Fourteen-year-old Kanoa Igarashi of Huntington Beach, Calif., became the youngest winner ever of the marquee Boys Under 18 division at Surfing America Championships at Lower Trestles on Saturday, June 23. Igarashi, all five feet, four inches and 110 pounds of him, beat Jake Halstead, who's built like a linebacker and surfs like a regular footed Occy, along with other rising stars Ian Gentil and Cam Richards, who both stand over six feet tall.
"He was by far the smallest kid on the stage," said Igarashi's Quiksilver team manager, Chad Wells. "The rest of the finalists looked like grown men."
How did he do it? By picking off the best waves of the heat and surfing them with a variety of aerial and fins-out maneuvers combined with smooth, polished, rail surfing. "He knew he had to go big to beat those guys and his linkage in between was really seamless," said Wells.
Igarashi, born in the U.S. to Japanese parents, is no stranger to the contest podium, having won a record 30 NSSA events in a single season. Earlier this year he also won a Pro Junior event in Florida, beating surfers six years his senior, but this was his first win at the prestigious summertime Trestles amateur event.
ESPN Surfing caught with Igarashi while cruising around Main St. in Huntington Beach a day after his win.
What was your strategy during this event?
I was angry at myself for losing early in the Under 16 division. My goal was to win that this year and I almost didn't enter the Under 18s. The only reason I did was to surf Lowers extra times. I wasn't even thinking about doing well against the older kids.
How did you get on a roll in the Under 18s?
I couldn't stop thinking about losing in the Under 16s, but I think that helped me because I started making heats in the Under 18s without noticing it.
How did you beat kids so much bigger and stronger than you?
I got the best waves and went 110 percent on every one.
What does this win mean for you?
It's pretty good. Brother (Kolohe Andino) won this contest last year and he's on the World Tour now. It's a good confidence booster for me for the next year.
What are your future plans?
Just surf a bunch, film, do some trips and have fun with it. Winning the King of the Groms in France is my next contest goal.
What about the world tour? What do you think about Gabriel Medina and Kolohe Andino making it there at 17?
I'd like to make the tour as soon as possible, but not until I'm ready. Probably not until I'm 19 or so. I want to be a contender as soon as I get on.
What did you do to celebrate last night?
Nothing. My parents wanted to go out to dinner but I was too tired. I've got another contest tomorrow, but I think I'm going to celebrate by playing golf on Tuesday.
2012 Surfing America USA Championship Results:
Under 12: Barron Mamiya
Under 14: Jake Marshall
Under 16: Jake Davis
Under 18: Kanoa Igarashi
Under 12: Sunshine Patey
Under 14: Meah Collins
Under 16: Tatianoa Weston-Webb
Under 18: Tatiana Weston-Webb