Winning a heat in a Championship Tour contest in the World Surf League is no easy task.
Every surfer on tour is capable of winning a CT contest that is limited to the best 34 competitive surfers in the world. So beating a three-time world champ in a heat — as Huntington Beach's Kanoa Igarashi did last week at the Hurley Pro at Lowers — is kind of a big deal.
It was Round 3 of the Hurley Pro on Sept. 14, a two-man heat with the loser packing up his board bag and going home and the winner moving on to Round 4 as one of 12 surfers still with a chance to win the event.
Igarashi and Australia's Mick Fanning, who won world titles in 2007, 2009 and 2013, paddled out for their heat at Lowers, and Igarashi got a nice wave early that set the tone for the heat and Igarashi advancing to Round 4.
Then it happened. About an hour later a WSL official found Igarashi and broke the news. A blocking violation was called on Igarashi and the two would have to resurf the entire heat.
"Yeah, I couldn't believe they did that," Igarashi told surfline.com. "The decision was an hour after. I was literally getting ready for my Round 4 heat, I was about to suit up — all I was thinking about was (Round 4 competitors) Jeremy (Flores) and John (Florence).
"I was psyching how good the waves were, was pretty much putting my headphones in and they tapped me on the shoulder and said we were gonna resurf. It was like the biggest shock. Everyone was confused, no one got it. And I was like, 'I'm in no state to compete right now. I'm pissed. It's stupid. Whatever, if they wanna do it, let's do it.' … For me it was really lame, I was super bummed on it."
WSL Commissioner Kieren Perrow explained the ruling in a news release:
"Following the Tahiti event, the WSL introduced a new blocking rule that goes into effect in non-priority situations at the start of heats. The rule is in place to prevent non-productive hassling at the start of heats and encourage more surfing.
"There was a blocking situation at the start of Mick and Kanoa's Round 3 heat in which Kanoa paddled, preventing Mick from taking the wave. Unfortunately, the blocking situation was under review immediately following (whereby it was determined Kanoa should have lost priority), when Kanoa took off on a wave which affected the outcome of the heat.
"After reviewing with our officials and discussion with both surfers, we will be re-surfing the heat first thing in the morning."
Igarashi, interviewed by Surfline fresh off the decision and obviously stung by it, wasn't buying the explanation.
"That was really bizarre, I had no intention of taking that first wave," he said. "If they wanted to dock me for it, if they wanted to hand over priority to Mick, then they should've and they would've. I was like 'OK, whatever, they didn't.' Mick put his hands up. Nothing happened. Two waves went by. So, there was about a minute in between. And then nothing happened, so we just thought they didn't call it. There was no priority but I was just deep. It was a weird one, if they wanted to call if they should've called it then. There was no priority switch for a whole minute. For us it was official, so we just ran with it for the whole heat."
Maybe that's why there are so many great surfers out there who just aren't interested in competitive surfing. Surfers have their own rules of etiquette in the water, but then to have to follow a whole new set of rules enforced by someone sitting in a tent on the beach? It just changes the thrill of riding a wave for some.
"Yeah, I knew it was a new rule," Igarashi said of the blocking rule. "Everyone's trying to figure it out. The judges are obviously trying to figure it out too. It's a funny one. I'm not looking to do anything at the beginning of the heat. I just want to get it going. I just want to surf. Strategy is the part of surfing that I hate the most. But I want to give myself the best opportunity to win, I want to get myself on the best waves. And in that heat, we saw a perfect wave come, we looked at each other, and I was like, 'Huh. I'm deeper.' And I went."
Igarashi had a night to sleep on it, and was in the water with Fanning the next morning at 8 a.m. sharp, the first heat of the day.
Like he did in the heat with Fanning the previous day, Igarashi scored big early with an 8.33. It was the key to the heat and both surfers spent most of the 30-minute heat bobbing like buoys in flat conditions. Fanning scored a 6.50 but could get nothing more. Igarashi backed up his 8.33 with a modest 4.93, enough to move on.
Igarashi had beaten three-time world champ Fanning not once, but twice.
In Round 4 Igarashi was up against Flores and Florence in a three-man, non-elimination heat, and finished third. In Round 5 against Aussie Julian Wilson, currently ranked No. 3 in the world, Igarashi scored a huge 9.30 late in the heat to secure the win, moving to the quarterfinals.
In the quarters he was matched up against Brazil's Filipe Toledo, whom Igarashi beat in the semis at the U.S. Open last month. Toledo rode a couple 7-plus scores to win the heat and eventually go on to win the contest.
Igarashi's equal-fifth place finish is his best of the season and moved him up in the world rankings from No. 28 to No. 24.
Party at Slater’s
A who's who in the surfing world — influencers from both in the water and out of it — gathered on Tuesday at Kelly Slater's Surf Ranch in the central California farming town of Lemoore.
It was billed as a research and development exercise that allowed all the those involved in the surfing industry to understand how Slater's wave pool works and to imagine what opportunities such technology might provide in the future.
But by the looks of it, based on some of the "leaked" Instagram posts, it was just one big pool party.
Among those who attended and may or may not have posted videos and/or pictures on Instagram include Igarashi, Fanning, Florence, Toledo, Gabriel Medina, Carissa Moore, Joel Parkinson, Stephanie Gilmore, Courtney Conlogue and others.
Said Australia's Gilmore, currently ranked No. 4 in the world, on Instagram: "Such a fun day. Lowers was 1ft so we went inland and got tubed all day … madness."
Even Slater got in on the action, which might not have been the smartest idea; he is recovering from a broken foot and is expected to be out a couple of more months.
"I don't care if it takes an extra month to heal," Slater said on his company Instagram @kswaveco. "It was worth it."
They also held an informal contest, with Medina winning the men's competition and Moore winning on the women's side.
H.B. city contest
Huntington Beach held its 47th annual city contest Sept. 16 and 17 at the south side of the pier. Surfers of all ages competed in the contest, which was limited to residents of the city.
Following are the winners in each division:
Menehuene (9 and under) — Petey Romaniuk; Boys (10-14) — Kade Ruotolo; Junior Men (15-17) — Dustin Vorhees; Men (18-24) — Ryan Salazar; Masters (25-34) — Shayne Nelson; Senior (35-44) — Daniel Horgan; Grand Masters (45-54) — Greg Eisele; Super Grand Masters (55-64) — Harry Handy; Legends (65 and up) — Steve Berger.
This weekend, Newport Beach will hold its annual city contest at either 54th or 56th, depending on conditions. The Newport Beach contest, unlike Huntington's, open to everyone.