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U.S. Open of Surfing

Malia Manuel to meet Laura Envert in semifinal

Envert upset Coco Ho in a women's quarterfinal to meet the 15-year-old Manuel, who defeated Ho last year to become the youngest champion in tournament history.

July 25, 2009|Mario Aguirre

Officials backstage heard the news through their headsets.

Laura Envert, who trailed up until the final five minutes, upset Coco Ho in the U.S. Open of Surfing women's quarterfinals Friday in Huntington Beach.

"Would have been a good story," one official said.

That story, of course, was the much-anticipated duel between Ho and 15-year-old Malia Manuel, who defeated Ho last year to become the youngest champion in tournament history.

Today, Manuel will face Envert, who many consider a speed bump obstacle rather than the roadblock challenge that was Ho, in the semifinals. The winner advances to compete for the $4,500 purse.

Although some view the competition now as slightly diminished, Manuel's focus has not wavered. Nor would she allow it to on a day when she positioned herself for her second straight title after defeating her idol, Stephanie Gilmore, reigning two-time Assn. of Surfing Professionals women's world champion.

"She's my favorite surfer and I look up to her so much," Manuel said. "If I had to lose to anyone in the contest, it'd be Steph."

Fortunately, Manuel doesn't have to consider such options.

Her victory Friday caused surfing enthusiasts to scribble in her name as this year's winner. But Manuel is not one to celebrate prematurely.

Following her win, she kept her interviews short and scurried back to the pier to catch the remainder of the tournament. After all, she had to scout potential competitors for today's match.

"She's very responsible," said Bill Barger, whose 19-year-old son, Tai, is friends with Manuel.

"The other kids who go out there [to take part in the festivities] and hang out . . . throw it all away. For Malia, this is a chance at a career."

And Manuel, who won her first tournament in Huntington Beach at 10 years old, has a professional approach to her career.

She's collected endorsement deals and is prominently featured as one of the rising stars in surfing.

Even though she won't take part in the World Qualifying Series, Manuel remains very humble through all her accomplishments.

"I'm really excited," she said. "I'm very fortunate to be here."

Earlier in the day, nine-time champion Kelly Slater recovered from a slow start and a broken board to take first place in Heat 6 of Round 24, posting scores of 9.87 and 8.93 to advance to today's quarterfinals.

"I was a little out of sync, trying to figure out if I was going to go for the big waves or just go for a few smaller ones that were open," he said. "[After the third heat] I fell in sync with it and I went right back out and got two more good ones."

Slater is the favorite to collect the record $100,000 purse in the men's finals.

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mario.aguirre@latimes.com

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