Less than two years ago, Kanoa Igarashi was just beginning to climb the Qualifying Series ranks with his first-ever win at the Shoe City Pro. On Sunday, the full cycle was completed with a masterful second title as a hometown favorite in the 2017 edition of the Shoe City Pro QS1,000.
"It's amazing when you set your eyes on something and get to accomplish it -- this year couldn't have started better. I've gotten to spend some time with my family and the people I love with a chance to do the contest so I'm feeling really good mentally and physically. Winning this contest the first time I was an underdog and got on a roll as a young kid not thinking I was going to win it. It's crazy coming back two years later as a favorite with different kind of pressures, but getting that chair up the beach was like déjà vu."
It was no easy road for Igarashi who posted the event's highest single-scoring wave of a 9.50 in the Semifinals over an in-form Ian Crane before moving into his final bout with event dark horse and giant killer, Takumi Nakamura. Although Kanoa's win is just a stepping-stone for his 2017 season on the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour (CT), the stacked field of QS warriors was more than enough to keep him on his toes.
"I know these guys are Top 100 surfers and they were going to come out hungry since it's a regional event. It means a lot to them in that way which makes them even more dangerous, but at the end of the day I came to compete and give it my all. I'm just excited to come away with a win here and get everything started off right."
Runner-up Takumi Nakamura couldn't have dreamt a better start to his 2017 campaign -- not losing a single heat until Round Five where he earned runner-up behind Brett Simpson. But the Japan native got his payback with a Semifinal win over Simpson before taking on Igaraashi in the Final. Nakamura finished at No. 133 on the QS last year and will be looking to build a lot of confidence, and momentum, out of this placing to start the year.
"I'm so happy to have made that final after battling with one of the top seeds here, there's no other way I would've liked to have done it. Matching up with Kanoa [Igarashi] in the Final was incredible and so stoked to have put up a fight against him. That was an incredible experience surfing against two CT guys back-to-back and helped get some confidence moving forward into the rest of the year."
Nakamura's excellent choice of waves eliminated the hometown crowd's chance of witnessing two of their own go head-to-head as Brett Simpson's run was ended in the Semifinals after a great event. The two traded three showdowns with Nakamura coming out 2-1. But Simpson's outlook remains bright and light-hearted as he prepares to make his requalification hopes a reality by season's end.
"It's always a little frustrating to lose right before the Final, especially because I wanted to surf against Kanoa so bad -- would've been super fun way to end this one. I felt good rhythm throughout this event and it was great to get some heat cardio in. You can freesurf all you want and feel good, but when you're in a heat, your heart's pounding the whole time and it takes all of your focus. After a few months off it's good to get that going again and I'm ready for
Ian Crane fell victim to Igarashi's sweep of the Shoe City Pro, but not before taking some big scalps of his own -- including 2016 North America QS Champ Kilian Garland in Round 5. With the first event out of the way and an equal 3rd to boast, Crane now has his eyes set on a fully loaded spring to start the year.
"It was great to feel like I was being smart out there and to put that into a heat. Now I'll get set for a trip up the coast with O'Neil and stoked on that to get my mind in the right space before heading over to the Volcom Pipe Pro. It's good to get this first event in and test the waters to see what I'm doing right, and what I'm doing wrong. Definitely not happy I lost and I'm ready to go after another contest with some fire."