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OP PRO SURFING CHAMPIONSHIPS : She Looks as If She Never Left : Women: Kim Mearig, who took time off to have a family, comes out of retirement and fares well in first round.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kim Mearig, 31, once one of the world’s best women surfers, gave up the waves five years ago to become a mother.

But after having Justin, 3, and Kaitlyn, 8 months, she began to miss the salt and sand and decided to make a comeback this week at the Op Pro Surfing Championships at Huntington Beach.

After easily advancing to the second round Monday, Mearig, who lives in Santa Barbara, looks as if she has not missed a beat.

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And if Mearig continues to excel, she could end up facing Lisa Andersen of Ormond Beach, Fla., also a mom who is ranked second in the world.

“It would be so exciting to meet Lisa in the finals,” said Mearig, who is competing in only her second contest since retiring from the pro tour in 1990.

After traveling the world on the surfing tour for 10 years, Mearig decided to quit to have a family. She left the sport while still on top.

And just to prove she hadn’t lost it, she came out of retirement in 1993 to win the Op Pro, her second victory inCalifornia’s most prestigious contest.

Now, she is considering coming back on a permanent basis. Mearig has a personal trainer and says she is in better shape than when she was 19.

She also has learned she can balance motherhood and competition as well as she can balance her lithe body on a surfboard.

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“My husband [Brian Gruetzmacher] was completely supportive of my decision,” Mearig said. “He surfs too, so we both have a love for the sport.”

Since she has been away so long, Mearig wasn’t sure who would be the main challengers at this week’s contest.

“Except for Lisa, I really don’t know any of the the other competitors,” Mearig said. “Everyone I used to surf against has since retired.”

Because she is unranked, Mearig was competing in Monday’s trials, which serve as a qualifying event to the main draw.

Andersen, for instance, doesn’t have to surf until Thursday’s quarterfinals.

But in her 20-minute heat, Mearig served notice that she still was capable of challenging for the title. Her best maneuver was a floater, in which judges gave her 7.2 points, the highest score of the first round.

“I think experience definitely gives me an edge,” Mearig said. “I hope I can do OK. But it would be cool if the two moms were in the finals.”

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In the Op Pro Junior, four Orange County surfers advanced to the semifinal round.

Billy Oswald of Huntington Beach said because the waves weren’t big, he was able to rely on his knowledge of the area to help him in his heat.

“Yeah, it’s an advantage to surf here when the waves are like this,” Oswald said. “I was trying to catch as many waves as I could. I’m just glad to advance.”

Oswald, 17, said he had been forcing himself to surf the last two weeks, especially because surf conditions were not that good.

“I wanted to prepare myself just in case the waves were small,” said Oswald, who graduated from Huntington Beach High last month. “I took the lip a few times and I was able to do something with it.”

Mike Reilly of Seal Beach, 18, finished second to Damian Hobgood of Satellite Beach, Fla., in his heat but he was happy to advance.

“Last year I was eliminated in this [quarterfinal] round. So I’m real happy to make the semis,” he said.

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Reilly, who has been surfing for six years, said although he worked hard to catch waves, luck had a lot to do with his finish.

“I was just lucky to be in a spot that broke decent,” Reilly said. “After I got a decent ride on my second wave I caught, that built my confidence so I was able to push myself.”

Jon Rose of Laguna Beach finished second in his heat to advance.

In the longboard competition, Jason Acuna of Huntington Beach, Brenden White and Derek Erickson of San Clemente, David White of Seal Beach and Steve Farwell of Costa Mesa all advanced to the second round, which starts Thursday.

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Notes

The Op Pro set a record Monday, becoming the largest surf contest in the world. The reason was the late entry of 32 Brazilians, who will surf today. “We’re adding them late,” said Mike Kingsbury, a spokesman for the tour. “I guess it will make the competition longer.” According to Kingsbury, last year was the largest with 406 entered. This year, Kingsbury said there will be 432 surfers and longboarders entered.

Dru Harrison of Pahoa, Hawaii, was surprised to be called as an alternate in the second heat of the longboarding competition. But what happened next to the 45-year-old surfer was even more exciting. He advanced to the second round. “I was totally stoked,” said Harrison, who hasn’t surfed competitively since 1970. “It was so flat out there, I kept telling myself that I’ll need a wave that will give me a 7.50 ride. Then with 30 seconds left, there it was and I caught it hanging 10 the entire ride.”

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