SMALL-SCALE ATTACK: 14-Year-Old Malia Manuel Dominates the U.S. Open
A banana waving a flag that reads “Go Coco Go” runs down the beach followed by three gorillas wearing surf trunks.
No, we’re not watching a strange breakfast cereal commercial. We’re at the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach watching 17-year-old Coco Ho battle it out against 14-year old Malia Manuel in the Final of the women’s division. And maybe it’s the high-quality surfing in the water, or maybe people were already numb to the Open absurdities, but no one seemed the least bit phased by grown humans dressed like fruit and monkeys, running back and forth across the beach in knee-deep water.
Only at the Open.
And only at this year’s U.S. Open could you watch two girls under the age of 18 beat all of the competitors (including two former ASP World Champs and all 14 WCT surfers in attendance), to join one another in the youngest final in the event’s history. Although the surfing of both Hawaiian finalists was nothing short of phenomenal, it was Malia Manuel’s patient wave-selection and escalated confidence coming off of a Quarterfinal victory over current WCT No. 1, Sofia Mulanovich, that gave her the boost needed to take out Juniors champ Coco Ho.
“Coco could have definitely come out with the win, so I had just had to go for it like all my other heats this past week. And it was such an honor to surf against Sofia,” says Malia. “It was unexpected—Sofia was on fire the whole event. The night before I was going to bed thinking it would be a miracle if I beat her.”
Miracle? Not quite. The caliber of surfing displayed by all the young surfers throughout the event—the Coco/Malia Final, plus Sally Fitzgibbons and Bethany Hamilton making it through to the Quarters—was enough to get people talking about the bright future in store for the Women’s tour, and with the way things seem to be going, the possibility of a prepubescent ’CT in coming years. “Women’s surfing has definitely progressed the past few years, with Sally qualifying for the Tour already, and Steph winning the world title at 19,” acknowledges Malia. “But I think there will always be a mix of great surfers on the ’CT of all ages. I mean, you can’t forget about all the great veterans like Layne, Melanie, Sofia, and Chelsea. They still rip super hard…but there will definitely be some younger girls on the ’CT for sure.”
And with that humble respect and mature air about her, Malia accepted her win and flew off to Indo, trading in all the insanity of Huntington Beach for some empty beaches, completely devoid of life-size fruit, spandex, rollerblades, and dance-offs.