Kanoa Igarashi will now surf for Japan
Overnight, Kanoa Igarashi announced he's switching nationalities. The world number 17, who has lived in the US his whole life will now surf for Japan, a decision primarily motivated by a desire to surf in the Olympics.
Igarashi holds dual-citizenship, his parents Tsutomo and Misa emigrated to America from Tokyo before Kanoa was born, and he can speak fluent Japanese. Because of this, Kanoa is widely followed in the land of the rising sun, often featuring in surf magazines proclaimed as Japan's first CT surfer.
In the past Kanoa has declared he'd like to compete for Japan, though when he's entered other team-based events, such as the ISA World Games, he wore the stars and stripes. Unlike some codes and competitions, nationality is a fluid affair in surfing, allegiance to one country doesn't preclude later allegiance to another.
Kanoa in the yellow jersey under the stars and stripes at the 2013 ISA World Games
“I am going to be representing Japan this year on the Championship Tour,” Kanoa told the WSL. “I am proud to surf for Japan. My parents are Japanese, my whole family is Japanese. I have a lot of support and fans over there. We do not have any Japanese surfers on the CT, so it is something for them to cheer for and have that part in the WSL. I am sure they are really excited, and I am looking forward to it. My family is stoked.”
Prior to Igarashi, the most prominent country jumper was Glenn Hall who was born in Umina on the NSW Central Coast but held an Irish passport by virtue of his maternal grandfather being born in County Cork. In 2010 the ASP agreed he could begin surfing for the Emerald Isle.
Unlike Igarashi, who has prominent Japanese heritage, Hall's decision was based on expedience; an Irish passport gave him access to the European Union - an advantage for a regular traveller. Ireland even made him an ambassador for the Irish Tourist Board.
“My grandfather on my mum’s side grew up in Cork and I’ve still got family over there. I lived in Europe earlier in my career and spent a fair bit of time in Ireland surfing freezing but awesome waves and catching up with family.
“I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool to represent the country?’"
A similarly pragmatic decision was made by Martin Potter when he renounced his South African citizenship for first Great Britain then Australia. At the time, apartheid made it difficult for travelling South Africans to enter some countries.
Other surfers to switch colours include Terrence and Joe McNulty, brothers from Southern California who surfed for Ireland during the ISA World Games during the mid to late-90s. When they came second at the 1998 Reef Big Wave World Championships they sent the trophy to the Irish Surfing Association rather than take it home to California.
Gopher sporting the Union Jack in 1967. And the get up? The photo was taken at the Bay of Fundy in Canada.
However, the most succesful nation-hopper was Rodney 'Gopher' Sumpter who appeared in The Endless Summer surfing Ocean Beach, Western Australia, alongside Nat Young. Gopher won the junior division in the 1963 Australian Surfing Championships, in '64 he won the juniors in the United States Surfing Championships, in '65 he won the opens in the Great Britain National Championships, then in 1968 Gopher also won the Irish National Championships making him the only surfer to be a quad-national champion.
Kanoa Igarashi has a way to go before he tops that feat.