Peru's Sofia Mulanovich exploded onto the women's tour at 19, winning Rookie of the Year in 2003. One year later, she became the first South American to win an ASP world title and ascended to superstar status both in surfing and throughout Latin America. She's challenged for the title all but one of the ensuing years, successful enough to earn a spot in the Surfers Hall Of Fame and a target on her back for the youth explosion that the women's tour has seen in recent years. After earning her first win of the year last week in her home surf at the Moviestar Classic, Mulanovich talks to ESPN Surfing about her current world title campaign, becoming a veteran, and who she likes in the men's world title race.
Explain why last week's win was such a big deal for you. How many times have you tried to win in Peru, and what did it mean to break through?
I've always wanted to win at home, and this contest has been running for three years. The first year, Steph [Gilmore] beat me in the semifinal. The second year, I had an injury before the contest, so it was really depressing. So I'm super glad I won in front of my home crowd. It's such a relief. This is probably the biggest sporting event in Peru.
A lot was made of a wipeout you had in the earlier rounds. What happened?
It was pretty bad. The day before the final I was in my third round heat, the last wave, and when I came off there was a lot of wind. The nose of the board hit me in the forehead super hard -- I looked like a Unicorn. It almost hit my eye, and it was so black and swollen I could barely open it the next day.
I tried not to think about it too much. I really didn't want to deal with an injury or anything physical because last year was such a nightmare. But it wasn't too bad, I guess. I didn't effect my knees or anything, which is what you need for surfing.
Describe your year to date; what's kept you from a final until now?
The year's been crazy. Before this, I made a couple of semis, and both times I went up against an on-fire Silvia Lima. She won both of those contests. I guess I was not ready to make a final yet, but I'm glad I finally did and it was at home.
Do you feel like a contender going into Hawaii?
I'm trying not to think about the world title. I'm just focused on each wave and each heat. Honestly, winning at home was my biggest goal for the year, and I haven't thought about anything else. Now I know I have a chance, and I'll be calm and relaxed and go out there and have fun. I'm really relieved, so I think that will help me surf more free.
Between Steph Gilmore (21), Coco Ho (19), Sally Fitzgibbons (18) -- to name a few -- there's a really vibrant youth movement on tour these days. What's it like to surf against younger competitors?
It's great for women's surfing. I think the tour right now is the most exciting to watch, and the most organized. The ASP is doing a good job, there's good talent, and the girls are pushing the level. Right now, you can't make heats if you don't go off. The level has increased more than 100 percent in the past two years.
Describe the transition from Rookie Of The Year to seasoned veteran.
I don't know -- now the girls are so young! But I don't consider myself a veteran. I'm not that old, but they're all 18, 19, so I guess I am a veteran. I'm stoked to still be there and learning from them. I know that I have experience and surf good, but they really push me. I learn from them because they're so progressive. They always try new stuff, and their surfing is really fast. Nothing is boring. It's always in control. It will be scary to see how they're surfing in five years. Or next year.
Steph Gilmore told Jon Coen this past summer that one of her biggest challenges as a pro surfers is that girls still look up to and emulate fashion models as much as pros. This makes it harder for her to move product and make a living at it. Is that something you struggle with?
For sure, there's a lot of that going on. What companies don't realize is that women's surfers are really beautiful. Just give them the makeup and they'll look as good as models. So, it's more competition for us, but at the same time, it leaves more time for us to practice.
Is that somehow less of an issue for you, coming from Peru where you're arguably the biggest professional athlete in the country -- male or female?
I think it is different in Peru. They're really proud of their athletes, men or women, and they really support us. I'm sure they'd prefer any top woman athlete to any model. I'm really proud of that way of thinking.
Mick or Parko?
I like both -- make sure you put that in there! But I go for Mick because we did a trip this year to the Mentawis and it was crazy to watch him surf. When I watched him, I knew he'd be a major threat for the title. He was magic in the waves. He's really fast and approaches every turn with confidence. I'm trying to do that more. Speed and confidence, that's it. If you can do that, you're going to do better than if you can only talk about doing that.