Sofia Mulanovich made surfing history. And while sports analysts usually have to spin statistics and results in an effort to make them more exciting, in this case, there is no denying Mulanovich’s record breaking feat. Neither man nor woman, no Peruvian nor South American for that matter, has ever made it to surfing’s pinnacle. Never, that is, until this hard-charging natural foot “surf goddess” made her mark. In effect, the blue eyed “Gringa” has done nothing but make her homeland proud since she first stood on a surfboard.
Sofia Mulanovich was born to parents Herbert and Ines in Lima, Peru on June 23, 1984. She and her brothers, Herbert and Matias, grew up in Punta Hermosa, a small town just outside of the capital city, where she learned to swim at 3 and started riding body boards at 5. By 9, she was on a short board and by 12 was, for all intents and purposes, heinously ripping and beating the boys in local contests. She says of this time, “There were only, like, two girls, so I’d always get first or second. I would have to compete with the boys more, which was good for me, you know?” Interestingly, Sofia also surfed during this time with future female boxing superstar Kina Malpartida who would go on to win the WBA super featherweight world championship. But Mulanovich was on a trajectory of her own as she progressed exponentially over the next few seasons.
Around 1996, word of the pre-teen Mulanovich’s radical surfing circulated among some of the sport’s elite, and Billabong Peru quickly jumped to offer sponsorship. After a phone call from Billabong, what Mulanovich calls the “the best moment” of her life, she began receiving coaching from Robert Meza and later from Magoo de la Rosa. It paid off. Still barely a teenager, she soon traveled to the U.S. Open of Surfing and made the quarter finals.
At 14, Mulanovich won the 1998 Pan-American Championship in Brazil. A year later, increased sponsorship from Billabong Roxy enabled her a full assault on the World Qualifying Series (WQS). At this point, Mulanovich had already secured 5 Peruvian National Championships, but the WQS would prove no cake walk Mulanovich. She finished the year in 11th place and just missed the cut for the World Championship Tour (WCT) by a single position. The following year saw redemption for the young Peruvian as she garnered a 2nd place finish and a berth into the big leagues: the WCT. That first year, she quickly gained footing with a 2003 WCT Rookie of the Year award and a top-10 tour finish.
2004 was a banner year for the Peruvian as she kicked it off with a win at the first event of the season and parlayed that momentum into another win at the ISA World Championship. Buoyed by her success, Team Peru finished the event in an historic 4th place. Sofia added 3 more wins to her maiden victory in Salina with consecutive wins in Fiji, Tahiti and France. At 21 years old, Sofia Mulanovich had amassed an insurmountable points total to become the ASP Women’s World Surfing Champion, making history as the 1st South American to ever win the title and the first surfer to unseat Australian Layne Beachley from her 6 year dominance of the sport. Of her title win, Mulanovich said, “I’ve done this for my country and for all South Americans. Just to make a change and give them hope.”
With honors ranging from official recognition from the President of Peru to her 2009 inclusion in Switzerland’s Olympic Museum as part of its “Heroes” exhibit (which included timeless greats like Michael Jordan), Mulanovich used her World Championship platform as a launching pad. She released a documentary biography in Spanish with English subtitles. The movie earned a nomination for best picture at the X-Dance Film Festival and won the Jury Award at the Delray Beach Film Festival as well as the Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking award at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Throughout her short career, she won the ESPY for Best Female Action Sports Athlete, was named one of 2004’s “World’s Most Intriguing Surfers,” presented at the 2003 MTV Latin Video Music Awards, and has won several Surfer Poll awards for “Best Female Surfer.” Sofia became the first South American to be inducted into the Surfers Hall of Fame during its 10th Anniversary celebration. Her career had quickly outgrown the national boundaries that defined it at the start.
Although Peru possesses world class waves, a surfing history every bit as deep and storied as Hawaii’s, and an army of hot surfers; no competitor had ever made a serious run on the professional ranks until Sofia Mulanovich catapulted out of Punta Hermosa. And Peru couldn’t be any more fortunate that she was the one to succeed as her ambassadorial chops appear innate. With style, talent, looks, and international aplomb; Mulanovich busted open a door that has been closed since the seeds of pro surfing were sprouting and continues to proudly fly the South American flag in every wave she rides.