Hamilton hopes to build off strong week

LIHU‘E — Last week’s Telstra Drug Aware Pro at Margaret River brought some familiarity for Kaua‘i surfing fans, as well as a bit of a surprise.

 The more-of-the-same was the continuation of Malia Manuel’s strong start to the 2012 campaign. The 18-year-old Wailua resident breezed through the early rounds of competition before she was knocked off in the final by California’s Courtney Conlogue. It was Manuel’s second consecutive runner-up finish and should give the Kauian momentum heading into next week’s Rip Curl Women’s Pro — the second stop on the ASP Women’s World Tour.

But the surprise story of the Drug Aware Pro for Kauaians was the strong surfing of Bethany Hamilton. The Hanalei native struggled early this season, failing to advance past her first heat in her previous two competitions.

Those early-season struggles took a back seat at Margaret River. Hamilton not only advanced to the next heat for the first time, she won her first three heats emphatically before falling in the Round of 12.

Hamilton told The Garden Island that her equal-ninth place finish brought much relief after what had been a frustrating year. Hamilton said she’s had the misfortune of some bad waves in her first few contests, but at Margaret River she found some she was able to rip.

“It was a pretty exciting contest due to the good waves we got,” Hamilton said. “I can’t remember a heat I have had fun in in so long. Margaret River has power similar to Hawai‘i so I’m a little more at home here.”

Hamilton said she has never doubted her abilities this season. She said she’s been working hard toward her goal of qualifying for the Women’s World Tour, and that she hopes she can use this past week as momentum over the rest of the season. Hamilton will next compete in the Swatch Girls Pro in Hossegor, France, at the end of May.

“I believe in my surfing ability, but to pull it all together in the usual terrible surf is pretty hard,” she said. “I guess for me, I need to focus on being more consistent heat to heat.”

Before Hamilton competes in France, she will continue to stay busy — as she has for over the past year. Hamilton kept a frantic schedule last year promoting “Soul Surfer,” a movie based on her survival of a shark attack on Kaua‘i in 2003. While most of her promotional appearances for the movie have died down since the release of the film last year, Hamilton will be traveling to Japan next month for a publicity tour. In addition, she said she’ll be spending more time traveling Australia, making some more appearances on the Mainland and O‘ahu and attending her brother’s wedding before heading to France.

Throughout the travels and appearances, Hamilton said she’s still focused on practicing in order to keep the momentum from Margaret River. She said she’s working on her barrel riding and big wave surfing — all techniques she’ll need to master in order to complete her goal of qualifying for the Women’s World Tour.

“To get there I think it’s a combination of practice, determination and focus,” she said, “along with making heats and doing well in my upcoming events.”

• Tyson Alger, sports writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or by emailing talger@ thegardenisland.com. Follow him on twitter.com/tysonalger.

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