If there was any doubt Huntington Beach’s Kanoa Igarashi has what it takes to become a world champion, it surely disappeared Saturday on the other side of the world.
The 21-year-old claimed his first World Surf League Championship Tour title on the Indonesian island of Bali when he won the Corona Bali Protected, the third contest on the 11-contest CT schedule for 2019.
Igarashi beat France’s Jeremy Flores in the final heat, scoring 15.10 on his two waves (9.10 and 6.00) to Flores’ 14.63 (8.93 and 5.70).
“It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Igarashi said on the wsl.com broadcast. “I have so many people to thank, so many are sending good energy.
“I had a really good week, I feel I just did everything right. And when things are going your way, you run with it.”
It’s a big accomplishment for Igarashi, as he reached the final of a CT contest for the second time in his career.
The only other time he got there came during his rookie season in 2016, when he got to the final heat at the Billabong Pipe Masters on the North Shore of Hawaii in the season’s last contest of the year. He lost that one to France’s Michel Bourez.
Interestingly, in order to reach the final at Pipe, Igarashi had to beat 11-time world champ Kelly Slater. And Saturday in Bali, Igarashi again had to beat Slater to get through to the final.
Igarashi put up a 7.67 and a 7.40 to beat Slater, 15.07-13.84.
Besides the second-place finish at Pipe, Igarashi’s best finishes in CT contests include two third-place finishes in 2017 (Rip Curl Pro Portugal and Pipe Masters) and two third-place finishes in 2018 (Corona Open J-Bay in South Africa and the Surf Ranch Pro in Lemoore, Calif.)
Igarashi has made progress towards winning a world championship in each of his years on the CT — he finished 20th in the world in 2016, 17th in 2017 and 10th in 2018.
Through three contests this year, Igarashi ranks No. 2 in the world, trailing only Hawaii’s John John Florence.
“All the hard work you do, all the early mornings, all the times you’re in the gym alone, surfing alone, and working hard when no one’s watching, it all makes sense now,” Igarashi said.
The contest started horribly for Igarashi, who finished third in a three-man first-round heat with only one scoring wave — a 1.77. But the first heat in a CT contest is a non-elimination round, so it just meant Igarashi would have one extra heat to get through.
After winning his elimination round heat, he beat Peterson Crisanto of Brazil in the round of 32, Jesse Mendes of Brazil in the round of 16 and Adrian Buchan of Australia in the quarterfinals before taking out Slater in the semis and Flores in the finals.
“Every heat meant a lot to me,” Igarashi said. “The first round to the final heat, I surfed the same. I told myself I was going to buckle down and give 100 percent no matter who I had, no matter what the conditions. I was going to adapt to the conditions and throw everything at it.
“That [final] heat, I felt like I peaked, I was right there and everything was going my way.”
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JOE HAAKENSON is a contributor to Times Community News.