Coming home

LIHU‘E — Hours after finishing second in the Commonwealth Bank Beachley Classic to California’s Courtney Conlogue Saturday, Wailua’s Malia Manuel took to her Twitter account and posted a picture. The photo, which shows Manuel posing with three chunks of hardware, came with the caption, “Three months in Australia and three bridesmaid trophies.”

It could be easy to confuse the 18-year-old’s stab at her third, second-place finish this season as cynicism, but three months into her rookie season on the ASP Women’s World Championship Tour, Manuel couldn’t be happier with the results she’s posted.  And after seven competitions spanning Australia and New Zealand, Manuel is finally heading home for a couple of weeks before heading to Rio De Janeiro for the next stop on the Women’s Tour.

The near 90 days spent Down Under were productive for the young Kauaian. As a rookie on the Women’s Tour, Manuel finds herself in sixth place out of 17 with four of the season’s seven events completed. Manuel has consistently surfed strong in her rookie campaign, with two fifth-place finishes and Saturday’s runner-up to follow last week’s ninth-place finish. Her performance on the World Tour has also been bolstered by two seconds and a third-place finish in the ASP Women’s 6-Star competitions.

The three months spent in different countries were a long time away from home for Manuel, but she said she’s coming back a better surfer than when she left.

“These past few months I have learned so many different angles about contest surfing and I embraced all the challenges that come with it because that’s where you can grow the most,” Manuel said. “Getting runner up three times makes me ambitious to find what it takes to get just one more place above.”

Manuel culminated everything she learned into the Beachley Classic. The competition saw her set-aside a low Round 2 posting of 10.20 to come back and defeat four-time Women’s champion Stephanie Gilmore in Round 3 and again in the quarterfinals.

“It was a feeling of relief to finally make it past the Quarters in a World Tour event,” Manuel said. “I kept matching up against the World Champ, Steph, and of course that was a challenge.”

Manuel breezed past Australia’s Tyler Wright in the semis before finding calm waters in the final. In a heat strife with flat waters, Manuel said it was difficult finding a good wave, although she said in order to become a champion she needs to learn how to best those situations.

“It’s really frustrating when you know the conditions aren’t optimum,” she said. “I guess it’s something you need to get used to and at the end of the day, the true champ has figured out the changing conditions.”

The second place finish netted Manuel 8,000 World Title points and boosted her from ninth to sixth in the rankings. Prior to the season, Manuel told The Garden Island that a good year for her would include a top-5 finish and being named the tour rookie of the year. Sitting at 22,400 points, Manuel is nearly 3,000 points ahead of the closest rookie, Lakey Peterson and sits 1,300 points behind the current fifth place holder, fellow Hawaiian Carissa Moore.

The next event on the Women’s Tour is the Billabong Rio Pro in Brazil, beginning May 10. With over half of this season event’s finished, Manuel’s surfing and current standing would seem to show the poise and ability of a non-tour rookie. But Manuel said although she’s on the downhill of her first season, there are still plenty of lessons to be learned.

“Since a lot of the girls have been to most of the places on tour and surfed the event a few more times than me, they know what to expect and how to adjust to it while I’m just figuring it out as I go. So in that aspect I feel like a rookie,” she said. “As far as surfing wise, I feel good. There’s always room to improve, and that’s the great thing about surfing: You’ll always have something to work on and progress.”

• 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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