Kanoa Igarashi slammed his hand against his surfboard in exultation before throwing it back in the ocean.
The Huntington Beach native delivered another winning performance Saturday afternoon on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.
This one, though, had implications for more people than just himself.
Igarashi, the two-time U.S. Open of Surfing winner, won the men’s gold medal at the International Surfing Assn. World Surfing Games. Surfing for Team Japan, Igarashi also helped the Team Japan men earn the team trophy, meaning Japan has earned at least spot for the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris in 2024.
“Obviously, the individual win is great, but to know that I secured a spot for Japan in the Olympics coming up, that’s such a special feeling,” Igarashi said. “The thing is, it’s not even whether I go or one of my teammates goes. Just knowing that there will be someone there representing— that means a lot. Honestly, I’d be more than happy to see one of my fellow countrymen go. Hopefully it’s not just one of us, hopefully there’s multiple of us.”
On the women’s side, Kirra Pinkerton of San Clemente accomplished the same thing. Her gold-medal individual performance helped the Team USA women finish atop the podium and book at least one Olympic spot for Paris.
Team USA also won the overall team trophy for best men’s and women’s combined score. Nat Young (fifth place), Kolohe Andino (seventh) and Griffin Colapinto (tied for 19th) were the surfers for the U.S. men.
Gabriela Bryan, who finished tied for ninth, and Zoe McDougall (tied for 21st) were the other U.S. women who helped the team earn victory at the event, hosted by Visit Huntington Beach.
Igarashi, who has dual citizenship in the United States and Japan, was the silver medalist in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. He was dominant throughout the World Surfing Games, winning every heat in which he competed, to help Japan’s men earn the top spot with 1,835 team points along with teammates Shun Murukami and Keanu Kamiyama.
The United States was second with 1,555 points, followed by Indonesia in third with 1,532 points.
Igarashi eased to a win in the 35-minute men’s finals, finishing with a two-wave score of 15.96. That was followed by silver medalist Rio Waida of Indonesia (14.04), bronze medalist Jackson Baker of Australia (11.67) and copper medalist Guilherme Fonseca of Portugal (9.36).
“This week I learned a lot about myself,” said Igarashi, 24, who earned his first ISA gold medal. “Surfing, usually you have to be so selfish, but I really learned a lot about myself as a person and how important it is to share that competitive edge with the team. A country like Japan, we have so many supporters and so many people rooting for us, we really want to win as a team.”
Pinkerton, 20, certainly felt like she accomplished a lot for the Americans. Her final win wasn’t decided until the closing minutes, but she managed a first-place two-wave score of 13.63.
Pauline Ado of France, who led for much of the heat, finished in silver with a 13.00 score. Sally Fitzgibbons of Australia followed with a bronze (11.60) and Danielle Rosas of Peru was fourth with a 9.20.
“I’m very happy right now,” Pinkerton said after being carried up from the beach. “Hopefully we can have the 2028 Olympics here now, because I want to win it here. I’ve just been envisioning this moment for like a week now. Every heat, I’ve been envisioning winning the heat. In the final, I thought I could get the score at the end. I just can’t believe it happened. The last three minutes went flat, and I was just praying that would happen. I’m just so thankful right now, and so thankful to have gotten a spot for the U.S.”
Huntington Beach native Brett Simpson, who coached the U.S. in the inaugural Olympics for surfing last year, made sure that Pinkerton knew that she had helped America earn an Olympic spot for 2024 in France.
She described the end of the finals heat as filled with disbelief.
“I just lost my breath,” Pinkerton said. “I was like, ‘There is no way this is happening.’ I actually didn’t know if I did win or not because I was too scared to check. I was like, ‘Wait, am I just tripping out right now? Did I actually win?’”
Yes, she did, and it likely fueled motivation for her bright future.
“I’m leaving for Portugal tomorrow for another contest that is going to get me closer in the rankings for the Olympics,” she said. “I’m just going to be fired up this whole next, like, probably four or five years. I hope I can make it there.”