Feature | Surfing

Igarashi Kanoa: Five things you did not know about the Japanese surfing star

The 2019 Bali Pro champion is primed for an Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021, but do you know which three languages the fashion star speaks?

By Aidan McKevitt and Ashlee Tulloch ·

"I was born for this,'' is how Igarashi Kanoa feels about surfing.

It's a love he gets to call his occupation, and wants to share with the world.

Surfing may be relatively new to Japanese audiences, but the nation's adoration for their star surfer is not.

Igarashi has been making headlines since joining the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour in 2016.

Since then he's gone on to become the face of the sport in Japan and become their golden medal hope for surfing's Olympic debut on home waves at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021.

The 23-year-old is a big goal setter and heads to Tsurigasaki Beach with one thing in mind - gold.

Having spent much of his life in the ocean, Igarashi is at home in the water, but don't mistake him for being simple guy. There is much more to the Japanese surfer than meets the eye. Here are 5 top things to know.

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1 - The Igarashi family move that paid off

Kanoa was destined to surf.

His father Tsutomu grew up in Japan as an avid surfer with dreams of going pro one day.

When he and wife Misa found out that they were expecting, they moved to Huntington Beach, California, to give their son a chance at achieving this dream and raising him to be a competitive surfer. He was quite literally born to be a pro in the sport.

Igarashi's father started pushing him into waves at three years old, and by the time he was seven, the fluent English-speaker had signed his first sponsorship deal with a local surf shop.

Over the next ten years the Igarashi family worked tirelessly to ensure that young Kanoa's pro surfing dream could become a reality.

In 2015 it all paid off when he qualified for the WSL Championship tour.

In 2016, at just 18 years old, Igarashi was the youngest rookie on tour, but his approach was anything but amateur.

He surprised the surfing community with consistently good results throughout his debut year, resulting in a runner up finish at the 2016 Billabong Pipeline Masters, one of the most iconic events in surfing.

Igarashi secured his place among surfing elite in 2017, winning the U.S. Open of Surfing at his home break of Huntington Beach.

His first Championship Tour victory came a couple of years later at the 2019 Bali Pro, and he rounded out the 2019 season sixth in the world.

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2 - An international man with a love of Portugal

Like most professional athletes, Igarashi spends little time in one place.

It all started with his parents move from Tokyo to USA. From a young age, Kanoa then began following swell patterns around the world, finding a few consistent travel locations to further develop his surfing. As is the case for most elite surfers, his winter home became the North Shore of Oahu.

The northern swells that hit the stretch of coast known as the “Seven Mile Miracle” are considered some of the best in the world, and to be the best you must surf the best.

For 10 months of the year, Igarashi now competes around the world on the WSL Championship Tour.

In the small windows of opportunity when he's not competing, Igarashi returns to his adopted home in Ericeira, Portugal. He fell in love with Portugal when he first started competing on the Iberian Peninsula, aged 18, and has since learned to speak Portuguese.

Igarashi has even purchased two homes near fellow Olympic-qualified Surfer Frederico Morais.

"The food is amazing; the people are so welcoming, so happy, I think the quality of life is really good," Igarashi told Portuguese Waves.

"I travel all year, I really know these things, when a place is good or bad, there is something special here, whenever I leave Portugal I leave with more energy." - Igarashi Kanoa on Ericeira.

In 2018 Igarashi chose to represent Japan as a way to honour his Japanese born parents, and the sacrifices they made to allow him to live out his surfing dream.

He has a strong connection to his Japanese heritage and at home speaks Japanese with his family.

3 - Igarashi the Japanese Olympic celebrity

While his name is still on the rise in western surfing hot spots like Australia, Brazil, and USA, Igarashi is already a household star in Japan.

At just 11 years old he starred in a Japanese reality TV show. Having had cameras follow his story and growth from a young age, it's not surprising he's so comfortable on camera.

Japan places a lot of value on their athletes, and as the highest ranked Japanese surfer of all time, the Tokyo 2020 hosts have high expectations of him. Nationwide his popularity continues to grow.

Igarashi's main sponsors in the western world include several familiar surfing and surf fashion brands, but his sponsors in Japan include a multinational skincare line, a cup noodle producer, and Visa.

Couple that with endorsements from Japanese airlines, soft drink companies, TV stations, a construction firm, and even regular appearances on Japanese reality TV, it’s easy to see why he’s become one of the most recognisable faces in Tokyo.

Igarashi’s status as a Japanese super star reached a peak at the 2018 ISA World Surfing Games in Tahara, Japan.

The Japanese team featuring Igarashi won gold, making headlines across the country. Before he knew it he was being whisked away to a secure location to meet Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who had requested a meeting.

After a helicopter entrance and a thorough security check by Abe’s bodyguards, the pair had a brief conversation about Japan’s Olympic future.

Igarashi told STAB mag, his message was basically, “I’m putting my faith in you. Japan is putting its faith in you to win Olympic gold.”

4 - Friends and family matters

If you ask Igarashi what's most important in his life, he’d probably tell you one of two things: the ocean, or his inner circle.

Kanoa is famously loyal to those close to him, and travels with his family and best friends often. Both are never far from his side.

Heading into 2020 he made a resolution to put those around him first as often as he could.

Posting on Instagram, Igarashi said, “I set a goal at the beginning of this year. A goal that I consistently reminded myself and emphasized the last 364 days. That was to be a good son, brother, cousin, grandson, nephew to my family, and a trustworthy friend that they can be proud of. Unlike my goals as a professional athlete, there is no scale to measure this as there are no numbers, but at least I know in my heart I did my best!”

Igarashi’s loyalty to his crew extends into every part of his life, even as a celebrity.

Whether that means surfing the north shore of Oahu with his younger brother Keanu, or shooting a new promo spot with long time friend and personal videographer Tanner Carney.

The duo film intimate behind the scenes vlog style videos, sharing the life of a pro surfer on and off tour.

Before the Australian leg of the WSL Championship Tour, Igarashi sharpened his rail game in Portugal. Check out the duo's latest video edit below - EuroStep.

5 - Igarashi's Hobbies

If you've ever checked out Igarashi's Instagram stories, you'll know he's a foodie. Sushi features often.

On that note, his social media is worth following. Yes there's the expected epic surfing, training videos, and beautiful travel images, but he also showcases his many side projects and thought provoking philosophical captions.

Outside of his job as one of the world’s top surfers, he dabbles in other hobbies too.

Igarashi also has a fondness of fashion. He's been to his fair share of catwalk shows, and is a luxury brand ambassador himself, making appearances in advertisements, fashion shows, and photo shoots.

When it comes to sport, he enjoys supporting the Los Angeles Lakers, Portuguese football club SL Benfica, and he’s even an avid supporter of F1 motor racing.