him mercilessly afterwards as kids do, but I gave him credit for at least giving it a go.
Kanoa is 21 now and I give him huge props him his first win in Bali. It’s honestly hard now though for me to see the amount of shit he’s still copping, maybe not from his peers, but from random people online. In some ways I get it, the bleached hair, gold chains, odd social media posts, the claims, surfing for Japan, the awkward celebrations, they aren’t things that tend to inspire core American or Australian surfers.
If people think Kanoa’s a typical spoiled So-Cal rich kid, as some comments have stated, they’re flat-out wrong. Kanoa’s parents are Japanese immigrants who came to the USA with nothing because they wanted to raise Kanoa to be a professional surfer.
I don’t really know him that well anymore, but I think he’s just trying to figure out who he is and is trying out some things along the way. Who out there had a rock solid sense of their identity at 21? I sure didn’t.
I also didn’t grow up the way he did. If people think he’s a typical spoiled So-Cal rich kid, as some comments have stated, they’re flat-out wrong. Kanoa’s parents are Japanese immigrants who came to the USA with nothing because they wanted to raise Kanoa to be a professional surfer.
And not just any professional surfer, a world champion professional surfer. They spoke little to no English and worked low-paying jobs to survive. They moved from LA, which has a large Japanese community to Huntington Beach, which doesn’t really have one at all, so Kanoa could learn to surf in an area with decent waves and a strong surf culture.
Having the pressure of your parents dreams for you put squarely your small shoulders isn’t easy for anyone, but it was especially challenging for a Nisei (second generation) kid like Kanoa. English was his second language but from the time he could speak a lick of our native tongue he was his parents’ link to the outside American world.
Imagine trying to explain things like sponsorships and contracts to your parents in another language when you’re 10. Think about how bewildering it was for his parents too. I went to Japan last year and never felt as lost as a did when I got outside of Tokyo. I became functionally illiterate. The street signs and restaurant menus were unintelligible to me. Even the prices were written in characters and not in numerals. Anyone coming from Japan to the West experiences the same disorientation in reverse.
Kanoa qualified for the world tour at 18 on the strength of his beachbreak QS game. With the precision of a Japanese technician, he figured out a way to frame his turns so they threw maximum spray and compensated for how small and light he still was. If you watch his round three heat in the 2017 event at J-Bay against Mick Fanning you’ll see a boy trying hard to compete against a man.
Despite the inherent physical disadvantage he had in every event, he managed to avoid going down in the losers round for the entire year. He then showed his potential in hollow waves by taking second at the Pipe Masters in small Backdoor runners.
A growth spurt and three years of heavy training have now gotten him to a point where he’s ready for anyone. He’s always surfed fast and with a clean, smooth style, but I feel like he’s been holding back in heats.
If he’d spent the last three years filming a signature film the way Dane and Julian did when they were his age, rather than taking his lumps on tour, we’d probably have a totally different perception of him.
He never puts out edits and we’ve seen anything close to his full potential on a webcast.
Watch his Round of 32 heat again in Bali for a glimpse of the rail/air combo game he’s holding. Now that he’s second in the world and ahead of freaks like Filipe, Italo and Gabriel, I’m hoping now is the time when he shows his full deck of cards.
Good job, kid.