The Free One
How surfing set Kanoa Igarashi free

The Free One
How surfing set Kanoa Igarashi free

The Free One
How surfing set Kanoa Igarashi free

A look at Kanoa’s journey from water-obsessed toddler to one of the top surfers in the world.

The name “Kanoa” means “the Free One” in Hawaiian — and the serene grace of the ocean has always set Japanese pro surfer Kanoa Igarashi free.

“I’m obsessed with water,” he says.

Today the Free One’s in Ericeira, Portugal, a beachside town 45 minutes north of Lisbon. It’s a European surf mecca with rocky cliffs and beaches less crowded than his hometown of Huntington Beach, California. Other than some territorial local surfers slashing his tires (which he describes with unbothered calmness), it’s a reprieve for Kanoa.

A look at Kanoa’s journey from water-obsessed toddler to one of the top surfers in the world.

The name “Kanoa” means “the Free One” in Hawaiian — and the serene grace of the ocean has always set Japanese pro surfer Kanoa Igarashi free.

“I’m obsessed with water,” he says.

Today the Free One’s in Ericeira, Portugal, a beachside town 45 minutes north of Lisbon. It’s a European surf mecca with rocky cliffs and beaches less crowded than his hometown of Huntington Beach, California. Other than some territorial local surfers slashing his tires (which he describes with unbothered calmness), it’s a reprieve for Kanoa.

A look at Kanoa’s journey from water-obsessed toddler to one of the top surfers in the world.

The name “Kanoa” means “the Free One” in Hawaiian — and the serene grace of the ocean has always set Japanese pro surfer Kanoa Igarashi free.

“I’m obsessed with water,” he says.

Today the Free One’s in Ericeira, Portugal, a beachside town 45 minutes north of Lisbon. It’s a European surf mecca with rocky cliffs and beaches less crowded than his hometown of Huntington Beach, California. Other than some territorial local surfers slashing his tires (which he describes with unbothered calmness), it’s a reprieve for Kanoa.

“I came to Portugal to kind of get away from that chaos,” he says. “I just wanted to just lock in.”

Deep house echoes in the mind of the world’s sixth-ranked surfer as he heads into the water with his board in hand. In this moment, the worries of the world — the schedules, taxes, obligations and anxieties — all fade into the background.

The Free One is free ...

“I came to Portugal to kind of get away from that chaos,” he says. “I just wanted to just lock in.”

Deep house echoes in the mind of the world’s sixth-ranked surfer as he heads into the water with his board in hand. In this moment, the worries of the world — the schedules, taxes, obligations and anxieties — all fade into the background.

The Free One is free ...

“I came to Portugal to kind of get away from that chaos,” he says. “I just wanted to just lock in.”

Deep house echoes in the mind of the world’s sixth-ranked surfer as he heads into the water with his board in hand. In this moment, the worries of the world — the schedules, taxes, obligations and anxieties — all fade into the background.

The Free One is free ...

Neon Yellow Rails

Neon Yellow Rails

Neon Yellow Rails

Some 19 years ago in Waikiki, Honolulu, Kanoa and his family strolled into a surf shop to pick out his first board on his third birthday. For Kanoa it was like a rite of passage. His mother, father and uncle are avid surfers. But surfer or not, Mrs. Igarashi would still lecture her husband for sneaking out to catch the waves during their family vacation.

“My dad was addicted to surfing,” Kanoa says.

As the family wandered through the shop, Kanoa came to a screeching halt. Behold, a white surfboard with neon yellow rails — a color that reminded him of the toys and cars he played with everyday. It’s everything he’s ever wanted ... but it’s also a staggering $800.

Some 19 years ago in Waikiki, Honolulu, Kanoa and his family strolled into a surf shop to pick out his first board on his third birthday. For Kanoa it was like a rite of passage. His mother, father and uncle are avid surfers. But surfer or not, Mrs. Igarashi would still lecture her husband for sneaking out to catch the waves during their family vacation.

“My dad was addicted to surfing,” Kanoa says.

As the family wandered through the shop, Kanoa came to a screeching halt. Behold, a white surfboard with neon yellow rails — a color that reminded him of the toys and cars he played with everyday. It’s everything he’s ever wanted ... but it’s also a staggering $800.

