After becoming the youngest ever U.S. Open of Surfing Champion in Huntington Beach, Malia Manuel is sitting in Tapei airport surrounding by her heroes and friends. She’s sitting between Steph Gilmore, Courntney Conlogue and Coco Ho on her way to Indo for the first time. She’s just become the youngest winner in history of the most watched surfing event in the world. Needless to say, it’s been a good 48 hours for someone who was only planning on being in Huntington for a few hours. We caught up with her at the airport to reminisce on the past few days.
SURFING MAGAZINE: TELL US ABOUT YOUR WEEKEND IN HUNTINGTON.
Malia Manuel: Well, being in Huntington was crazy. I’ve never been to the U.S. Open in person; I’ve only watched it on webcasts and stuff. But it’s such a scene. I can’t believe that many people go down to the beach to watch surfing.
DID IT CHANGE YOUR COMPETITIVE APPROACH BEING IN ALL THAT CHAOS?
No, I just didn’t think about it. I focused on my heats. But it’s so crazy looking at the beach and seeing all those people. Coco and I were out there together, doing our own thing, but it was pretty crazy being in the final with her and to have all that hype.
TAKE US THROUGH THE FINAL
Well I got really lucky right at the start. I got a right that looked like it was going to close out but it just broke a little bit at the top so it had some face, so I got off like three maneuvers and got a 7.67. So that was a good start. Coco then got a 6.17 I think. Then there was a really long lull. But I had priority so I got one more nd got a six. Coco had priority at the end of the heat, and could easily have gotten the score, but the waves went flat.
WAS THAT YOUR FIRST TIME IN A MAN ON MAN HEAT USING PRIORITY?
Yeah, first event ever. It was so cool. It’s a lot better than what I’m used to with six people out. Priority is amazing, but it can work against you easily too. But for the most part it’s awesome.
HOW’D IT FEEL GETTING CHAIRED UP IN FRONT OF ALL THOSE PEOPLE?
Yeah, I got carried up by my team manager Karin and Garth at O’Neill. Roy Powers, Ian Walsh and Jordy Smith were all there, too so that was really exciting. I’ve never been carried up the beach, so that was a pretty crazy place to get carried up the beach for the first time in front of thousands of people.
HOW DID YOU CELEBRATE THE WIN?
We were staying in Laguna so our neighbors all came over and brought me a balloon and a bunch of cookies so we ate cookies and ate chocolate. It was weird because I really wasn’t expecting to make it many heats, barely thought I’d make it past 8 that morning, let alone a full day and win.
SO, IT’S BEEN QUITE A LAST 48 HOURS FOR YOU.
Yeah I was so shocked, I still couldn’t believe it and thought it was a dream. I was like, “I did not just win the U.S. Open.” Still doesn’t seem real. I mean I wasn’t trying to make history or anything, that’s not something you really think about doing. [laughs] Then the next morning I had to get up to pack for my first trip to Indo. And now I’m here in Singarpore…wait [laughs] I mean, Tapei airport on our way to Indo. I’m so excited about this trip. I’m with Steph and Coco and Courtney. I’m so excited and so happy I got invited on this trip. There’s some amazing surfers here, like Sally, and Silvana, and Steph, too. I’m so excited!