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Buoyed by a princess, Bartels surfs to runner-up Roxy finish


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POSTED: Sunday, March 08, 2009

Makaha's Melanie Bartels, 26, finished runner-up at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, the first event of the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour. Bartels surfed brilliantly all day at Snapper Rocks in the waist- to shoulder-high surf, but was edged in the final by Stephanie Gilmore, 21, of Coolangatta, Australia.

; Gilmore, who is the reigning, two-time world champ, won the Roxy Pro with a two-wave total of 16.07 out of a possible 20. The tall, blonde regular-foot grew up surfing at Snapper Rocks and displayed her local knowledge of the break by catching a 9.57 out of 10 in the first moments of the 35-minute heat.

From that point, Bartels was forced to play catch-up and never found the necessary waves with high-scoring potential in the subpar surf. She eventually found a good ride in the second half of the heat and annihilated the wave with a series of powerful, snapping turns to garner a 7.5. But, the Westside wahine was unable to find another great score and finished with a 14.5 two-wave total.

Despite falling victim to lousy conditions and losing the heat, Bartels was still excited about her performance yesterday.

“;I am ecstatic right now,”; Bartels said in a telephone interview. “;Surfing against Steph (Gilmore) in a heat is always a challenge for me. I know how good she is. I knew I needed to put up big scores, but no waves came through. I'm just so stoked I made the finals.”;

With this contest result Bartels moves from seventh to second on the world tour and is in excellent position to challenge for the world title. With seven events left this season, she can capitalize on the competitive drive from the Roxy Pro going into the Rip Curl Women's Pro at Bells Beach, Australia, in April.

“;To get a good result at the beginning of the year gives momentum to go into the next event and feel a little bit more confident and relaxed,”; Bartels said.

She's going into the Bells Beach contest with poise, but that wasn't the case in 2008.

Last year, she missed the contest at Bells Beach and an event in Peru after being dropped by her primary sponsor. The majority of her 2008 season was personally funded and at the end of the year, with the declining national economy, Bartels' future in pro surfing was uncertain. According to a personal friend of Bartels, the pro surfer and single mother even considered working at Home Depot at one point to fund her career and feed her son, Ezekiel.

Luckily, Bartels never had to work at the hardware store, thanks to the aloha of 78-year-old Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa III. After reading about Bartels' lack of sponsorship and her financial problems in a newspaper article, Kawananakoa, who is the grand niece of King David Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani, reached out to her.

In January, Bartels received a generous travel grant from the matriarch of the Kawanakoa ohana. This grant enabled Bartels to compete on tour this year without a sponsor. The motivation for Kawananakoa's generosity is to help Hawaiians achieve their dreams. Bartels' newfound vigor in the water was evident in her semifinals heat against fellow Hawaiian Coco Ho.

Bartels dominated Ho, who is the daughter of North Shore legend Michael Ho, in the semifinals. In convincing fashion, Bartels scored a 17.34 two-wave total, finding an elusive barrel in the process and putting on a beautiful display of high-performance surfing.

“;I'm really happy for Melanie,”; said Coco, who is a rookie on tour. “;She was surfing so well out there and got the better of every exchange.”;

Ho is tied for third on the world tour with New Zealand's Paige Hareb. Bartels is second behind Gilmore.

“;I just want to represent for my Hawaiian heritage and thank the princess (Kawananakoa) for sponsoring me,”; Bartels said.