After nearly five months on the sidelines, Malia Manuel will be back in surfing action in September, at the women's Swatch Pro at Lower Trestles. The Kauai native tore the MCL ligament in her knee during Round Four at April's Drug Aware Margaret River Pro and had to withdraw from the event. Lest anyone has forgotten, Manuel kept surfing the heat anyway -- and won -- before leaving the contest.
"I was just riding out of a closeout section and heard something pop in my knee," she said afterward. "I didn't really know how bad it hurt until I tried to climb on the ski.
"I guess adrenaline helped me surf the second half of the heat. I knew my knee hurt because on a couple bumpy waves I could barely tolerate the pain but I wanted to make sure I finished the heat completely and then get it assessed when I came in."
Manuel's injury was perhaps an even bigger blow because of the competitive momentum she was carrying at the time. Up until Margaret's, she had two fifth-place finishes on the CT and had just won the top-tier Qualifying Series event, Girls Make Your Move Women's Pro. While Manuel has yet to become part of the World Title conversation, she has consistently been a solid performer who has yet to reach the upper echelon of the Tour ranks.
Of course, Manuel has all the ingredients to be a major spoiler in this year's World Title race, not only at Lowers, but into the European leg and right up through Maui. Last year she finished fifth at Lowers, defeating Lakey Peterson, Sally Fitzgibbons and Keely Andrew along the way, before falling to Nikki Van Dijk.
When the action kicks off this year, Manuel will have her work cut out for her. In Round One, she'll again face Van Dijk, along with Californian Sage Erickson, who will be coming off a win at the Vans US Open of Surfing - Women's CT earlier this month. But that doesn't mean that she won't be as much of a threat as ever: With the kind of grit she displayed at Margaret River, it will be anyone's guess as to what she can achieve now, injury-free.
Catch Manuel and the rest of the women on the Top 17 live daily at the Swatch Pro live daily on the WSL site and app from September 6 - 17.