Surfer Kanoa Igarashi said he intends to ride the momentum of last season all the way to a ride at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics when the 2019 World Surf League’s Men’s Championship Tour begins next Wednesday in Australia with the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast.
“This is a really important season,” Igarashi said in a recent interview with Kyodo News. “I feel the Olympics getting closer every day when I wake up.”
Igarashi, whose parents moved to California before he was born and raised him on the waves of Huntington Beach, switched his competitive nationality last year in a bid to represent Japan at the 2020 Summer Games, where surfing will make its Olympic debut.
The 21-year-old is the only Japanese set to ride at the World Surf League event on Queensland’s Gold Coast, which will be held from April 3 to 13. It is the first events on the WSL calendar this season.
Igarashi finished on the podium twice on the Championship Tour last season and ended 10th, his best rank since debuting in 2016.
“I was in good shape in the second half of last season, so I want to keep that going,” Igarashi said.
As Summer Games host, Japan will get one automatic berth in each of the 20-surfer Olympic draws and will have a chance to earn another. The top-10 surfers on the 2019 Championship Tour will also be awarded spots, although each National Olympic Committee is limited to two men and two women.
Igarashi said he has tuned up to perfection over the winter, noting that an important trend in the sport lately is “for a repertoire to include air techniques.” He has been polishing his acrobatics with a trampoline and devoting himself to mental training.
When he heard that surfing would be included in Tokyo 2020’s program, Igarashi said he “got goosebumps” and immediately set a goal to win a gold medal.
“I want to show everyone how awesome surfing is,” he said. “That’s my main motivation.”
Igarashi kicked off the competitive year in Huntington Beach last week, finishing fifth at the Jack’s Surfboards Pro Qualifying Series event.
He is looking to improve on his ninth-place finish at last year’s Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast and start the elite Championship Tour season strong in his quest to reach the Olympic stage.