Kanoa Igarashi entered the World Surf League circuit in 2016 as the potential future of the sport.
The future, as they say, is now.
The Huntington Beach resident — holding a Japan-U.S. dual citizenship — ran roughshod over his U.S. Open of Surfing round two competition Wednesday at Huntington Beach Pier, winning Heat 21 by nearly four points with a 15.64 average.
Igarashi advances to round three of the Men’s QS 10,000 event and will compete in Heat 11, which might be on Thursday afternoon. Full updates are provided at www.vansusopenofsurfing.com.
The defending champion steadily improved with each attempt, debuting with a 2.97 score by simply carving down the waves toward the pier. His confidence grew, as he bumped himself up to a 13.10 average after a four-turn speed float on his third go.
“I just wanted to pace myself,” Igarashi said. “Feel the motions of the ocean at first. After that, since I’m a competitive person, you start working with the other guys in your heat. Being able to build was natural when I had those things in mind.”
He advanced with Nat Young of Santa Cruz, while Spain’s Aritz Aranburu and France’s Timothee Bisso failed to qualify.
Igarashi was preceded by Brett Simpson — another former U.S. Open champion and Huntington Beach local — in Heat 19. The latter is the last repeat champion in the event, taking home top honors in 2009 and 2010. He finished last in his heat with a 9.56 final score, trailing Australia’s Ethan Ewing by nearly two full points.
Igarashi knows the importance of defending his home shore with Simpson now eliminated.
“I may have Japan right next to my name,” he said, “but I’ll be Huntington Beach for the rest of my life. This is my home, where I trained all my life and where my fans are. It’s special to try to win again in front of them.”
Simpson declined to comment after his heat.
Simpson and Igarashi are the only Open winners from Orange County in the last decade, and the latter is trying to become a repeat champion in his own right.
“That’s a big goal of mine,” Igarashi said, “I get chicken skin just thinking about it. I feel like I got the city on my shoulders, and I want to keep [the title] here.”
Despite doing enough to advance in his first three attempts, Igarashi saved his most impressive performances for waves four and five. He climbed the fourth wave until he was perpendicular to the surface, receiving an 8.07 mark from the judges.
His fifth attempt drew a standing ovation from an appreciative home crowd. He executed a 360-degree reverse jump off the top of the foam for a 7.57 score.
Despite surfing these waters since he was 3 years old, Igarashi warns that you can never predict the ocean.
“You never know what cards the ocean is going to deal you,” he said. “The only comfort competing here is that my family is watching me, we’re close to my home, and that I know my body can handle it.”
Small waves limited opportunities for every heat, as few waves approached even two feet in height. The lack of attempts bit Simpson late in his heat, as Ewing surpassed him with a 6.10 attempt just minutes before the end. Needing to reach 6.20 to stay alive, he only mustered a 4.17 in his final effort before the horn blew.
Igarashi handled his few chances beautifully, and continues to build momentum in his hunt toward the 2020 Summer Olympics in his home country of Japan. He was born there, and moved to Orange County as a toddler.
He decided to reaffiliate to guarantee his Japanese family members could watch him in their home nation.