Some 19 years ago in Waikiki, Honolulu, Kanoa and his family strolled into a surf shop to pick out his first board on his third birthday. For Kanoa it was like a rite of passage. His mother, father and uncle are avid surfers. But surfer or not, Mrs. Igarashi would still lecture her husband for sneaking out to catch the waves during their family vacation.

“My dad was addicted to surfing,” Kanoa says.

As the family wandered through the shop, Kanoa came to a screeching halt. Behold, a white surfboard with neon yellow rails — a color that reminded him of the toys and cars he played with everyday. It’s everything he’s ever wanted ... but it’s also a staggering $800.

It all started from liking a color and trying to be like my dad

It all started from liking a color and trying to be like my dad

It all started from liking a color and trying to be like my dad

After some pouting and a dose of the silent treatment, the Igarashis caved and got him the neon-yellow board of his dreams, pushed him into his first wave and, unknowingly, started an illustrious surfing career that would set Kanoa and his family free.

“It all started from liking a color and trying to be like my dad,” Kanoa says. He still has that surfboard at home to this day.

After some pouting and a dose of the silent treatment, the Igarashis caved and got him the neon-yellow board of his dreams, pushed him into his first wave and, unknowingly, started an illustrious surfing career that would set Kanoa and his family free.

“It all started from liking a color and trying to be like my dad,” Kanoa says. He still has that surfboard at home to this day.

After some pouting and a dose of the silent treatment, the Igarashis caved and got him the neon-yellow board of his dreams, pushed him into his first wave and, unknowingly, started an illustrious surfing career that would set Kanoa and his family free.

“It all started from liking a color and trying to be like my dad,” Kanoa says. He still has that surfboard at home to this day.

The Cool Kid

The Cool Kid

The Cool Kid

By the time Kanoa turned six, he was winning surf tournaments and mastering the waves. Like his father, surfing became an intricate part of who he was. It wasn’t about being forced to train or pressured to live out the family legacy; surfing was as natural as breathing.

“It’s the only life I know,” Kanoa says.

But being a Japanese-American child in Orange County was a far cry from smooth sailing. The microaggressions from classmates, little phrases like, “Oh, you wouldn’t get it, it’s an American thing,” took their toll.

“I always felt like I was apart, different, separate,” says Kanoa. “As a kid, when you’re growing up, that affects you.”

By the time Kanoa turned six, he was winning surf tournaments and mastering the waves. Like his father, surfing became an intricate part of who he was. It wasn’t about being forced to train or pressured to live out the family legacy; surfing was as natural as breathing.

“It’s the only life I know,” Kanoa says.

But being a Japanese-American child in Orange County was a far cry from smooth sailing. The microaggressions from classmates, little phrases like, “Oh, you wouldn’t get it, it’s an American thing,” took their toll.

“I always felt like I was apart, different, separate,” says Kanoa. “As a kid, when you’re growing up, that affects you.”

By the time Kanoa turned six, he was winning surf tournaments and mastering the waves. Like his father, surfing became an intricate part of who he was. It wasn’t about being forced to train or pressured to live out the family legacy; surfing was as natural as breathing.

“It’s the only life I know,” Kanoa says.

But being a Japanese-American child in Orange County was a far cry from smooth sailing. The microaggressions from classmates, little phrases like, “Oh, you wouldn’t get it, it’s an American thing,” took their toll.

“I always felt like I was apart, different, separate,” says Kanoa. “As a kid, when you’re growing up, that affects you.”

You’re not thinking about being a world champion or having surfing be your job at six years old. All you’re trying to do is be the coolest kid in your class.

You’re not thinking about being a world champion or having surfing be your job at six years old. All you’re trying to do is be the coolest kid in your class.

You’re not thinking about being a world champion or having surfing be your job at six years old. All you’re trying to do is be the coolest kid in your class.

The tide changed once word of Kanoa’s surfing prowess spread. The endless stream of trophies he’d bring to show and tell. The local news feature. The month long trip to Australia. All of it made him “cool.” It set him free from alienation.

“You’re not thinking about being a world champion or having surfing be your job at six years old,” says Kanoa. “All you’re trying to do is be the coolest kid in your class.”

