Surfer Malia Manuel proved she was a fierce competitor when she clinched a 2003 national championship at only 9 years old. But Manuel really captured attention when she conquered the US Open of Surfing at age 14 — the youngest competitor to ever to win the contest.
The 25-year-old remains one of the sport’s top athletes, but she’s dipping her toes into other pursuits, too. Manuel collaborated with footwear brand Sanuk to design a pair of relaxed slingback sandals. She’s also traveling frequently and embarking on some daredevil adventures (more on that below).
Forbes Travel Guide talked with the Kauai-born-and-raised Manuel to find out her favorite spots on the lush island, where she likes to surf and why she loves Canada so much.
What drew you to surfing?
As a baby, I would always watch my parents surfing. And by the time I was 2, they had me out there surfing with them! I’ve been competing since I was 8 years old, and now I’m proud to be one of the 17 women going for the World Title.
Which surfing accomplishments are you particularly proud of?
At 14, I was the youngest surfer ever to win the US Open. That was probably my proudest moment I’ve had in my career.
This sport is something I’ve been doing my entire life, but it’s still so surreal that I get to do what I love professionally. I feel like I’ve already achieved so much, and I still have a long way to go!
Outside of surfing, what are your other hobbies?
I’m really passionate about living a healthy lifestyle and taking care of my body. I’m an avid yoga student, learning new things every day, and I love to run.
I’m really lucky to have an amazing friend group. When I’m not surfing, I’m either hanging out at the beach or having them over for dinner. Cooking healthy and organic foods is one of my favorite things to do, and I think everything is better shared with friends.
Where do you like to surf in Kauai?
Everywhere. I live in the middle of the island so it’s not a big mission to go from north to south in a day.
Why is Kauai special to you?
The simplistic lifestyle and the small community feeling. I spend a lot of time away from home, so I really love the relaxing lifestyle, being in nature and catching up with my friends and family.
Kauai is where I do my best rejuvenating and find new inspiration. I think it’s because I can get in a very good routine and that keeps me so fulfilled. There’s also so much support from everyone on the island. There’s a lot of aloha.
Where are your go-to places to eat and drink on your home island?
I’m obsessed with this juice and smoothie bar called Kalalea Juice Hale. They have the most delicious and fresh options that always start my mornings off on the right foot.
What are your favorite Kauai hotels?
The St. Regis Princeville Resort is my favorite place not only on island but probably in the world.
When you aren’t surfing, what do you like to do in Kauai?
When I’m home I’m usually resting up from a competition, so I try to spend as much time relaxing with family and friends, or going for a fun surf at my favorite spots.
What are your favorite places to surf around the world?
I love going to Australia, Bali and Fiji. All places with diverse waves, great food and very cultural.
I saw on your Instagram that you did the highest bungee jump in the world off of Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa. What inspired you to take the plunge?
I’m very reserved and I always said you couldn’t pay me to bungee jump, but I felt like I need to step out of my comfort zone this year. My boyfriend [Darcy Sharpe] really inspired me to be spontaneous and adventurous lately. He is a crazy pro snowboarder so he is rubbing off on me a bit.
What was the jump like?
Exhilarating! I think the walk out knowing I was going over that bridge was worse. Once you’re on the edge and they keep telling you to put your feet more and more over the edge was pretty intense, too.
Where are you traveling next?
My next trip is going to Australia, then Maui to finish up my year competing. Then I’m going to a few of my boyfriend Darcy’s snowboard events like X Games in Aspen and the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colorado.
What are some of the essentials you pack on your carry-on?
My Sanuk Yoga Sling Cruzes are so comfortable and they pack super light so I’m constantly bringing them with me everywhere I go.
I’m big into Young Living essential oils. I have a special blend that I make myself for traveling; I spray it on my feet, scarf and head rest or pillow. Also lots of snacks and a reusable water bottle.
What are your favorite travel destinations?
I love Canada. I could live there! It’s my favorite place in the world besides Hawaii. I love B.C.’s nature, and all the incredible hikes, camping places, and even the city! Vancouver is my fave city in the world.
What’s on your travel bucket list and why do you want to go there?
Switzerland: nature, spas.
Japan: culture, food, snowboarding.
Thailand: mostly for the markets and the food.
Greece: for the art and buildings.