Hawaiian Megan Abubo Wins Inaugural Rip Curl Malibu Pro World Championship Surfing Contest

Hawaii’s Megan Abubo convincingly beat Brazilian Maria ‘Tita’ Tavares in today’s final of the inaugural Rip Curl Pro women’s professional World Championship Tour (WCT) surfing competition at California’s legendary Malibu Beach.

Abubo, a 26-year-old seeded 15th in this event, dominated the final woman-on-woman match to claim the US$10,000 first prize on offer in the first stand-alone women’s World Championship competition on the US mainland.

Scores in the final reflected the tricky conditions, with Abubo posting a total of 11.50 points (out of a possible 20) for her best two rides, and the best single ride of the day, an 8.50 out of a possible 10 on her last ride. Tavares led Abubo after a six point ride early in the 30-minute decider, but the South American did not find another wave.

Today’s triumph marked Abubo’s best WCT event result in two years, and in the process she jumped from 15th before this event to 9th on the latest world rankings. It was her eighth WCT victory in 10 years as a professional.

“I’m so excited and happy that things went my way today. It was really hard out there because everyone here surfs really good, and it came down to being able to catch the best waves. The final was really tough because I hit a batch of seaweed on my first wave and went flying. It messed with me for a second, but I’ve been doing a lot of work with my mental state and I got past that,” Abubo said.

Later at the presentation, she added “I want to dedicate this win to my mum up in heaven, I’m so happy right now. I also want to thank Rip Curl for investing in women’s surfing and bringing us to a wonderful wave like Malibu. We weren’t blessed with wonderful surf, but that can happen anywhere in the world and we were lucky to get what we got.”

For Tavares, a 28-year-old seeded 8th here, today’s runner-up placing was her best result in WCT competition in 11 years on tour and earned her US$6,000. She also leapt up four places (from 8th) to now hold 4th on the latest world ratings, and has put herself in contention for this year’s world title.

Tavares, whose English is very limited, said “I am very happy to make the final, and I’m happy for Megan to win. Thank you Rip Curl and Malibu.”

Inconsistent one to two foot (half metre) surf provided extremely challenging conditions for the final 8 competitors today, but with absolutely no swell forecast for the rest of the event’s 10-day waiting period, organisers simply had to take what was on offer at the beach that was home to the original surfer girl, Gidget.

Tavares beat top seed, 21-year-old Peruvian Sofia Mulanovich, in this morning’s quarter-finals, and then toppled 14th seeded Australian veteran Pauline Menczer in the semi-finals, while Abubo beat good friends and fellow Hawaiians Keala Kennelly (7th seed) and Rochelle Ballard (2nd seed) in the quarters and semi respectively to reach the final.

Today’s other losing quarter-finalists were Australians Chelsea Georgeson, the 5th seed beaten by Menczer, and Laurina McGrath, the 6th seed eliminated by Ballard.

Ballard’s semi-final berth helped narrow the ratings points gap between herself and Mulanovich, but the South American is still the firm favourite for the 2004 world title after a sensational year.

Mulanovich had the chance at Malibu to become the first woman surfer in 26 years of professional surfing to claim four successive WCT event wins, but while that wasn’t to be, her victories in the previous three WCT events this year mean she has joined an elite group populated only by former world champions Margo Oberg, Freida Zamba, Wendy Botha, Pauline Menczer and Layne Beachley.

Australia’s six-time world champion Layne Beachley remains a mathematical chance to win a record 7th world title, though her loss in yesterday’s third round at Malibu makes another world crown extremely difficult to achieve. Simply, Beachley would have to win the final two WCT events of the year in Hawaii in November and December, and the five surfers ahead of her on the world ratings would all have to suffer early round losses in both the final events.

The Rip Curl Malibu Pro is the fifth of seven Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) world championship competitions in 2004, with eachsurfer’s best six results to determine the final 2004 rankings.

An entertaining sideshow after the women’s final at Malibu today was the Celebrity Surfbout. A fun surfing competition pitting a team of actors against a lineup of high-profile musicians, it was won by the actors, who were led by Dean Cain, a former TV “Superman, and Australian Simon Baker, star of the hit TV series “The Guardian and the soon to be released movie “The Ring 2. Run to highlight the ongoing efforts of local anti-ocean pollution group “Heal The Bay, the Celebrity Surfbout also saw the woman who inspired the original “Gidget movies, Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, make a special appearance. Official patron of the Rip Curl Malibu Pro, Zuckerman’s surfing exploits at Malibu in the 1950s inspired a series of Hollywood movies that helped popularise surfing worldwide.

A Hollywood nightclub, “1650, also hosted the Rip Curl Sand’n’Glam party on Saturday night to raise funds for “Heal the Bay, the group largely responsible for restoring the Santa Monica Bay (which is home to Malibu) from the world’s most polluted surf spot in 1969, to an area with beautiful clear waters and home to an enormous range of wildlife today.