Thursday, December 5 (Turtle Bay, Oahu, Hawaii) Australian Pauline Menczer today won the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) 2002 World Qualifying Series (WQS). The year ending 4-Star rated Turtle Bay Resort Women’s Pro concluded this afternoon, with positions for the 2003 elite World Championship Tour (WCT) also secured.
Menczer, who won a world amateur title in 1988, climbed the elite ranks to win her maiden professional crown in 1993. At 32, she remains one of the sports most successful and colorful characters. Despite suffering severe arthritis for many years, the tour veteran continues to perform at the highest level, generally surviving off her prizemoney earnings alone, since she has been without sponsorship support for the majority of her illustrious career.
Having created a strong position for herself on the 2002 WQS tour following victory at Huntington Beach, California earlier this year, she then solidified her lead with another win in France the following month. Going into this week’s tournament her crowning was under jeopardy from rising star Sofia Mulanovich (Peru), who could have overtaken the ratings by placing first today. While the Peruvian surfed brilliantly to reach the final, she ultimately placed third and therefore runner-up on the WQS.
“I’m getting all emotional now,” admitted Menczer, once the final was over and her position was rock solid. “I’ve won a world amateur title (1988) and world professional title (1993), so I felt like it was something I had to try and win also. After winning the US Open of Surfing event in America I really set my sights on it, and then I won another tournament in France this year. I was feeling pretty confident there, but when it came to Haleiwa (Hawaii, two weeks ago) I was a bit worried ’cause I lost early and found out Sofia still had a chance. Just made it all the more nerve-racking, but I’m stoked I had the lead and still won at the end. It would have been a disappointing way to lose.
“I’m really keen to do well there,” she added, of the final Billabong Pro WCT on Maui this coming week. “I don’t have any sponsors at the moment, so it would be nice to have some money during the upcoming break and leading into next year. That’d be good.”
Mulanovich, 19, has been hailed a future champion for years and only narrowly missed out on qualifying for the WCT last season. This year her determination and abundance of talent shone through, most notably by clinching her first professional title in Durban, South Africa. Ambitious to the end, she put in a concerted effort today but had to settle with second place on the final ratings. Nonetheless, her main objective of securing a WCT position was achieved convincingly.
“I’m really stoked I made it,” said an out of breath Mulanovich, after this afternoon’s final. “I’m really looking forward to next year. I needed to win this event to overtake Pauline and it was close, but I didn’t make it. Oh well, I made the final and finished second overall, so that’s pretty good.
“I’m going to try my best,” she added of her maiden WCT season. “It’s like my dream. The big leagues now, so no more joking around. You have to go for it and give it everything you have.”
Julia Christian (USA) skyrocketed her career today, winning the Turtle Bay Resort Women’s Pro and thus earning a position on the 2003 WCT. The 20-year-old went into the tournament a long shot, despite having won a major WQS event in France earlier this year. As the day progressed and others lost, however, it became apparent she could jump enough positions by reaching the final and placing runner-up. Steadily she advanced, and with enormous pressure riding on each of her final rides, she went one better and won the tournament, finishing the year rated 7th.
As the current WCT ratings now stand, with four-time world champion Lisa Andersen (USA) in 14th position heading into the Billabong Pro (Maui), Chhristian could very well be mainland USA’s only representative in 2003, and will definitely be California’s sole exponent at the highest level.
“I wasn’t expecting to qualify,” admitted Christian. “I was getting pretty over the contest and just wanted to go home. Earlier this morning I was almost wishing I’d lose, as I didn’t feel like surfing, but then I ended up making it to the final and won, and qualified (laughs). So stoked, as I didn’t think it was going to happen.
“I’m excited,” she added, of her upcoming year. “I’m actually going to Maui for my first WCT, as I’m in the Vespa Trials. It’ll be a good taste to see what I’m in for next year. I’m on a good roll, so hopefully I’ll keep it up there. I’m excited to surf a new wave and feel pretty good about my chances right now (laughs).”
Of the many surfers Christian overtook today, former world #2 Megan Abubo (Haw) and Marie Pierre Abgrall (Fra) are the only two still left with a chance of qualifying from their final WQS rating. While Abubo can still re-qualify through the WCT in Maui, her current position of 11th allows no movement of error. Ahead of her on both the WQS and WCT is close friend Rochelle Ballard (Haw), who sits in 9th on both ranks. Should she fail to re-qualify through the WCT, her position is guaranteed from the WQS, while if she does make the cut at Maui, another WQS surfer will qualify. First in line is Abubo, but if she also re-qualifies through the WCT, then Abgrall would become the first French surfer, male or female, to reach the elite ranks.
“I feel good as this has been my best year on the tour,” said Abgrall. “Now I need to wait for the last event and see what happens. It’s out of my control, so I just have to pray and cross my fingers. I’d been the first European girl, or French surfer to make it, so that would be very exciting and special.”
Claire Bevilacqua (Aus) was another to gain distinction today, being awarded the Nose Guard Rookie of the Triple Crown honor. The West Australian distinguished herself both at the recent Roxy Pro WQS event at nearby Haleiwa, and then again today at Turtle Bay, where she finished equal 5th.
“I’m that stoked,” said Bevilacqua, after hearing the news. “Even though I’m only 19, it feels like I’ve been waiting forever just to be recognized as one of the up and comers that are going to take down some of the older chicks (laughs). That’s all I want. To be recognized as a good surfer. I love it here in Hawaii so much, as this is the place to push yourself. To win the Rookie of the Year just goes to show people are recognizing I might have something good going.”
Below are listed the women already safely on the 2003 WCT, as well as those who still have a chance from their final WQS position.
Official 2002 WQS positions; surfers guaranteed WCT spots in 2003
1 Pauline Menczer (Aus) 7,383-points
2 Sofia Mulanovich (Peru) 7,285
3 Jacqueline Silva (Brz) 6,550 *
4 Samantha Cornish (Aus) 6,380 *
5 Neridah Falconer (Aus) 6,330 +
6 Trudy Todd (Aus) 5,945
7 Julia Christian (USA) 5,910
8 Lynette MacKenzie (Aus) 5,893 *
9 Rochelle Ballard (Haw) 5,833 +
* Represents surfer ‘double qualifying’ through WCT ratings.
+ Represents surfer able to ‘double qualify’ through WCT ratings
Next in line to qualify through WQS ratings if any additional positions are created
10 Megan Abubo (Haw) 5,765
11 Marie Pierre Abgrall (Fra) 5,578