Surfer Kanoa Igarashi braces for bright future after Olympics
After running in the gold medal match at the Tokyo Olympics – and almost pulling off the kind of ending you only see in movies – Kanoa Igarashi is turning the page.
He will have time to admire the silver medal he won at the Olympics later. Right now, the 23-year-old’s goal is to move up the World Surf League rankings and advance to the Rip Curl WSL Finals, where the world title will be on the line for the first time in a winner’s test.
The WSL Final Five will compete for the title in the final at Trestles, Southern California in September. Igarashi is currently ranked No.6 with 23,545 points, but is well within striking distance of Griffin Colapinto, ranked fifth at 24,235, and No.4 Morgan Cibilic, who has 24,610, with two tour stops remaining.
“I’ve had a good year so far,” Igarashi said in an interview online Monday from Oaxaca, Mexico, where he competes in the Corona Open Mexico. “Especially now at the end of the year, I feel like I’m really finding my rhythm and getting my confidence back.”
Igarashi has finished in the top five on tour three times this year, including a third place finish in his last event before the Tokyo Games.
He got another boost in confidence from the Olympics.
Igarashi left his mark on the Games in his semi-final against world number one Gabriel Medina, who had a considerable lead late in the game. Needing a big score, Igarashi deployed a superb 540-degree aerial spin that gave him enough points to upset the Brazilian. Igarashi ended up settling for silver after losing to Brazilian Italo Ferreira in the final.
“My two goals for the year were the Olympics and also the top five,” said Igarashi. “Now that we’ve just finished the Olympics and I’ve got a silver medal, I think the focus is on the top five, and that makes life a lot easier.”
Winning an Olympic gold medal would have been the end of a storybook for Igarashi. His parents moved from Japan to Huntington Beach, California – aka Surf City, USA – shortly before he was born to give their child a better chance at getting into surfing, a sport they, his father. in particular, loved it.
Igarashi didn’t just start surfing, he excelled. It reached the WSL Championship Tour in 2016, the same year surfing was added to the Tokyo Games Olympic program. He chose to represent Japan at the Olympics to honor his family and competed in the Games on the same beach where his father surfed in his youth.
When Igarashi took out Medina, it looked like the stars were aligned for the family story to come full circle with a gold medal. Although he was unsuccessful, Igarashi’s visible disappointment and pain at the prospect of finishing second were quickly put to sleep.
“The reaction from my family was for me the biggest trophy I could get,” said Igarashi. “It was the greatest gift. We got to get together as a family the day after the event and we all had dinner and got to talk and it was so special to me. Seeing my grandmother shedding tears of joy in looking at the coin, this is something that money cannot buy.
“It’s such a special thing to give to my family.”
Sadly, Igarashi also had to deal with the ugliest side of society during the Olympics.
He was bombarded with online abuse after his victory over Medina, with some claiming the semi-final was rigged and others simply resorting to slurs and racism. Most of the messages to him were in Portuguese, which Igarashi speaks fluently.
Fans who dispute the score in judged events are nothing new. Igarashi has been surfing for most of his life and has grown used to seeing the reactions that come when fans find it difficult to judge. Igarashi says he takes the opinions of those around him to heart and blocks out outside noise. He was not touched by the hatred that fell on him, but still wants to speak out against it.
“We cannot live in a world now, in 2021, where racism is still a thing,” he said. “Not just racism, but attacks on athletes and not understanding the mental challenges that every athlete faces.
“We’re not just there to entertain people. We’re also human. I think some people forget that. It’s understandable because they only know us as athletes, they just see us doing what we do. our sport. “
Igarashi says such messages are often rooted in fans’ passion for the sport and their favorite athletes. What he hopes, however, is that fans remain mindful not to cross the line.
“I really feel like all the hate and all the negative things should stay in the sport, stay in the surf,” he said. “You can’t blame someone for being passionate. As long as it stays in surfing, it’s okay. I think as soon as it comes out of surfing – it goes into racing, it goes into nationality, it goes in the family – it’s a whole other world, I feel like it shouldn’t go that far.
Despite this, the abuse he suffered fell on deaf ears.
“One positive message outweighs 30 hateful messages,” he said. “For me, I’m fine. I am a happy person. I have people who really love me near me. It kept me strong. “
Igarashi moved on to the next challenge anyway.
Medina has already clinched a spot in all five of the WSL Finals and compatriots Brazilians Ferreira and Filipe Toledo look likely to lock in the next two.
Igarashi is hoping to have a big week in Mexico to put himself in a position to claim one of the remaining spots for himself.
“I think after this event maybe another place can be sealed,” he said. “My goal is to win the event here. I think if I win the event here, I will guarantee my place for Trestles.”
In a time of both disinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing you can help us tell the story well.