The youth movement in women's surfing took center stage Saturday afternoon alongside the Huntington Beach pier.
Malia Manuel and Coco Ho, two up-and-coming teenagers from Hawaii, were the final two competitors remaining at the Honda U.S. Open of Surfing, creating the youngest women's final in event history.
Manuel, who will turn 15 next month, claimed an early edge in the 30-minute final and made it stand up, winning with a best-two-wave score of 14.34 points. Ho, 17, struggled to find a groove in the deteriorating conditions and finished with a score of 7.90.
Manuel's victory was surprising, even to her. She had never competed at the U.S. Open and never in a two-person heat. Manuel, who lives on the eastern side of Kauai, entered the event as a wild card because she had not competed in enough events this year to be seeded. She ended up as the youngest champion in the event's history.
"I was just hoping to make it through a couple heats," said Manuel, who earned $4,500 for the victory. "I think I'm going to buy some tires and rims for my Honda Civic, so when I'm 16, I can drive it."
All was not lost for Ho, however. Not only did the Sunset Beach resident produce the best finish of her young career, earning $2,300, she also won the women's junior title earlier in the day, which pocketed her an additional $3,000.
Ho, the daughter of legendary surfer Michael Ho and the niece of former world champion Derek Ho, fell on her first ride, then watched as Manuel posted her best score of the final on the same set, a 7.67 out of a possible 10.
"I missed one on the start, a pretty good left, and that kind of always sets me off," Ho said. "I knew I could come back because I did it in the junior final, so I was just hoping waves would come to me."
In an earlier quarterfinal, Manuel defeated 2004 world champion Sofia Mulanovich of Peru. Ho then knocked off defending world champion Stephanie Gilmore of Australia in a semifinal.
In the men's competition, Southland surfers continued to benefit from the comfortable surroundings. Seven Southern Californians advanced to this morning's round of 16.
Brett Simpson of Huntington Beach won his heat with a best-two-wave score of 14.03, eliciting cheers from his large rooting section.
"It's kind of overwhelming in a way, but it's good because it's my fans and family," said Simpson, whose father, Bill, was a defensive back for the Los Angeles Rams in the 1970s.
The other surfers with Southland ties who advanced were Tim Reyes of Huntington Beach, Nick Rozsa and Nathaniel Curran of Oxnard, Dane Gudauskas of San Clemente, Cory Lopez of Laguna Niguel and Chris Waring of Seal Beach.
By contrast, only one Australian, Shaun Cansdell, and no Brazilians advanced.
Simpson said local knowledge can go a long way at an ever-changing surf spot such as the Huntington Beach pier.
"It's a tricky wave," he said. "You surf it a couple times and you get to know what you've got to do, quality outside turns and an inside move, that's the main thing."
The men's round of 16 is scheduled to begin today at 7:30 a.m. The final is scheduled for 3:05 p.m.