Kanoa Igarashi has been surfing at Huntington Beach since he was 5 and knows the waves there better than anywhere else.
On Friday, he had a significant lead with a minute remaining in Round 4 of the U.S. Open of Surfing at his hometown beach, yet lost a heat he should have won.
In a way, that made the effort a success. Igarashi, 16, has found that losing can be more valuable than winning.
"I feel like I kind of had an advantage at Huntington. But at the same time, they have an advantage over me everywhere because these guys are such experienced surfers that they can adapt to any conditions," Igarashi said. "You aren't going to learn those things from winning heats and contests. That's the good thing about losing heats; you learn from them."
The waves at Huntington, which are famously inconsistent, were particularly feeble Friday.
Igarashi scored a 6.17 out of 10 on his first ride of the day just five minutes into a 30-minute competition window, and he was feeling confident. Round 4, like the remainder of the Open, features 1-on-1 duels. Judges scored each ride, and the highest two scores were added together to determine who advanced.
With the waves so erratic, Igarashi expected to have plenty of time to find a ride for the score he needed to advance.
It took 22 minutes before another decent wave to come by, though, and while he earned a score of 5.0, it wasn't enough to hold the lead.
With 20 seconds left in the heat, surfer Matt Bunting found a wave he later called "heaven-sent" and rode it perfectly to a huge 7.17 score. That sent Igarashi packing.
"I just needed to better my wave by a point, so I wanted to just go do that and have him chase a score rather than go near him," said Igarashi, who had paddled away from Bunting. "I kind of chanced it and have to go home, but it's one of those things where you make your decision and commit to it. It was just the wrong one."
Even for someone who has been surfing since he was 3 and signed a promotional deal with Quicksilver at 12, experience is still an issue. Igarashi earned his GED two years ahead of schedule, which leaves him time to travel the world competing. After the Open, he goes to Tahiti. Then it's Virginia Beach, Spain and Azores in Portugal. That's just August.
The goal is to qualify for the World Championship Tour (WCT) sometime in the next four years. He says he has no expectations of qualifying until then, partially because of the types of mistakes he made Friday.
Notes: In the men's competition, Huntington Beach resident Tim Reyes was the first surfer knocked out in Friday's Round 4 … Other eliminations include Aritz Aranburu, who is No. 28 in the WCT standings. … Among the surfers advancing were Josh Kerr (10), Jordy Smith (12), Filipe Toledo (20), Adam Melling (21) and another Huntington Beach local, Brett Simpson (34) … Saturday's Round 5 begins at 7:30 a.m.; the women's quarterfinals start at 11:30 a.m.