Testing Sharp Eye's New Kanoa Igarashi Model, "Storms"
Kanoa Igarashi’s transition from a limp-wristed teen to thick-legged warrior at the 2018 J-Bay event was nothing short of miraculous.
We could pick apart the details of that performance, noting how Kanoa’s turns looked bigger, his transitions more seamless, his speed up several clicks on the new Sharp Eye blades, but in truth, the greatest effect of this momentous board shift was on Kanoa’s mind. It was clear that by changing from his life-long sponsor of Channel Islands to Brazilian foam wizard, Marcio Zouvi of Sharp Eye, Kanoa’s confidence had ascended to Toledo-esque levels, and his performance followed suit.
Now, more than halfway through the 2019 season, Kanoa sits at number five on the Championship Tour. At one point this year, he was in second place overall. But perhaps most importantly, Kanoa has created a true aura around himself on Tour.
In other words, he's become the type of guy that you really don't want to draw in your heat. That is perhaps the greatest badge of honor on surfing's elite tour.
Tell us he ain't a changed man.
Kanoa’s has been one of the greatest competitive ascensions in recent memory, eclipsed only by Matt Wilkson’s meteoric rise and fall from surfing’s top ranks. But unlike with Wilko, Kanoa’s new level of performance seems sustainable for the long haul.
Now 21 years old, the Japanese-American appears to be at the start of a remarkably fruitful career. While a World Title is certainly on the table (even in 2019), Kanoa’s first order of business is to win the 2020 Surfing Olympics. It seems his destiny to earn the first surfing gold, which is an idea Kanoa and I discussed extensively in his recent Stab Interview.
But the Olympics aren't going to be held at J-Bay, Tahiti, or Pipe.
Rather, the 2020 Tokyo Games, Surfing's first foray into the convoluted world of Olympic sport, will take place at Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba province, Japan—just an hour or so from the nation’s capital city.
Tsurigasaki, or T-Beach as San Clementines are calling it, is one of the most consistent surfing spots in Japan, but its quality is that of any other suburban sandbar. Which is to say, it has good days and bad, but the bad days certainly outweigh the good.
And that's just fine with Kanoa. Having grown up in Huntington Beach, USA, where the world’s most average waves crash into the oversized pier on a daily basis, Iggy has mastered the art of making soft, flat-faced waves look sexy. That's how he won the US Open two years in a row, it's how he led Team Japan to its first ISA gold last year, and it's how he plans to win surfing’s first Olympics in 2020.
Which brings us to Kano’s new board—the “Storms” model by Sharp Eye.
The “Storms” model, which for the sake of this review will also be referred to as the Kanoa or Iggy model, is not built for CT perfection. Rather, it's built for everyday waves. QS waves. Olympic waves.
Featuring a flattish rocker, subtle bottom curve, and ultra-light PU build, the Storms model is made for speed generation, quick transitions between maneuvers, and an extra level of spark in subpar surf. It's somewhere between a shortboard and a groveler and ridden around, if just under, the surfer’s height.
I recently tested the Kanoa model in the most average waves I could find in Central America, which is to say: still pretty fun surf.
The first session took place at a wedging, right-dominant beach break, akin to Florida’s New Smyrna Inlet but with twice the punch.
Trying to find some of that Iggy pop.
When I received a slingshot from a particularly lopsided wedge, my attempt to carve back into the pocket resulted in the board flattening out, flipping over, and non-consensually shoving a fin up my rear.
Alternatively, on waves that offered a more gradual taper, the Kanoa dug in hard off the bottom and eviscerated the lip—once, twice, even three times if my legs had the juice.
And for those who care, the board also had great release and a dreidel-like spin rate.
The learnings from our initial tryst included:
Better top-to-bottom than rail-to-rail
Speedy but well-grounded
Not especially prone to bogging
Mirrors your own ability (aka, no major up or downsides, performance-wise)
Amateur carving cheat code: grab that rail, baby.
Let's talk about fins.
In the first session, I used the Futures R6 Legacy fins, with that ‘R’ standing for rake.
Rake, of course, being a feature of the fin that determines its tendency to turn on a pivot or an arc. More rake = more arc, meaning the R6 Legacy is made for sweeping carves rather than sharp direction changes.
