Oi Rio Pro

Kanoa Igarashi: All My Hard Work Is Paying Off

Anna Dimond

Kanoa vs. Kerrzy
In conditions that both the tour vet and the young gun handle well, it was Igarashi who came out on top. The victory was another example of the impressive moxie among up-and-coming young talent this year.

It's no secret that Kanoa Igarashi and his family have been working for nearly two decades to get to this day. But with the pressure on Saturday at the Oi Rio Pro, it was clear that he has the kind of steely nerves it takes not just to make the tour, but to stay there. In a crucial Round Two heat in which the defeated goes home, Kanoa rose to the occasion by outscoring his competition, Josh Kerr, to surf another day.

For Igarashi, the match proved that this year's young guns really are a different breed, confidently pulling on jerseys and unafraid. Minutes after his win, he reflected on what has inspired the sea change.

Rookie Profile: Kanoa
How the confident rookie went from grom comps to the big stage.

WSL: How would you describe surfing in Barra, at the Oi Rio Pro?
Kanoa Igarashi: It's a really different wave. It's hollow, punchy and fun. I enjoy surfing these kinds of waves, it reminds me of home a little bit. It's good for airs, good for barrels.

WSL: It seems like you and some of the other rookies on tour this year aren't scared to take on more seasoned surfers, like Josh Kerr. Do you think that's accurate?
KI: Yeah. It started last year, where a lot of wildcards got opportunities to shine. I remember watching Vasco Ribeiro and Frederico Morais in Portugal last year when they got semis and quarters. It was an eye-opener for wildcards and rookies that it's really possible for the wildcards and rookies to beat the best guys.

Wildcard Frederico Morais, on Fire
In Kanoa's view, heats like this at the 2015 Moche Rip Curl Pro were pivotal for the 2016 rookie class and wildcards.

It gave me a lot of inspiration going into Snapper and these events now, I feel like that's where it all started for the low seeds. Because normally wildcards don't get semis and quarters. And they both did that. It feels like the new generation coming up and I'm excited to be a part of it. And hopefully we can take over the world. (laughs)

WSL: What's been the biggest surprise for you on tour since you started four months ago?
KI: The biggest surprise was the amount of support we get when we get to each event -- especially here. It's just crazy, the amount of people on the beach, the media. It's cool, you feel like you're special and you've earned it. I feel like all my hard work is paying off. It's a crazy feeling.

There's a lot of pressure on the line when you're in the water, too. But that's all stuff that I'm figuring out. I'll get used to it, and hopefully get better at it and get better results.

Kanoa at Kelly's Wave Ranch
Being an FOK (friend of Kelly's) doesn't hurt, either. Just before the Oi Rio Pro, Igarashi joined a handful of other pros who got super-top-secret invites to the wave pool.

WSL: What do you think is different about you and the other rookies on tour, compared to those in previous seasons?
KI: I think it's this sense of, if one rookie does it, why can't the other? We're all pushing each other and we're all inspiring each other at the same time, at the same event. It started at Snapper when Stu Kennedy was on a roll. A bunch of the guys were surfing well.

Now it's at the point of, he did it, so that means I can do it. We all qualified together, we've all beaten each other on the QS. It's inspiring.

Catch Kanoa in the Oi Rio Pro Round 3 when the contest continues. Watch live on the WSL website and app daily through May 21.