- WSL / Ed Sloane

After Kanoa Igarashi qualified for the Championship Tour in 2016, the surfer who grew up in Huntington Beach, California, had a big decision to make when choosing which flag to sport on his shoulder. Holding duel United States and Japanese citizenship, Igarashi was uniquely positioned to represent either country, but when he looked a bit deeper, there was really only one choice.

"It wasn't easy. So we weren't sure about this. But Kanoa said 'trust me... this is a unique moment.' It really made me think, so we decided it was Kanoa's decision to make." his father, Tsutomu, told Red Bull.

Without much hesitation, at the young age of 18, Igarashi decided to honor his heritage by surfing for the Land Of The Rising Sun. His parents, on the other hand, were uneasy about the decision, especially after moving the entire family to California to give Kanoa the best shot at professional surfing. That feeling disappeared pretty quickly.

"My dad was surprised because he didn't expect it. And for me, I looked at it as the ultimate way of thanking my family," Kanoa shared.

In his first year on the CT, with his family behind him, he didn't lose a single time before Round Three. Then, he ended the season with a runner-up finish at Pipe after taking down Kelly Slater. All the while, Igarashi was collecting a handful of QS wins on the side.

At the 2019 Corona Bali Protected, Igarashi celebrated his first Championship Tour victory at Keramas. The historic win changed him and his entire career forever.

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.

"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," Igarashi told the WSL.

Now in his fifth year on the Championship Tour, Igarashi sits right on the edge of the Final 5. Currently at No. 6 in the world, he must earn good results at the upcoming Corona Open Mexico presented by Quiksilver and Outerknown Tahiti Pro if he wants to secure a spot in the Rip Curl WSL Finals this September.

It's worth noting that all of these waves suit Kanoa's style. He'll be on his forehand at a sand-bottomed point break in Mexico (not too far off from the type of wave he won at in Bali). Then in Tahiti he'll be parking it on some massive backhand tubes (he beat Kelly at Pipe as a Rookie). And finally, Kanoa grew up in Huntington, so you bet he's ready for Lowers should he make the Rip Curl WSL Finals.

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