His father taught him to love surfing. The praise of classmates taught him to love winning. He remembers wishing there were more tournaments so he could win those too.

In his early teens things ramped up to another level. He gained sponsors, signed his first major apparel deal, traveled the world, won more tournaments, and climbed the ranks from amateur to professional.

By the time he was 17, he bought his first house.

“The ocean and a piece of foam has really provided for myself and my family.”

The tide changed once word of Kanoa’s surfing prowess spread. The endless stream of trophies he’d bring to show and tell. The local news feature. The month long trip to Australia. All of it made him “cool.” It set him free from alienation.

“You’re not thinking about being a world champion or having surfing be your job at six years old,” says Kanoa. “All you’re trying to do is be the coolest kid in your class.”

His father taught him to love surfing. The praise of classmates taught him to love winning. He remembers wishing there were more tournaments so he could win those too.

In his early teens things ramped up to another level. He gained sponsors, signed his first major apparel deal, traveled the world, won more tournaments, and climbed the ranks from amateur to professional.

By the time he was 17, he bought his first house.

“The ocean and a piece of foam has really provided for myself and my family.”

The tide changed once word of Kanoa’s surfing prowess spread. The endless stream of trophies he’d bring to show and tell. The local news feature. The month long trip to Australia. All of it made him “cool.” It set him free from alienation.

“You’re not thinking about being a world champion or having surfing be your job at six years old,” says Kanoa. “All you’re trying to do is be the coolest kid in your class.”

His father taught him to love surfing. The praise of classmates taught him to love winning. He remembers wishing there were more tournaments so he could win those too.

In his early teens things ramped up to another level. He gained sponsors, signed his first major apparel deal, traveled the world, won more tournaments, and climbed the ranks from amateur to professional.

By the time he was 17, he bought his first house.

“The ocean and a piece of foam has really provided for myself and my family.”

Japanese Pride

Japanese Pride

Japanese Pride

Though he was born and raised in the United States, will be representing Japan in Tokyo 2021. What once served as an obstacle to acceptance now fills him with honor.

“I’m so proud to be different. I’m so proud to represent Japan in American society,” he says. “At all times I’m asking myself, ‘Am I setting a good example for my sport, for my country, for my family?’”

Though he was born and raised in the United States, will be representing Japan in Tokyo 2021. What once served as an obstacle to acceptance now fills him with honor.

“I’m so proud to be different. I’m so proud to represent Japan in American society,” he says. “At all times I’m asking myself, ‘Am I setting a good example for my sport, for my country, for my family?’”

Though he was born and raised in the United States, will be representing Japan in Tokyo 2021. What once served as an obstacle to acceptance now fills him with honor.

“I’m so proud to be different. I’m so proud to represent Japan in American society,” he says. “At all times I’m asking myself, ‘Am I setting a good example for my sport, for my country, for my family?’”

I’m so proud to be different. I’m so proud to represent Japan in American society.

I’m so proud to be different. I’m so proud to represent Japan in American society.

I’m so proud to be different. I’m so proud to represent Japan in American society.

Kanoa says his Japanese heritage taught him his attention to detail, and his American upbringing taught him his hustle and strong will.

But the ocean taught him humility. Through it all, from his days as a water-loving toddler, to navigating his identity, all the way to his ascension into stardom, it was the ocean that helped the Free One stay free.

“Whatever person I am, it’s because of surfing,” he says. “It’s taught me a lot about being grateful.”

Kanoa says his Japanese heritage taught him his attention to detail, and his American upbringing taught him his hustle and strong will.

But the ocean taught him humility. Through it all, from his days as a water-loving toddler, to navigating his identity, all the way to his ascension into stardom, it was the ocean that helped the Free One stay free.

“Whatever person I am, it’s because of surfing,” he says. “It’s taught me a lot about being grateful.”

Kanoa says his Japanese heritage taught him his attention to detail, and his American upbringing taught him his hustle and strong will.

But the ocean taught him humility. Through it all, from his days as a water-loving toddler, to navigating his identity, all the way to his ascension into stardom, it was the ocean that helped the Free One stay free.

“Whatever person I am, it’s because of surfing,” he says. “It’s taught me a lot about being grateful.”

The product behind the story

The product behind the story

The product behind the story