Manuel conquers Ford Supergirl Pro

Since winning the Women’s U.S. Open of Surfing way back in 2008 at just 14 years of age, Wailua’s Malia Manuel has been a steady performer on the circuit, first in Qualifying Series events and now as a World Championship Tour competitor for the past two years.

Manuel will celebrate her 20th birthday on Friday and gave herself an early present by winning the Ford Supergirl Pro this past Sunday in Oceanside, Calif.

Deemed the largest professional women’s event of the year, in terms of sheer number of competitors, the Supergirl Pro proved to be a dominant performance for Manuel – one that likely secures her spot on the WCT for 2014.

The 6-Star Qualifying Series event victory provided 3,500 points for Manuel’s World Ranking total, along with a cool $8,000. Those valuable points move her into third place in the World Rankings, behind just Australians Sally Fitzgibbons and Dimity Stoyle. With the top six in those rankings getting a spot on the 2014 WCT tour, along with Fitzgibbons being a virtual lock to take one of the other automatic bids as a WCT Top 10 finisher this year, Manuel is effectively in second place and fairly secure to make it for a third straight year.

This was her first contest victory since capturing the Azores Island Pro title back in 2011, another 6-Star Qualifying Series event. Despite not having a WCT win under her belt, Manuel finished in sixth place in the 2012 WCT rankings due to her steady performances and a knack for making it through the early rounds.

As a tour rookie, Manuel finished no worse than equal ninth in any event. She reached one final, finishing runner-up to Courtney Conlogue at the 2012 Beachley Classic in Australia. In her seven events, she reached five quarterfinals and two semifinals.

This year has been more of a struggle. In her six World Tour events in 2013, Manuel has reached two quarterfinals and no semifinals. Three early exits have left her now in a tie for 12th place in the WCT rankings with just two elite events left on the schedule.

But getting back to her winning ways and back atop the podium last weekend could be the confidence boost Manuel needs to finish the season on a strong note and enjoy what has been a difficult season.

“It felt good to finally have one event where everything came together,” Manuel said in her Association of Surfing Professionals interview, following Sunday’s Supergirl Pro victory. “I’ve had such ups and downs this whole year and I was really confident, but it just never all flowed in one contest. I’m happy it happened here and I’m looking forward to finishing up the year.”

It truly was an elite performance and against other elite competitors. From the Round of 12 through the final, Manuel faced nothing but other WCT regulars, defeating fellow Top 17 participants Pauline Ado, Rebecca Woods, Silvana Lima and, ultimately, Paige Hareb in a one-sided final by a score of 17.24 to 3.37.

The final two WCT events are the Roxy Pro France (Sept. 24-30) and the Cascais (Portugal) Girls Pro (Oct. 3-7). If Manuel can take the momentum she began to build in California all the way to Europe, she just might sneak back into the WCT Top 10 and make her World Ranking a moot point. But either way, despite a challenging year, last weekend’s victory appears to have the Kauai ripper in good shape for a third straight go at the highest level.

• ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in The Garden Island. Email David Simon your comments or questions to dsimon@thegardenisland.com. Follow David on Twitter @SimonTGI

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