H.B. native Kanoa Igarashi enjoys the show at U.S. Open of Surfing
All eyes will be on Kanoa Igarashi when the U.S. Open of Surfing gets underway Saturday and continues through next week on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.
And that’s not a surprise, considering Igarashi is a two-time U.S. Open champion, an Olympic silver medalist and is currently ranked No. 6 in the world.
But while many eyes of the surfing world will focus on the 24-year-old Huntington Beach local in the week ahead, his eyes will be working overtime.
Igarashi considers the U.S. Open “more than a surf contest,” but there also is the issue of the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT) and a potential world championship.
Igarashi is ranked No. 6 through nine CT contests this year, with one contest remaining — Aug. 11 to 21 at Teahupo’o, Tahiti — the window of competition beginning just four days after the U.S. Open final on Aug. 7. Only the top five ranked surfers after the 10 CT contests qualify for the Rip Curl WSL championship finals Sept. 8 to 16 at Lower Trestles in San Clemente.
“I’ll keep one eye on Tahiti while the other eye is focused on the U.S. Open,” Igarashi said.
Skipping the U.S. Open and going to Tahiti early to prepare, though, was not an option.
“To be completely honest with you, my preparation is spending time at home, spending time with my family, my friends, recharging the batteries,” Igarashi said. “Sometimes that’s a lot more important than physically training, physically being ready. I do that all year. There’s nothing I’m going to learn in Tahiti a week before the event.
“I spent three weeks chasing a swell there during COVID last year. Those are the times when you improve. I guess what I’m trying to say is, you have to stay good. I’ve done my work out there in the past, there’s not something I’m going to do a week before the event that’s going to change the result for me.”
And besides, the U.S. Open has special meaning to Igarashi.
“The U.S. Open is always a great event for me,” he said. “Huntington for me, it’s my two weeks at home where I can really focus in. All my friends take time off work and we have kind of that festival environment. It’s so bright, and so alive, I just love being home this time of year. It’s naturally easy for me to compete here.
“I feel bad because it’s a really important event for so many people trying to qualify (for the CT) and I’m just there because I love competing, I love Huntington and I love just being a part of the U.S. Open. So for me, it’s a lot easier for me to compete at a higher level.”
The U.S. Open is part of the WSL’s Challenger Series, the highest level outside of the CT and a vital contest for those looking to earn the points needed to qualify for the CT.
There will be 96 men’s competitors and 64 on the women’s side in this year’s U.S. Open.
While some CT surfers skip the event for scheduling reasons, the contest is not lacking for world-class surfers. Including Igarashi, this year’s men’s field includes 19 CT surfers. Among those are defending Olympic champion Italo Ferreira of Brazil, defending U.S. Open champ and world No. 5-ranked Griffin Colapinto of San Clemente, and longtime CT veteran Kolohe Andino of San Clemente.
On the women’s side, two-time U.S. Open champ Courtney Conlogue of Santa Ana, a Sage Hill School alumna, returns to her home break. She is one of eight women’s CT surfers in this year’s contest that includes world No. 6 Lakey Peterson of Santa Barbara.
Oceanside’s 16-year-old Caitlin Simmers, still working her way up toward CT status, returns as last year’s U.S. Open champ.
While there will be potentially hundreds of thousands headed to the beach over the next nine days to take in the drama, it’s just business as usual for Igarashi.
“I wake up and do the same thing I’ve done my whole life every morning,” he said. “I wake up, I watch SportsCenter and head down and go for a surf. It’s no different for me. In a sense, I just want to maintain my rhythm and my formula for success at the U.S. Open. Do my normal routine and just go surf.”
Igarashi and fellow Huntington Beach local Brett Simpson are among several on both the men’s and women’s sides to win two U.S. Open titles. But only one — Cardiff’s Rob Machado — has won the Open three times.
The contest, officially named the U.S. Open of Surfing in 1994, previously was called the OP Pro starting in 1982. Tom Curren won three OP Pro men’s crowns while Frieda Zamba won the OP Pro women’s event five times.
The men’s and women’s winners will pocket $20,000 apiece. Surfing gets underway Saturday and continues all week, with the championship heats taking place on Sunday, Aug. 7.
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