Kanoa Igarashi On Why He Wrote a Six-Figure Check for a Wave Pool Project

Kanoa is one savvy surfer. Photo: Suguru Saito//Red Bull Content Pool

The Inertia

Through previous research during my short surf-journalism career, I’ve come to realize the not-so-clandestine fact that Kanoa Igarashi is one of the wealthiest pro surfers – if not the wealthiest. He’s the face of global marketing campaigns for multi-billion dollar companies like Shiseido and has his image plastered on billboards of brands like Visa. This is all on top of his endemic sponsorships like RedBull, Quiksilver, and Oakley. His level of national fame within Japan is only rivaled by that of Gabriel Medina in Brazil, a status that was propelled by surfing’s inaugural Olympics taking place in the waves Kanoa surfed as a child in Chiba prefecture.

The point is, Kanoa is one of the most financially successful surfers ever. He has some money in the bank. But instead of putting all his earnings into bland mutual funds and IRAs, he’s taking risks and getting creative with his investments. One of his latest ventures is a six-figure sum invested into a new wave pool project in Peniche, Portugal: Surf Parque Óbidos. The development, set to open in 2026, will feature a Wavegarden pool and holiday resort with 144 beds. In a world where wave pools are still seen as a rather risky investment, I was curious as to why Igarashi decided to go all in. 

Did you seek out Surf Parque Óbidos to invest, or did they come to you with a proposal? Why did you pursue that investment?

It’s one of those things where people talk and you hear about these rumors and projects. I’ve always been a believer that wave pools are the future of surfing. Obviously it’s never going to take over the feeling of surfing in the ocean, but it just makes total sense. It eliminates that one factor that we always have in surfing, which is getting skunked, or having to take a day off work and not being able to surf. I think the pools are huge. They bring in a lot of revenue and I think it’s great for the surfing economy. I’ve always wanted to be a part of something, so when I saw (this project), it just rang a bell and I went after them.

Can you say how much you invested?

It was a pretty solid amount. It was a big decision and I have an option for a follow up (investment) as well. It was definitely an investment where there’s risk because at the time I invested, a few things weren’t exactly approved, and obviously a lot of things have to happen for a big project like that to go through. Luckily things aligned after the initial investment. It was a risky one for me, but I’m stoked that I did it.

So are we talking five figures, six figures?

Yeah, six figure range.

Did you invest more because of your attraction to wave pools or because you really think it will become a profitable investment? Or both?

I would say both. I think pools are the future of our sport. There are so many unique ways to do a pool. And the thing about the pool is people think it’s a way to replace ocean surfing but it really isn’t. That was the first thing that I mentioned to them, like, “Hey, why am I going to put this money in?” I asked the hard questions first. They’re building the pool in a place where it’s 10 minutes away from the ocean, where I go and surf all the time in Peniche. It’s amazing how, what they explained to me was that basically you’re guaranteed fun waves. You can schedule your whole day around surfing. Luckily for me, my main job is to surf. So I wake up and if I have an appointment at 3 p.m., I have the whole morning to surf. And if the waves are good, I can cancel that 3 p.m. because surfing is my first priority.

But a lot of people don’t have that luxury. You work five days a week and maybe on a Wednesday you can get out of work early and go (to the pool) in the afternoon where it’s guaranteed. You don’t have to worry about the conditions. You go there and have an experience. And it’s not just the waves. You have restaurants, one of the best surf shops in Portugal, and fine dining, every type of experience that you would want in a small area. So that’s why it’s much more than just catching a few waves.

Kanoa at Teahupo'o

Kanoa will be back at the Olympics in late July. Photo: Beatriz Ryder//World Surf League

Are you going to be involved to any other extent with the pool, like as an advisor or tester, or are you strictly an investor?

They brought me in strategically as well. They can find a million other people with money that would want to be a part of this project. But they want to get the right people. It’s a really strategic list of smart investors. Obviously, with my experience in surfing, I can give them feedback on ways to market, ways to approach sales. I’m not just another number. So hopefully I can do my part in offering them as much as I can with my experience as a surfer.

What does your portfolio look like?

I have a pretty big portfolio. I’m big on investment. I’m making sure I put my money in the right places, and I’m constantly trying to grow my portfolio. This is maybe my third or fourth project I’ve done this year. I was a first seed investor in the Oura rings a few years back. Another pretty big one was TGL, a golf league that Tiger (Woods) and Rory (McIlroy) invested in. I’ve also invested in other leagues and growing leagues that have potential. (There haven’t been) too many things within surf, but mainly other opportunities that have arisen for me. 

Ok, can’t help but ask: Are you a crypto investor?

No, no, no. I have a few friends who do that. I’ll leave that to them.


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