She started the season with a third place at the Australian Open. Then it was a solid fifth in her maiden World Tour event. She followed that up by taking runner up at a pair of 6-stars, and fifth place at Bells. Last week, she made the finals of the Commonwealth Bank Beachley Classic. All season long, she's been rolling right over the competition. And she was recently in the Wall Street Journal. So who is this girl?
It's not like 18-year-old Malia Manuel is a new name to womens surfing. After all, she became the youngest shredder to ever win the US Open when she aced the circus at Huntington in 2008 (at 14-years-old.) Born into a Hawaiian family steeped in surfing tradition, she was on a board at age two.
And now, as a rookie, she currently sits in the No. six slot on the Womens Tour, just below 2011 World Champ Carissa Moore and just above another rookie phenom, Laura Enever. But how about the amount of times she's come up against current World No. one Stephanie Gilmore? And she's held her off at the Beachley Classic and Margaret River. The young upstarts are proving a point this year and we caught up with Malia Manuel on Kauai to get a better handle on this giant slayer.
ESPN: So that first leg of the tour must have been quite a blur for you?
Malia Manuel: Three months flew by in Australia. I've never been away from home that long so I was anticipating what it would be like. Doing seven events back to back to back was a challenge, but I managed to stay healthy and it all was worth it.
Do you remember what you were doing when Steph Gilmore won her first title in 2007? I was 13 years old attending Kapa'a Middle School when Steph won her first World Title. She was already my favorite surfer by then and I really admired her cool vibe. Two years later, the morning after I won US Open, I got to go on my first Indo boat trip with her and the top surfer girls. I actually got to celebrate my 15th birthday with them on the boat.
So what's it like to come up against her now in pretty much every event?
It's been a challenge always having to surf against Steph in the early rounds. She is still my favorite surfer and it feels surreal I am competing against her. In the quarters at the Commonwealth Beachley Classic, it was difficult for me to grasp the fact that I was in the lead and needed to keep her from catching another wave. Hopefully with these recents results on Tour, I won't be seeded with her until the latter part of the event!
This year was supposed to be about Carissa Moore and Sally Fitzgibbons going blow for blow while Gilmore made her comeback. But the rookies are proving to be quite the story, huh?
Yeah, this year has been quite a stir up with the different results from the girls. I think it's cool to see everyone have their moment. It makes it so much more exciting but also stressful for the girls in contention for the World Title. I think every contest on the World Tour is intense. My concern is just trying to re-qualify through the World Tour and not have to do every single qualifying event at the end of the year.
So, I know you're a rookie but have you heard much talk on any new events?
All the girls are disappointed we don't have an event in Hawaii, especially since it's the birthplace of surfing. I know a lot of people are interested to see the Top 17 surf some good waves in Hawaii. So, hopefully we will see some positive changes in the near future.
Do you travel or spend much time with John John Florence, you both being young Hawaiians and surfing for O'Neill?
Sometimes I hang out with John John and the other O'Neill guys. They like to hassle me like a little sister. I try not to badger them back too much though ... I still want to be invited back to surf with them. Wouldn't you?
What is all this business about you in the Wall Street Journal? Are you making some big financial moves these days?
Iʻm not cool enough to know anything about Wall Street Journal yet, they just had a photo of me doing an air in O'Neill's new Superkini.