Former world champion Sofia Mulanovich (Peru) returned to the winner’s podium at Haleiwa today after posting a victory in the Op Pro Hawaii, the first event of the annual Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. It was Mulanovich’s first win since the US Open at Hungtington Beach in July. The 23-year-old, from Lima, had her work cut out for her today, clashing with the hottest rising talent from around the world in smooth but small North Shore surf.
Despite the red-hot challenge from rising stars Stephanie Gilmore (Australia) and Tais Almeida (Brazil), and an equally accomplished tour veteran Jacqueline Silva (Brazil) in the final, Mulanovich made light of the 35-minute heat that turned on some of the most consistent three- to four-foot surf of the day. Posting top scores of 8.17 and 7.67 for a two-wave total of 15.84 out of a possible 20 points, Sofia had the heat well and truly sewn up by its midpoint. Second-placed Gilmore needed a near-perfect 9.01 point ride if she was to steal the win. Gilmore’s total was 13.6 points; Almeida 12.46 points, and Silva 10.0 points.
Mulanovich earned $4,500 for the win and has taken an early lead on the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing Series ratings which is worth an added $10,000 for the top performing female surfer over all three events.
Second-placed Gilmore earned $2,500 and finished second overall on the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Qualifying Series (WQS) ratings, earning herself a berth on next year’s elite World Championship Tour (WCT). The Op Pro Hawaii was the final WQS event of 2006. Almeida, who placed third, earned $2,200, and Silva earned $2,200. Silva’s result today will more than likely ensure her a requalification for next year’s WCT; her final qualification is dependent upon the performance of a few ladies above her on the WCT rankings.
I really worked for it,” a worn Mulanovich said, having surfed through four rounds today. “I hussled out there. All the heats were really tough and all the girls I came up against surfed so well.
“I really like surfing my backhand and the lefts were definitely getting better in the final – more consistent. I’m super stoked to win this event. I love it here, I love surfing Haleiwa, and Hawaii’s the place to win!”
For Gilmore, her result today is yet another in what has been a sterling maiden year. With a chance to win a wildcard into the next event at Sunset Beach, she has had an envious season for a rookie 18-year-old.
“I was going for whatever came my way,” said Gilmore. “But being from the Gold Coast, I always feel more confident on the rights. But I’m working on my backhand and Hawaii’s the perfect place to do it.” The highest scoring rides today were left-handers. “Sofia found all the great waves out there. I felt really nervous at the start but after making the final there was no pressure and I’m so happy.”
The top local finisher today was 13-year-old Malia Manuel of Kauai. In her first professional event, Manuel was stunning to watch as she commandeered her way through to the quarter finals before losing to six-time world champion Layne Beachley (Australia) and Silva. Beachley lost in the semi’s to Silva and Almeida. Australian Jesse Miley-Dyer placed third in the quarter finals but earned enough points to end the year at first on the WQS rankings, qualifying for her first WCT season in 2007.
Based upon the final WQS ratings, the following girls have definitely qualified for the 2007 WCT tour: Miley-Dyer, Gilmore, Melanie Bartels (Hawaii – who placed =13th today), Rebecca Woods (Australia, =9th today), Mulanovich, and Amee Donohoe (Australia, =17th today). The following ladies have a good chance of qualifying, but their fate is in the hands of the final WCT rankings by the end of the Triple Crown: Caroline Sarran (France), Jacqueline Silva (Brazil), and Rosie Hodge (South Africa). Mathematically, Hawaii’s Leilani Gryde could also qualify, though it is an outside possibility.
The Op Pro Hawaii, at Haleiwa, is the first stop on the annual Vans Triple Crown of Surfing Series that runs in its entirety from November 12 to December 20, on Oahu’s famous North Shore in Hawaii. The Op Pro Hawaii is a 6-star World Qualifying Series event for both men and women, collectively offering $155,000 and critical points towards qualifying for the elite World Championship Tour of 2007. The Op Pro Hawaii requires three more days of competition to run to completion, and will resume tomorrow, surf-pending. For a complete list of today’s results, please go to: www.triplecrownofsurfing.com