If you can beat Gabriel Medina with a buzzer-beater air, you can take down anyone. That's got to be what is going through Kanoa Igarashi's mind as gets ready for the second-to-last event of the regular season.
It was in the semis of surfing's Olympic debut where Igarashi, starring defeat in the eyes and needing a huge score, launched a hail Mary air with time winding down. Stomping the landing, he got the score, beat Medina and went on to win a silver medal at the Olympic Games, surfing for Japan at Tsurigasaki Beach. That moment was, so far anyway, the peak of decades of work which began when his parents moved from Japan to California so their son could pursue a pro surfing dream.
Igarashi has called this Olympic semifinal "one of the most special heats of my career so far."
"Needing a nine in the last eight minutes of the heat against the best surfer in the world to guarantee a medal, the pressure was really weighing on me, but I knew it was a big moment for me. I'm so thankful the wave came," he said.
For Igarashi, there have been many stops on his road to glory. He has gone from a skinny kid who struggled to throw buckets on the Championship Tour, to a CT event winner, and now an Olympic medalist.
But it's time to recalibrate, refocus and get down to the business at hand if he's going to take advantage of the best shot he's ever had at winning a World Title. Igarashi, who grew up in California and raised by Japanese parents, is very familiar with the wave at Lower Trestles, where the first-ever Rip Curl WSL Finals will be held.
Right now, he's sixth on the ratings, but he's going into the second-last event of the year, the Corona Open Mexico presented by Quiksilver, with a lot of cards falling his way.
First, there are only handful of points -- 690 to be specific -- between him and current WSL Final Five surfer Griffin Colapinto. That's hardly some insurmountable obstacle. He has to be liking where he's at right now.
Second, current seventh and tenth-ranked athletes Jordy Smith and John John Florence aren't going to Barra de la Cruz. They would have been massive threats to his WSL Final 5 bid, but they are now out of the picture. Of course, he will still have his hands full when he takes on 11-time World Champ Kelly Slater and American Olympian Kolohe Andino in the first heat of Round 1 of the Corona Open Mexico presented by Quiksilver.
Third, Igarashi is a proven winner at a high-performance right: He took out the Corona Bali Protected at pumping Keramas for his first event win. Plus, he made Finals day at J-Bay in 2018 and 2019. The wave at Barra suits his technical style perfectly.
Anything can happen, but Igarashi has to be looking for a big result in Mexico if he's going to crack the WSL Final 5. If he's still outside the bubble heading into the last event of the season in Tahiti it would simply leave too much up to chance, and that's not at all how Igarashi rolls.
He knows what it's taken to get himself to this position. He knew that when he paddled out against the toughest competitor in surfing, Gabriel Medina, for their Olympic semifinal. And he rose when others would have crumbled, launching the sort of air that's going to win a World Title at Trestles, where the Champion will be decided in a one-day winner-takes-all surf-off.
Igarashi knows he can win at Barra, and he knows he could win at Trestles, too. Many surfers on Tour would be doubtful knowing Medina was in the field, but now Igarashi knows he can beat him, even when the pressure is turned up to the max. That's priceless confidence.
If Igarashi comes up against Medina, or Italo Ferreira, or Filipe Toledo, or any other of the top-flight competitors on the CT, he'll just think back to that moment at Tsurigasaki Beach when he ruthlessly handled his business.
The Corona Open Mexico presented by Quiksilver kicks off on August 10, 2021. Don't miss a minute of the action.