Women’s New Era Of Surfing Hits The New York Times

Published: December 10, 2008
Layne Beachley, ASP Women's World Tour, Coco Ho, Malia Manuel, Sally Fitzgibbons, Roxy Pro, Stephanie Gilmore, Carissa Moore, women surfer, surfing in bikini, girl surfing, New York Times
Malia Manuel will be atop the leaders in progression for women surfers everywhere. Photo: Steindler

HALEIWA, Hawaii — In July, Christy Manuel arrived at the United States Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, Calif., fed a parking meter for 20 minutes of time and walked to the shore where her daughter Malia, 14, was competing in a quarterfinal heat.

"I didn't expect to be there all day," Christy said.

But then Malia Manuel upset the former world champion Sofia Mulanovich, 25, to advance, sending her mother back to the meter.

"The guy was giving me a ticket," she said. "I go, 'Whoa, we're still here.' "

Malia, now 15, of Kauai, Hawaii, won two more heats that day to become the youngest champion since the Open began in 1959. Coco Ho, 17, was second.

Those two teenagers belong to a new generation of women who are shaking up the professional surfing establishment. Most are still in high school and remain a few years from competing full-time for prize money. But with a combination of powerful moves and progressive aerials, they have signaled a new era of performance in the sport.

"It's definitely a changing of the guard in women's surfing," said Wayne Bartholomew, president of the Association of Surfing Professionals, the sanctioning body that runs the men's and women's professional tours.

In November, Carissa Moore, 16, won the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa, on Oahu, by defeating the seven-time world champion Layne Beachley in the final matchup.

"We're seeing the likes of Carissa Moore blow minds with her tailslides and the like," said Beachley, 36, who will retire from full-time competition after the Billabong Pro Maui, which began Wednesday.

"I've never landed an aerial in my life," Beachley said. "So I feel like I'm retiring at just the right time."

Moore, of Honolulu, and her generation have looked to the men's ranks for inspiration. "We're maybe experimenting with our surfing a little bit, trying different things and really looking at what the guys are doing," she said.

Manuel said she regularly surfed with boys back at her home break on Kauai. "It's made me stronger, for sure, because I just grew up surfing with all my bros," she said.

The new generation came of age at a time when women's surfing has gained in popularity.

"When I started, it wasn't really acceptable to be a woman in the water," Beachley said. "Whereas now it's actually encouraged, accepted and respected."

That is true not only in Hawaii, but worldwide. The next generation includes Courtney Conlogue, 17, of Santa Ana, Calif.; and the Australians Sally Fitzgibbons, 17, and Stephanie Gilmore, 20, who clinched her second consecutive women's world title last week at the Roxy Pro.

"What's happening in women's surfing is pretty much the most exciting thing in surfing right now," Bartholomew said. "There's going to be unbelievable rivalries developing through the years. The actual performance levels are just going through the roof."

In competition, the contrast between the new school and the veterans can be striking.

"I guess what's different is in a heat we're trying to combine power and flow and speed and all these different things," Moore said. "And also at the same time add a little flair and a couple different tricks and stuff."

Some note differences in attitudes, too. During the final of the Reef Hawaiian Pro last month, Ho dropped in on a wave Beachley was surfing, cut her off and launched an aerial.

Ho was cleared of any wrongdoing by the judges. But the move rankled Beachley, who believed it deprived her of a potential winning wave and demonstrated a lack of respect.

"I think it's great that they're taking it to world champs and challenging us," Beachley, a native of Australia, said. "But I just think it's a level of immaturity and insecurity if you have to resort to tactics like that."

For full article, head to The New York Times.