Japan's Olympic surfing silver medalist Kanoa Igarashi says he will be ready to challenge for the gold when the 2024 Paris Games competition takes place on the big waves of French Polynesia.
In a stark contrast to last year's Tokyo's Olympics, where the surfing venue was chosen for the smaller waves to which Japanese surfers are more accustomed, the Paris competition will be held in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, with its shallow reef and big waves.
But the 25-year-old Igarashi, who grew up in California, said he is confident riding the iconic break he first surfed a decade ago.
"The first time I was there, I felt very scared. I stayed for a week but could only catch a few waves," Igarashi told Kyodo News in a recent interview.
"But...I made myself promise to make riding those kind of waves my strength. It became a project. It was pretty much always tough...but in the last couple of years I am finding it much more comfortable. I'm more confident now riding there."
The Tahitian waves are a fitting symbol for the sensation felt by Igarashi when surfers caught their first Olympic waves in 2021.
"The Olympics was a powerful experience," he said. "I never imagined it would give such an impact. I realized that it isn't just a sporting event."
"I was proud and happy to be given such a chance to show how great surfing is....I'm looking forward to Paris, too."
In September, he won his first individual gold medal at the World Surfing Games in his hometown, Huntington Beach, California, to help Japan win the men's team event.
The result made Japan the first nation to advance to the Paris Olympics through qualifying. France qualified automatically as host.
"It was a special moment," Igarashi said. "When I won, it felt like I was standing on a starting line toward Paris."
Igarashi said he feels a special connection to the fans who get up early to see competitions, and hopes he can reward them with success on the pro Championship Tour and Olympic gold in Tahiti, where he was fifth at August's pro event.
"This year I got a good result in a very important competition, and felt I was on the right track toward Paris," he said. "For the next two years I will focus on and strive for the Olympics and becoming the World Tour champion.