Kanoa Igarashi Talks About His Great Reset: New Equipment, Coaching and Classes at Harvard

Kanoa knows the clock is ticking on his world title hopes. Photo: Aaron Hughes//World Surf League

The Inertia

The year 2022 had been a good one for Kanoa Igarashi. He’d finished as World No.5, a career high, and had made his first WSL Finals appearance. That start of 2023 looked golden. Aged 25 and with six years of Championship Tour experience, it should have been the year when Igarashi pushed the needle on his legitimate World Title credentials. 

And yet by Margaret River, from the outside at least, the wheels seemed to have fallen off. In the elimination round, if a wave in the final minutes of Rio Waida’s had come in at 7.76, rather than 7.70, Kanoa could have easily failed to make the cut. As it was, he squeaked through that heat and even with a loss in the next round, managed to haul himself just over the cut line. In the first five events, his result sequence was a bafflingly poor 17,9,17,9,17. 

And yet, as it turns out, it wasn’t so much that the wheels had fallen off, and more that the Japanese American was quietly going about rebuilding the whole engine. Or to use another metaphor, he was building a new plane while flying it. The results would improve over the year, a third at J-Bay being the highlight, as he finished in 14th. So, what went wrong, or what needed putting right? I caught up with Kanoa at his home in Portugal to discuss a transitional year that he hopes will provide a platform for his ultimate goal: a World Title. 

You were one of the more high-profile surfers threatened with the cut at Margaret River. How was that experience?

I took it as a great learning experience. There was the real pressure of relegation after I’d had such a slow start. But I think I needed that more than ever. Thankfully I’ve had a really great career so far, but I feel that I’m in a transition phase where maybe I can go from being a top 10 or top 5 surfer into a World Title contender. 

Could you pinpoint why you had such a slow start?

Yes, absolutely, and that’s why I remained relatively calm and confident through that phase. I’d decided to try a load of new approaches with my surfing, as a way to get better, so it was a big experimental year for me. I discovered some things that worked, and a lot that didn’t (laughs). The results weren’t where I wanted them to be, but it was easily the biggest growth year of my career. 

What aspects did you experiment with?

It was fairly comprehensive. From preparation to equipment to coaching, I tried a lot of new angles and approaches. So instead of staying in the same routine that I have had for the last six to eight years on tour, I wanted to mix it up. 

Anything specific?

Everything from more foam in my boards, to working with different coaches, trying a load of different fins, and new fitness and training methods. I also was doing some extra studies away from surfing, (Kanoa revealed this month he was doing an undergraduate course at Harvard) so plenty was going on!

Did you ever feel that you’d maybe bitten off more than you could chew? It sounds like a lot to take on.

Well, all the change took some time, and I used the latter half of the year to dial that down. I refocused and concentrated on what worked and have been using the off-season to buckle down and make a plan. 

And what’s the plan? 

I think with the changes and the personal growth for the first time in my career I can realistically say I want to go for a world title. Instead of just surfing well every heat and trying to do my best, I’m trying to add some longer-term thinking and some real structure. That hopefully can help me be a world champion. 

Did the Olympics next year have any part in the decision-making process?

For sure. This is a massive year as we have the Olympics in Teahupo’o in August and the WSL Finals in September, which is a combo that only happens every four years. That’s why 2023 was the time to make some adjustments and work on a new approach. I feel I’m heading into my peak age now as an athlete as the years between 26 and 32 should be the best mix of experience and physicality. So that’s why I had to reset and plan for the next six years. It’s now or never. 


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