Why the Japanese prodigy digs South Africa and how it kick-started his career.
Igarashi means ‘fifty storms’, or ‘the fiftieth storm,’ hence Kanoa wears the number 50 on his WSL vest. We meet up in his room in JBay about 10 meters from the contest site. He is friendly and accommodating. He is young.
I soon find out that he is wise beyond his years, and although I have never traveled to the island country in East Asia, it feels like a Japanese thing, and a good thing. He talks carefully, and he represents well for his country.
“You’re looking good bru,“ I joked to start off the interview. “Your boards look great, you’ve been ripping your heats and I’m here to interview you because I think you’re going to win the whole thing.”
He looks at me, to see if I was being genuine, which I was. I have either worked on the event or watched it every year since 1987. That was the year my good friend Grant Myrdal won it, then known as the Billabong/Country Feeling Surf Classic. This year I felt a winner in Kanoa from his first heat.
“I have a good feeling about this one,” said Kanoa. “JBay is one of the waves that really suit my surfing. It’s a wave where when I look at the calendar at the beginning of the year, I definitely bank on this one. This event is really exciting for me.”
“How about South Africa in general?” I asked. “You seem to be having a good time, you’re always full of smiles, and winning heats and enjoying yourself here. What is your vibe with this country?”
“I have a crazy relationship with South Africa,” he replied quite excitedly. “It’s easily one of my top three countries in the world, and to me that's saying a lot. I travel to a lot of places. Also, I judge places based on what’s going on outside of surfing. You know, you can go anywhere in the world and there will be good waves somewhere. It’s not that. It’s the culture, it's the food, it's the people and it’s the energy of the place. I love the energy that South Africa has, but I think me liking this place so much has translated into… Let me put it this way. South africa is the place where I have evolved so much. Last year I had that big semi-final result, after a lot of average results, and it kind of sky rocketed me to where I am right now. It has been a big momentum booster ever since that result last year.”
“Would you consider your career almost as starting at the seminfinal result last year?” I asked. “Is that when everything started moving for you?”
“No. It actually started in Ballito ( South Africa's major WQS event) in 2015,” he replied. “I also got a third place finish there that year. That result changed my life forever. I was on the QS, I was a kid, and I just didn't get any results ever. I thought about taking a year off. I was over it. I was with Snake already, and he just sat me down and said, ‘Let’s make this contest count. This is a big event.’ I made it through a few heats and I was so happy and then I ended up making it all the way to the semifinals, and that result boosted me, my confidence everything, and I ended up qualifying that year. I ended up going from 130th position to second in the world QS rankings. Ever since then it has been such a special place for me. Then I had a few years on tour that were pretty average, and then last in JBay that happened, and I made the semi-finals, and all of a sudden I’m in the top ten, it's a big step forward.”
“It must be a good feeling,”I replied. ”You come here full of confidence.”
“It is,” he agreed. “Confidence is key. It’s something about the energy here, it’s something about the people. I feel really comfortable here I feel like I’m at home here.”
“Now that you’re achieving these great results, How has you approach changed?” I asked.
“Well, I'm in the top five now, and you have to stay in the mix and you have to keep up,” he answered. “For me it’s just about keeping up, and taking down those guys that are close to me when I have the opportunity. You know, I can’t beat Filipe when he’s not in my heat, and I cant beat Italo when he’s not in my heat. So I’m just going to keep up the pace and strike when I have to.”
Kanoa comes up against Italo Ferreira in the fourth quarterfinal tomorrow.
Kanoa has a 67% heat win rating next to Italo’s 50% at JBay.
Kanoa has an average heat score of 14.62 next Italo’s 13.63.
Kanoa has a best heat score of 17.53 compared to 15.16.
He also has 11 excellent waves to his name in JBay, alongside Italo’s 5 excellent waves.