- WSL / Matt Dunbar
- WSL / Matt Dunbar

In each of his past four years as a Championship Tour competitor, Kanoa Igarashi has started slow, never finishing better than 9th in an event during the first half of the season. Not this year. 21-year-old Igarashi already has three 9th place finishes and a win (the first of his career, at the Corona Bali Protected), and is sitting at No. 4 in the world heading into Brazil. No longer thinking about requalification, or needing to back himself up on the QS, Igarashi is now a full-fledged World Title contender.

With the Oi Rio Pro kicking off on June 20, Igarashi discusses how he's handling his new role as the mid point of the CT season approaches.

Kanoa Igarashi Takes Career-First Event Win at Keramas
The 21-year-old becomes the first Japanese surfer to win a CT event - overthrowing Jeremy Flores in the Final of the Corona Bali Protected.

The World Surf League: What was it like going from winning in Bali, to competing in Round 1 in West Oz so quickly. Did it feel like you got to enjoy your first Championship Tour win?
Kanoa Igarashi: To be honest it's just sinking in now...now that I'm around my friends. There were only three days between Bali and Margaret River. I felt like I made the most of them but I was definitely in contest mode the entire time, so I couldn't celebrate how I wanted. But the last few days, seeing how happy my friends are for me and getting a chance to reflect and really soak it all in, now it feels real.

The first leg of the year was a two-month whirlwind. What have you been up to the last couple of weeks since Margaret River ended? Did you need a break?
I actually flew straight to Portugal, which is where I am now. It's basically a second home for me, so I'm really comfortable here. And as far as jet-lag goes it's just easier to fly west. So I figured it was better for me to come here than to go all the way to California, adjust to that time zone, and then fly back to Brazil a week later.

The thing is, going surfing for me is my break [laughs]. If that makes sense. Just going in the ocean, whether it's alone or with friends, is when I get to take a breath and enjoy everything. I've been surfing as much as I can, and I've also tried to turn off my phone and spend time with my good friends. I'm really just enjoying all the moments. I went to a festival the other day and that was great, it was nice to switch everything off and just go be a 21-year-old [laughs]. But mainly it's just important to have a couple weeks away from that hyper competitive mindset. To just go out in the ocean and not have to think too much about my boards or my surfing or having a bad session.

BALI, INDONESIA - MAY 20: Kanoa Igarashi of Japan advances to Round 4 of the 2019 Corona Bali Protected after winning Heat 15 of Round 3 at Keramas on May 20, 2019 in Bali, Indonesia. (Photo by Matt Dunbar/WSL via Getty Images) Kanoa Igarashi with coach Jake Paterson - WSL / Matt Dunbar

That said, this win [at the Corona Bali Protected] is the most motivating thing that has ever happened for me, and I still have Brazil in the back of mind every single day. So I'm definitely going to be ready for it.

During a long stint on the road, how much routine do you keep? Do you have a strict diet or do you practice any other daily rituals?
For me, it's about not having to rely on anything, and I think that's a strong point of mine. I don't stick to a certain diet, I don't stick to a certain training regiment, and so I'm flexible - I can do whatever I want and go wherever I want, and I don't ever feel like I'm out of my comfort zone. Does that make sense?

It does. Your routine is basically not to have a routine.
Exactly. I don't need anything in particular. All I need are my boards and good company. I left two weeks before Snapper, so that was in late March, and I won't go home to California until three days before the US Open in July. That's nearly five months on the road. That's Australia, Bali, Portugal, Brazil and South Africa. But for me, being on the road isn't tiring at all. I don't ever feel like I need to be anywhere else and so nothing is holding me back. That's something I've really worked on, being able to bounce around and live out of a suitcase and not ever get worn down. If anything, that has actually become my only true routine.

BALI, INDONESIA - MAY 24: Kanoa Igarashi of Japan advances to the semi finals of the 2019 Corona Bali Protected after winning Quarter Final Heat 4 at Keramas on May 25, 2019 in Bali, Indonesia. (Photo by Matt Dunbar/WSL via Getty Images) Kanoa Igarashi - WSL / Matt Dunbar

How much thought do you put into your social media? Is it something you enjoy?
I love that question, I really do. Because I want my followers to see exactly who I am. I don't want people confused between my personal life and my professional life. I know a lot of people have others manage their Instagram and to me that defeats the whole purpose. Social Media is a platform where my fans and the people who follow me see who I am and what I do. That's the beauty of it. You can connect directly with your followers. Whether I had 12 followers or 12 million I would be posting the same things. Social media is a hobby for me. It's fun. And I love being myself on there.

You've been traveling with Tanner Carney this year, a good friend and filmer. Are you guys working on something?
Yeah, we're doing a vlog project with Red Bull. I'm excited about it because it's cool to be able to create these memories for the future, and to be able share some of the behind the scenes stuff and things you won't see on the webcast. As I was saying, I want to be transparent with my fans and the people who care about me, and this is just another platform to do that. The first episode, from Bali, is coming out next week.

Three 9ths and a 1st, in what has historically been your weakest part of the year. How does that affect your mindset today? Does being in the World Title race at this point in the season change anything about your preparation?
Not at all. I'm gonna do the same thing because I've always trained and prepared to be a World Champion. It's not like I used to train just to requalify, and now all of a sudden I'm training for the World Title, you know? I've always trained to be a champ. I just think a lot of my recent success has to do with maturing and growing up, and improving a lot in my surfing. I'm growing and filling into my body, and starting to figure myself out, both as an athlete and as a person. It's a lot of little things adding up to make a big difference.

MARGARET RIVER, WESTERN AUSTRALIA - MAY 29: Kanoa Igarashi of Japan advances directly to Round 3 of the 2019 Margaret River Pro after winning Heat 2 of Round 1 at Main Break on May 29, 2019 in Margaret River, Western Australia. (Photo by Matt Dunbar/WSL v Kanoa Igarashi - WSL / Matt Dunbar

You've finished 9th in Brazil the last two years. What's your favorite part about Brazil as a Tour stop?
I love Brazil. I truly, truly do. I love the energy, I love the food, and I love the beach vibe. It's one of my favorite events on Tour and it's one I look forward to every year.

You said recently that you feed off crowd energy. If it's you versus Filipe Toledo in the Final in Brazil, with a giant crowd on the sand rooting mostly against you. Does that get in your head, or do you thrive in that situation?
Those are the situations when I thrive most. I love when people doubt me, or don't expect me to win. It pisses me off and gives me that extra motivation to shut people up. But, if you can beat someone like Gabriel [Medina] or Filipe in Brazil in a Final, you also earn a lot of respect. So yeah, those are the situations that make competing what it is. I truly hope I get that opportunity.

Watch the Oi Rio Pro live June 20-28 on Worldsurfleague.com, App and Facebook.

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