Kanoa Igarashi might not be the best American surfer in the world, but he’s the best Japanese surfer. Now, effectively immediately, in world and Olympic events, Igarashi will represent Japan in instead of the good ol’ U.S. of A.
Back in February, Igarashi decided he’d be representing Japan for the 2018 WSL season. “I am going to be representing Japan this year on the Championship Tour,” Igarashi said at the time. “I am proud to surf for Japan. My parents are Japanese, my whole family is Japanese. I have a lot of support and fans over there. We do not have any Japanese surfers on the CT, so it is something for them to cheer for and have that part in the WSL. I am sure they are really excited, and I am looking forward to it. My family is stoked.”
Igarashi, who holds citizenships from Japan and the United States, was born in Santa Monica to Japanse immigrant parents. After a formal review process from the International Surfing Association—which is recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the governing authority for surfing—he was approved to switch nations on the Olympic stage. That means, of course, that he’ll likely be representing Japan in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The qualification process is a little complicated, but here it is in a nutshell, straight from the horse’s (the ISA/IOC) mouth:
-20 men, 20 women.
-Maximum of 2 surfers per gender per National Olympic Committee (NOC).
-Qualification spots will be earned on an individual basis, by name.
-In accordance with IOC guidelines, the qualification events have been determined in hierarchical order of qualification, as further explained below; If two surfers of a gender have qualified through the first hierarchical order, that NOC will not be able to qualify more surfers of that gender through qualifying events lower in hierarchical order.
-All surfers selected by their respective National Federations for their national teams must participate in 2019 and 2020 ISA World Surfing Games in order to be eligible for Olympic qualification. The final details of the eligibility requirements are still under review by the ISA and the IOC.
The hierarchical order of qualification will be as follows:
1. 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour: First 10 eligible men and first 8 eligible women.
2. 2020 ISA World Surfing Games: First 4 eligible men and first 6 eligible women.
3. 2019 ISA World Surfing Games: 4 men and 4 women selected based on their continent. Top finishing eligible surfer of each gender from Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
4. 2019 Pan American Games: First eligible man and first eligible woman in the surfing competitions.
5. Host nation slot: One man and one woman slot will be guaranteed for the host nation of Japan, unless already filled through the above hierarchies. Should athletes from Japan qualify regularly, their slots will be reallocated to the highest ranked eligible surfers from the 2020 World Surfing Games.
In principle, the agreement will see up to 18 of the 40 places at the Games reserved for WSL Championship Tour (CT) surfers (10 men and eight women), with the remaining 22 places determined at the 2019 and 2020 ISA World Surfing Games, the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, and a single slot (each for men and women) for the host nation (Japan).
Did you get all that? Probably not, but aside from the chance to represent a country that doesn’t have a lot of representation in surfing, it’ll be a lot easier for Igarashi to surf in the Olympics if he’s representing Japan instead of the United States.
“Kanoa will be a very strong addition to team Japan and surely a strong favorite to represent the host country when surfing makes its Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games,” ISA President Fernando Aguerre said in a statement. “I think it is safe to say there are more medals on the horizon for team Japan with the incorporation of Kanoa’s skill, drive and leadership.”