When Sofia Mulanovich won her first world title in 2004, she became a superstar in her native Peru.
She was named that country’s most popular person, her likeness appeared on billboards and endorsement offers poured in, transforming her into a big-money athlete.
But her smile couldn’t have been any bigger than it was Saturday, after Mulanovich out-witted and out-surfed Australia’s Jessi Miley-Dyer to win the Honda U.S. Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach.
Her face beaming as she made her way up the beach, carrying her surfboard beneath one arm, shrouded in a Peruvian flag and surrounded by a small entourage of friends, agents and sponsor representatives, the diminutive Peruvian grinned even as she spoke.
“I’ve been coming to the U.S. Open since I was so young so it’s amazing to finally win it,” she said. “I’ve been coming here since I was 14, and I’ve been second, third ... everything. But I had never won it before.”
The U.S. Open is a six-star World Qualifying Series tour event, but both finalists were elite World Championship Tour athletes competing for points they may need to re-qualify for next year’s WCT.
The contest was especially important for Miley-Dyer, who entered ranked No. 14 on a WCT circuit that automatically re-qualifies its top 10 surfers. It then takes the top six from the WQS rankings and adds one tour wildcard to fill the 17-member field.
Miley-Dyer is No. 4 on the WQS. Mulanovich, who had not previously surfed a WQS contest, is in a tie for No. 8 on the WCT.
In three-to-five-foot wind-blown waves, Miley-Dyer opened the 30-minute final by catching a left-hander on which she managed only two turns but received a score of 5.67 out of 10. Mulanovich caught a right-hander she negotiated through the inside section to score a 6.33. The two then traded low-scoring rides before Mulanovich added a 4.83 with nine minutes left, leaving her rival needing a 5.50 to pass her in the best-two-waves format.
With conditions worsening at the south end of the contest zone, Mulanovich made a tactical move to the north end and caught a large right-hander she rode to the inside, finishing with an impressive tail-slide to score a 7.5 with five minutes left.
Miley-Dyer, needing an 8.16 to regain first place, rode a low-scoring close-out before paddling over to the south side, but the move came too late and Mulanovich was able to hold on for a 13.83-8.67 victory.
“I stuck on the bank that I surfed the whole contest and it served me well most of the way,” said Miley-Dyer, who qualified for the WCT last year after only one season on the WQS. “Then it didn’t really give me opportunities for many waves so then I got a couple and moved over.”
Mulanovich refused to be called a master tactician. “I was just nervous. I was not thinking really,” she said.