Kanoa Igarashi may get to live out a dream when the Tokyo Olympic surfing competition begins Sunday, but he’s planning to approach it like just another event.

The 23-year-old is not changing anything from what he normally does on the World Surf League Championship Tour. His routine is staying the same, right down to the number of surf boards he packed — 12 — the bag he’s using for his stuff and the clothes he’ll wear.

“I want to stick to the same routine I use on the CT,” Igarashi said on a Zoom call with reporters Sunday. “I was able to put up some good results on the WSL CT in 2019, so I don’t want to change anything.

“Before I came here, I thought about packing 19 boards, but that’s not what I usually do since I use 12 in the CT and I wanted to keep the same feeling.”

Igarashi is thought to be one of Japan’s best hopes for a medal in the first-ever Olympic surfing competition. The California native has three top-five finishes on the CT this season, including placing third in his most recent event. He is currently sixth in the CT rankings.

Igarashi will have a fight on his hands for the gold medal, with plenty of other highly ranked surfers also competing. That includes Brazilians Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira, who occupy the No. 1 and No. 2 slots in the rankings.

Igarashi, though, said he will not be spending much time worrying about what his rivals are doing.

“Rather than spending energy on that, I want to put my energy into focusing on one day, one practice at a time,” he said.

Kanoa Igarashi at the 2021 Surfing World Games in El Salvador | ISA / VIA KYODO
Kanoa Igarashi at the 2021 Surfing World Games in El Salvador | ISA / VIA KYODO

When Igarashi’s parents, Tsutomu and Misa, found out they were expecting, the couple moved from Japan to Huntington Beach, California, or “Surf City USA.” Tsutomu was an avid surfer, though not that interested in competitions, and Misa surfed as well, and they wanted to give their child the best opportunity to get into the sport.

Surfing suited Igarashi, and in 2015 he qualified for the Championship Tour. He capped his rookie year in 2016 with a second-place finish at the Billabong Pipe Masters, held at the famed Pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii.

In 2018, Igarashi announced his intention to represent Japan, not the U.S., at the Tokyo Games as a way to honor his roots. He picked up his first win on the CT in 2019 and finished that season ranked sixth, while the 2020 season was canceled.

“I’ve been practicing for the Olympics for about three years, so I feel prepared,” he said. “I felt pressure every day for about three or four years, but on the other hand, I think I’ve also gotten stronger. It’s nice to not feel pressure anymore with the competition a week away.”

Igarashi is in a good place physically and mentally ahead of the surfing event.

“Today my body feels as good as it ever has,” Igarashi said Sunday. “Lately my condition has been getting better as we’ve gotten closer. I still feel a little pressure, but it’s more like positive pressure.”

The Olympic surfing competition will take place at Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba Prefecture. Igarashi’s father was an avid surfer who paddled out to catch waves at the very same location in his youth — according to an interview with Igarashi on Redbull.com, his father and his friends discovered the spot. While the area has a special meaning for the family, they will not be around to cheer on Igarashi, as spectators have been barred from most Olympic events.

Igarashi expressed his disappointment about there being no fans, but also does not intend to let it throw him off balance. It might be the Olympics, but for Igarashi, it’s going to be business as usual.

“I’ll be able to have a good performance and a chance to win a gold medal if I just stay focused on the goals I have right now,” he said.

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