"That win has changed the way I compete, changed the way I train, and changed the way I look at myself in the mirror," says Kanoa Igarashi.
His life can be categorized into pre-and-post victory at the Corona Bali Protected. Before the win, Igarashi was a formidable competitor, sure. But he was far from physically and mentally prepared to beat his heroes and compete for a World Title.
Winning that CT event in perfect surf against the best in the world completely and permanently changed the way Igarashi viewed himself.
In celebration of "Indonesia Week" here at the WSL, we called Igarashi to hear about his history there, to reflect on his huge win at Keramas and to find out how he's been spending his time recently.
WSL: When was your first trip to Indonesia?
Igarashi: My parents always used to go to Bali, with Japan being so close. I think I was about nine the first time they brought me along, and we also went on a few family trips to Indo after that. But my first time going over to Bali to compete was when I was 14, for the World Juniors. It was my first time surfing Keramas. I was so scared of the wave. I just remember being out there and I couldn't believe how shallow and hollow it was. I never once tried to hit the end section, and I lost first round in the contest. I actually remember leaving Bali that year thinking I would never surf Keramas again because it was so scary.
Now that it has nearly been a year, can you reflect on what your win at Keramas at the 2019 Corona Bali Protected meant for your career?
It was really special. Honestly, that win changed my life - it was my breakthrough. You know, I had that final at Pipe my Rookie Year, but to be completely honest that result was a fluke. I surfed really well at that event but I didn't ever feel like a contender. I was still a kid. I was 18. I was just getting my bearings.
But at Keramas last year, I really put the work in, and with each heat I truly felt like I was building towards the win. At Pipe I was just trying to make the semis for Zeke [Ezekiel Lau] to requalify, but at Keramas, from the beginning, I thought I could win.
I knew I had prepared well and felt that Keramas suits my surfing, so to win it was this big, breakthrough relief moment where suddenly I was like OK, now I'm a World Title contender. I'd never felt that before. Not even close. That win has changed the way I compete, changed the way I train, and changed the way I look at myself in the mirror.
When we spoke last year right after your win, you said: "Once I won that heat against Slater in the semifinal I felt completely locked in. It was almost like I just had to go through the motions, I was so confident." Looking back, do you have any idea how you can bottle that feeling up and replicate it?
I can't explain it exactly but at Keramas I knew I had it. I could feel I was heated up and on a roll. But, honestly, it's almost as though that win transformed my mindset permanently. I don't know if I can keep it going forever, but the next time I compete I'm going into whatever event that is fully expecting to win, that's for sure.
Shifting gears: With the COVID-19 crisis, how has your mindset shifted from training for the Gold Coast and a full year of events, to having your competitive life put on pause?
It's a lot of different emotions. But it's so much bigger than surfing. There are so many more things to worry about that I feel like I'd be pretty selfish to think not competing, or not surfing, is the biggest issue out there right now. At the end of the day it's really just another reminder that mother nature has the last word in everything we do. Especially us as surfers.
Any silver linings for you?
At first I was bummed because I was ready to go. I had all my boards dialed and I felt more physically and mentally prepared than ever. But then, I've had the chance to spend more time with friends and family than at any point in the last five or six years.
Waking up with no alarm. Having breakfast and lunch with my parents... Those things seem so simple, but they've been really special for me, and they've relieved the pain from not surfing and not competing.
Just slowing my pace and appreciating the little things. On tour I'm selfish, driven and in tunnel vision, and in some ways I forget there are much bigger and more important things in the world than just surfing. So yeah, this has been an important time from me to take a step back and spend time with family, and I think it'll have me more ready than ever when the time comes for us to compete again.