Kirra Pinkerton celebrates with Team USA after winning the women's team title at the 2022 ISA World Surfing Games on Sept. 24, 2022 in Huntington Beach, Calif.
It was a clutch performance by 19-year-old California surfer Kirra Pinkerton that propelled both her and Team USA to victories at the World Surfing Games.
After eight consecutive sun-splashed days of surfing on the sparkling Pacific Ocean waves, the women's team title belonged to Pinkerton and her U.S. teammates Zoe McDougall, 22, and Gabriela Bryan, 20.
Pinkerton hopped on the right wave at the right moment with roughly seven minutes left on the clock in the women’s final. She swiftly executed a stunning big turn maneuver. Her U.S. teammates exploded in applause, urging her on from sun-drenched Huntington Beach.
“Earlier in the heat, I had a left, I went too high over the back of the wave and ended up falling – so this time I tried not to push it too hard on one huge turn, but make a turn hard enough where I could possibly get the score (I needed to move into the lead),” Pinkerton told Team USA on Huntington Beach after her victory.
“As soon as I came down from it, I knew I probably had the score,” she added.
The rising star received a 6.30 wave score from the judges to complement her previous 7.30. The 13.60 winning total vaulted Pinkerton past three-time World Surfing Games champion Sally Fitzgibbons of Australia (11.60) and veteran Pauline Ado (13.00) from France.
“She hammered a big backside turn, it jumped her into the lead and that was huge,” said U.S. coach Brett Simpson.
“I was calm on the outside, but going crazy on the inside,” Pinkerton said, about the defining final heat.
Prior to Pinkerton’s game-saving ride and with the Aussie’s boxing kangaroo flag flying on the beach, Fitzgibbons and Team Australia appeared headed for a sure victory. At stake for the winning nation – receiving a first quota spot for women’s Olympic surfing at the Olympic Games Paris 2024, which will unfold spectacularly on the revered Teahupo’o waves in Tahiti.
Had Fitzgibbons finished first or second, the title would have gone to the Aussies. The American girls received much needed love from Ado, who overtook Fitzgibbons down the homestretch dropping her to third.
“I was aware of the situation before we paddled out, but I know that Sally is such a good competitor, so I put that out of my head and thought I just need to do what I need for myself,” Pinkerton said.
Pinkerton’s mindset, obviously, paid off.
Pinkerton notched 1,000 points for the victory, while the U.S. trio combined for 1880 points, narrowly defeating the Aussies by 65 points, and France by 145 points.
“I’m just so stoked to get that Olympic spot for the U.S.,” Pinkerton said. “To end it like this, with what I did for the team – I hope the best for whoever gets those spots and hopefully I can be one of them,” Pinkerton says, about three potential places available for the Team USA women at Paris 2024.
Coach Simpson showed faith in the young surfer from nearby San Clemente, who ultimately was the MVP of the event.
“Obviously, Sally being a veteran and longtime world tour competitor, so it was kind of a tall hill to scale, but hey, anything is possible,” Simpson said. “Kirra surfs out here a lot, she’s competed her whole life here, so it was a comfort factor and we were confident.”
World Championship Tour rookie of the year Bryan, the World Championship Tour rookie of the year, was knocked out in the repechage eight heats, but received 500 points for her efforts, while McDougall was ousted in the repechage six round, contributing 380.
“To have these ladies come in here and ultimately win the spot into the ’24 Games was huge,” Simpson said.
Kanoa goes big as Japan wins men’s title
In the men’s competition, it was Huntington Beach local and Tokyo 2020 Olympic silver medalist Kanoa Igarashi ascending to top honors, while leading Japan to the team title and punching their ticket to Paris 2024.
Team USA led by Tokyo 2020 Olympian Kolohe Andino, and alongside Griffin Colapinto and Nat Young, finished runner-up to the Japan. It was a comfortable victory for the Japanese surfers, who totaled 1835 points to the USA’s 1555.
“We were probably the favorites in a sense coming in, but we were right there, it was super close,” Simpson said.
“These events are long and grueling, and everyone gave it their all – the conditions dictated a lot, but that’s how it goes,” Simpson said, referring a week of competition at Huntington Beach, where waves generally did not exceed five or six feet.
Wave after wave, Igarashi, 24, continues to assert himself as one of the most talented, creative and thrilling surfers on the planet. His 360-degree spins thrown off the crest of waves elicited astonishment from both fans gazing from the beach and those watching from above, on the famed Huntington Beach Pier.
The well-traveled surfer Andino, 28, says team events are boatloads of fun and a welcomed change from traditional individual competition.
“Surfing is such an individual sport and this has been a great event and super, super fun, to compete with all the teammates, coaches and the entire USA team, and to have Kirra win it’s a cherry on top,” Andino said.
Andino vows to give it his all to qualify for a second U.S. Olympic surfing team at Paris 2024.
“I’m going for the world title next year 100-percent, so if accomplish that, I’ll be qualified,” he said, referring to the WSL Championship Tour title.
ISA President Aguerre on Paris 2024, Tahiti waves
Flamboyant, outspoken and an innovator of the sport, International Surfing Association president (ISA) Fernando Aguerre says Olympic surfing on the Teahupo’o waves in Tahiti, will be both a game-changer for the sport and the Olympic movement.
“Tahiti is one of the cathedrals of big waves, so I think it’s going to be wonderful,” Aguerre tells Team USA.
“The beauty is that we are not forced to run in all conditions – the health of the athletes is the number one reason why I preside over the ISA. I want them to be happy and healthy,” he says. “We don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way.”
Aguerre promises that Olympic surfing’s second time around will be a festive party on Tahiti’s breathtaking beaches, with the event being contested roughly 1,000 miles from Paris.
“There’s going to be an Olympic surfing festival in Tahiti, and Tahiti in itself is a festival with the Polynesian culture, so it will be amazing."