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Pro surfer Kanoa Igarashi shows off skills in FIFA 20, welcomes pressure of Olympics

by Jason Coskrey

STAFF WRITER

Being stuck in lockdown and unable to get into the water gave pro surfer Kanoa Igarashi some valuable time to hone his skills — in FIFA 20.

Igarashi, who will surf for Japan in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics next year, recently showed off his PlayStation 4 soccer talents in a match against Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix as part of Play Together — a collaboration between the World Surf League and EA, which makes the long-running FIFA video game series. The project pits surfers against pro soccer players on the virtual stage.

Igarashi competed from his base in Portugal, where he does his preseason training. He was there when the coronavirus pandemic forced him, and many around the world, into lockdown. Unable to even train in the ocean, he passed the time with video games.

“I’ve always been a big fan of games, but I’ve never really had time with training and everything,” Igarashi said in a video of the match provided by the World Surf League. “I play a little bit, but during this lockdown, I’ve never played so much in my life.” His FIFA skills aside, Igarashi is a rising star in the surfing world.

He qualified for the WSL’s Championship Tour in 2015 and was the youngest rookie on tour as an 18-year-old in 2016.

Igarashi earned his first Championship Tour victory at the Corona Bali Protected, which was staged last year from May 13 to May 25. He beat surfing legend Kelly Slater in the semifinals and edged Jeremy Flores in the final.

In October of 2019, Igarashi qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, where surfing will be making its debut. Born in California to Japanese parents, Igarashi will honor his family’s roots by competing for Japan at the postponed games next year.

“I had the decision,” he said during the match. “I have a U.S. passport and a Japanese passport. For me, family is everything. I wanted to represent my family.” The young star also sounded excited about being one of the athletes to bring surfing to the Olympic stage.

“For us, it’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “Obviously surfing is not like football (soccer), but I think with the help of the Olympics, we can get to that level.” As for the pressure of competing as a Japanese surfer at Tokyo 2020, Igarashi said bring it on.

“I love pressure,” he said. “For me that’s why I compete. That’s why I do this.” He certainly rose to the occasion in his FIFA 20 match against Felix. Igarashi played with French club Paris Saint-Germain, while Felix used his own Atletico Madrid team.

The Atletico forward, a rising star in his own right, might have the superior real-world skills, but it was the surfer who looked more like the soccer star.

“This is different,” Igarashi said. “If you put me on the field, I’m definitely not going to be playing like this.” The match was part of an effort by the WSL to catch up with some of its athletes. With FIFA 20 already popular among many of the surfers on tour, including the game was a way to have fun doing it. The series also features a match between surfer Gabriel Medina and Real Madrid forward Rodrygo Goes.

Igarashi and the rest of the WSL stars received some bad news last week, however, when the cancellation of the 2020 season was announced.

“While we firmly believe that surfing is amongst the sports best suited for competition to be held safely during the age of unresolved COVID, we have huge respect for the ongoing concerns of many in our community as the world works to resolve this,” WSL CEO Erik Logan was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

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