With this in mind, and considering my session one analysis, which noted the Storms’ preference for vertical rather than lateral surfing, the R6 was not the ideal fin for this wily craft.
So I went back to the Futures fin grid looking for a more neutral template—meaning it had less rake—and fell directly into the arms old faithful: the John John Techflex.
The John John template is more balanced in its design, meaning it has no obvious bias toward carve- or pivot-based surfing. Its construction (Techflex) is stiff but not egregiously so. It’s got a Ride Number of 4, meaning it’s best at controlling speed rather than generating it. Essentially, the John Johns are never gonna whistle or skip, but they won't stop you from blowing the tail, if that's your kink.
I typically ride the John Johns in larger surf, but for whatever reason they seemed a logical fit for the light, maneuverable Kanoa model. Like they'd iron out the creases without smothering its natural pop.
Shall we explore sessions two and beyond?
Can't go wrong with some Johnny action.
Over the next several days, I sampled the Storms model in all manner of waves, from small and shitty to overhead and clean.
While it didn't love to grovel, the Iggy did provide plenty of spring over small plumes of foam and the odd flat section. It turned tight in the pocket and was quick from rail to rail. It would certainly make my smaller wave rotation.
In bigger surf, the Kanoa needed to be coaxed off the bottom but had no qualms about cauterizing the lip. I especially enjoyed this board’s ability to balance on the coping like a divinely-weighted seesaw.
With the John John fins, I noticed increased spray and spark out of the lip without sacrificing drive or control. On the right sized waves (chest- to head-high), my bottom turns scooped harder than usual and provided an unfamiliar acceleration toward the lip. Once I learned to anticipate this boost, harnessing the board’s energy became a unique but enjoyable challenge, as my standard timing for an off-the-lip would result in me flying out the back. Finally recognizing this trend, I shifted my transition a quarter second earlier and yielded positive results. More fins out the back, more speed out of turns, and the distinct belief that no wave was too fast for me.
A delightful feeling indeed.
The thing's got sting.
Overall, the Sharp Eye “Storms” provided everything you'd expect from an elite small-wave performance board and nothing more.
The Iggy’s sleek and unflashy aesthetic is indicative of its practical nature. You will find no faults in this design, nor will you experience much hardship in mastering its movements. This vessel will mimic exactly your own abilities.
And while it might not make you an Olympian, the Kanoa model isn’t a bad way to spend your sugar daddy’s weekly allowance.
I don't foresee anyone disliking this surfboard.
When you want to be cool but you're scared to scrape your knees.
We will now dissect the Sharp Eye “Storms” in five specific performance categories:
While you're not gonna bury the Iggy down to its throat, there's nothing stopping you from laying some adequate pipe on the thing. And at the end of the day, isn't that what we all want to be told? That our rail game is ‘adequate’?
Wondering if this board will float your sorry excuse for a boyfriend? Yeah dude(tte), it would. The “Storms” model is flat through the middle and has ample width up front, making this light, dare we say say chippy smaller-wave craft, easy enough for the every(wo)man. Just keep in mind it's not a true groveler. You will need a little push to get going. Which brings us to…
Waist to head high is where the Kanoa reaches its peak performance (which he'd probably hate to hear, but that doesn't make it any less true!). Any smaller, you'll forfeit buoyancy and the board will lose its natural pop. Any bigger, you'll be nursing bottom turns and catching fins between your cheeks (I’m clearly still butthurt about that one).
If we had to choose one word to describe Kanoa Igarashi’s surfing, sparky would certainly make the short-list. For this reason, wouldn't it be fair to assume that his small-wave performance model is bubbling with effervescence? True to its master, I found the “Storms” model has all the zip one could expect from a modern PU craft. In an epoxy build, I have reason to believe it would have enough natural verve to jumpstart a Prius.
I don't know if the board is Stab High worthy (maybe if it were epoxy), but the Kanoa model stays stuck to your feet and is soft in the flats. To be fair, a board this light was always gonna fly, but that extraction of weight also has a downside. In my case, it meant a hellaciously cratered deck and, on one mistimed aerial re-entry, a crease between the feet. But this is just the price we pay to surf like jaundiced, spastic versions of our favorite pros!