Surfest: Kanoa Igarashi keen to start new era under Japan flag with turnaround at Merewether

KANOA Igarashi wants to put Asian, and not just Japanese, surfing on the map heading into the sport’s Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.
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DETERMINED: Japanese surfer Kanoa Igarashi gets some air time at Surfest in 2015. His best finish at the event was a round-four appearance in 2016. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

And he can’t think of a better wayto start than with a win at Merewether.

The 20-year-old from Huntington Beach, California, has changed allegiances this year from the country of his birth, America, to that of his parents’, Japan.

Surfest’s World Surf League 6000-point qualifying series contest, the Burton Automotive Pro, will be the first event Igarashi has surfed in under the Japanese flag.

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The world No.18 has been coming to Surfest since the age of 15, when he lost to local Jake Sylvester in the pro junior (under-21) decider.

Despite now entering his third season on the championship tour, Igarashi has never gone past round fourat Surfest, where he is the No.4 seed this year after the withdrawal of Owen Wright and Adrian Buchan.

Wright pulled out on Sunday because of a head wound and Buchan withdrew on Tuesday citing illness.

Igarashi was determined to succeed at Surfest, a carnival he said was a turning point in his young career.

“I want to win it more than ever,” Igarashi said.

“Iran second in the juniors the first year I was here.I had an amazing event and such a good time. It was one of my first pro juniors abroad and coming into it, I thought I’m going to be against some of the world’s best juniors because has so many amazing surfers.

“I was able to get to the final and that set me up for the rest of my career. I was able to tell myself, ‘Hey I can put up good scores in different oceans’. It’s been a long time since then and I feel like I really want to win one.

BACK: Kanoa Igarashi at a Surfest press call on Monday. Picture: Paul Danovaro

“I’ve had really bad results here, but that puts more wood in the fire and hopefully this is the year.”

A bigger goal is flying the flag for Japan on the CT and at the Olympic Games. Although born and raised in the US, Igarashi has long been a prominent figure in Japan as their only link to the elite tour. He has his own TV show in Japan, which has followed him around the world since his early teens.

“It’s a really huge step for surfing,” he said of Tokyo 2020.“It’s getting bigger there. It’s nothing like , America, Brazil, but Brazil 10 years ago, it was tiny and now it’s not as big as football but it’s getting there and I think that’s going to happen in Japan too.

“I look at Brazil and the way they grew.They had surfers on tour, people representing them. They hadsomeone to root for. Then they became world champions.

OUT: Avoca star Adrian Buchan pulled out of Surfest on Tuesday. Picture: WSL

“I feel like in Japan, surfing hassuchgreat potential to be developed into a big sport but it’s just missing that Japanese flavour on the world tour, and I just really want to help there.

“And not just in Japan, but Asia in general. There’s a lot of aspiring pro surfers and to have someone they can relate to and look up to, and put Asia on the map, that’s what I want to do.”

Igarashi starts in heat 17 of round two against local hope Ryan Callinan and BraziliansLucas Silveira andRobson Santos.

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