Malia Manuel was on her way to a stellar finish at Margaret River last week when injury struck: Midway through her Round Four heat against Johanne Defay, she tore her MCL (medial collateral ligament), one of the ligaments in the knee.
And then, she hopped on the ski, headed back out, and won the heat.
That kind of grit shouldn't surprise fans of the Kauaian, who has been a contender for years, on the cusp of breaking through. After withdrawing from the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, she withdrew from the Rip Curl Pro Women's Bells Beach, which kicked off Wednesday in Torquay, Australia. Australian Qualifying Series surfer -- and former Junior Champion -- Isabella Nichols replaced her there.
As the event got started, she spoke to the WSL about her prognosis and her new brand partnership.
WSL: Even after hurting yourself you continued to surf your heat at Margs -- and won. Can you describe what happened out there?
Malia Manuel: I was just riding out of a closeout section and heard something pop in my knee. I didn't really know how bad it hurt until I tried to climb on the ski.
What kind of pain were you in, and how did you will yourself to continue competing?
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.
What is the diagnosis -- and prognosis -- for your knee?
It's a partial tear of my MCL. It could have been worse for sure. I'm expected to be back in about four weeks' time, after doing extensive rehab in California for the next month.
After a fantastic performance in WA, it could not have been easy to literally walk away. How are you feeling about things? What do you envision for the next few months, or season?
This is my first big injury where I have had to step away from competing so I'm definitely shocked, but have such great support from friends, family, and my circle of doctors that I am confident I will be 100 percent soon. I'll be very excited to surf again and compete, but also will take advantage of my time out of the water to grow as a person and as a competitor in other ways besides surfing.
Under the best of circumstances, the ups and downs of competitive life can be taxing. What are two or three of your go-tos for self-care -- whether it's mental, emotional, or physical?
I love working out -- I think that's my biggest obsession. At the end of this month, I'll be graduating with a certificate as a holistic nutrition consultant which is exciting and ties into my self-care program. I love yoga and music too. Those are my go-tos for keeping happy, motivated, and inspired.
This year you were also signed by Lululemon, which seems like an incredible thing for you, and for women's surfing. Can you tell us about that came about, and what the partnership entails?
Yes, I'm so honored to be an Elite Ambassador for Lululemon. I believe they are the forefront of health and well-being. Everyone at that brand is so genuine and nice, it's a great team to work with. I'm so excited to take part in being the connection between surfing and the Lululemon community.
What's your take on a non-endemic company like Lululemon sponsoring a pro surfer?
What do you think it will take for other non-core brands to follow suit?
As a professional surfer I think it's an incredible privilege to be partners with Lululemon. They have such a positive and happy outlook on life, health, well-being and community. It's truly exciting to be a part of a non-endemic brand and not only to see their perspectives but share my passion with them and also be educated in what they are passionate about, too.