Kanoa Igarashi went up against 95 other surfers in the World Surf League's Shoe City Open last weekend on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, but there was one in particular who would get his attention more than any of the others.
Turns out that one surfer shares the same last name as Igarashi — younger brother Keanu.
Kanoa, 19, and Keanu, 13, surfed in the same contest for the first time in their lives in the Shoe City Pro, the first Qualifying Series (QS) event of the 2017 season.
And as it should be, big brother led the way, surfing his way into the finals and then winning it, an appropriate way to start off 2017 considering how he finished the 2016 season.
Kanoa completed his rookie season on the World Championship Tour (WCT) with the best performance of his life, reaching the final heat of the Pipe Masters at the Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu.
Kanoa is hoping the strong finish will propel him into an even more successful 2017, after finishing the 2016 season ranked No. 20 in the world.
"I know these guys are top 100 surfers and they were going to come out hungry since it's a regional event," Kanoa told worldsurfleague.com. "It means a lot to them in that way which makes them even more dangerous, but at the end of the day I came to compete and give it my all. I'm just excited to come away with a win here and get everything started off right."
Huntington almost got what would have been a classic matchup in the final heat, but fellow Huntington Beach surfer Brett Simpson was knocked out in the semifinals by Japan's Takumi Nakamura.
"It's always a little frustrating to lose right before the final, especially because I wanted to surf against Kanoa so bad — [it] would've been super fun way to end this one," Simpson told worldsurfleague.com. "I felt good rhythm throughout this event and it was great to get some heat cardio in. You can freesurf all you want and feel good, but when you're in a heat, your heart's pounding the whole time and it takes all of your focus. After a few months off it's good to get that going again."
While Simpson would have liked to surf against Kanoa in the final, Kanoa probably would have preferred Keanu. Keanu didn't quite get there, but he did advance out of Round 1 with a second-place in the four-man heat.
He was eliminated in Round 2 for an equal-49th.
"He's in a similar position I was in, even though he's a few years younger than me," Kanoa said. "I was super grommed out at this event a couple years ago. It was one of my first QS events and I barely knew what I was doing. … There's some heat strategy keys I want to teach him, so I'm hoping he soaks it in. For Keanu, there's no pressure and he's just competing to learn."
Kanoa is still learning himself, and certainly gained much from his first year on the WCT. The first WCT contest of 2017 doesn't start until March 14 in Australia, but he's counting on his successes at Pipe and Shoe City to propel him forward.
"This year I really want to step it up and come in hot to show that my last event at the end of the year (Pipe Masters) wasn't a fluke," Kanoa said. "It's always my goal to just show my surfing in events and it may have taken me a lot of the year, but I'm stoked I was able to showcase that in at least one of the events. I know that if I show my real surfing it will translate into good results, and this contest (Shoe City Pro) will help me find my feet back in the wax, and help me find out where I'm at."
JOE HAAKENSON is a Huntington Beach-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.