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Catching a wave with Sofia

10/7/2009
Courtesy of Red Bull

Sofia Mulanovich is beloved in her homeland and beyond for her far-reaching significance in the world of professional surfing. So, it is somehow appropriate that she proudly hails from Lima, Peru, known as El Pulpo ("The Octopus") for its stretch and sprawl.

Born in the Pacific Ocean beach town of Punta Hermosa, a district in the Lima province, Mulanovich was the first Peruvian surfer to win an Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour event and the first South American (man or woman) to win the world title. At age 24, Mulanovich was inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame in 2007. Two years later, she earned inclusion in the "Globalised Heroes" exhibit at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, which recognizes iconic athletes from around the world. She is featured there alongside athletic luminaries such as Carl Lewis, Zinedine Zidane, Roger Federer, Tony Hawk, David Beckham and Tiger Woods. Mulanovich is the only contemporary surfer in the display. (Surfing is not an Olympic sport.)

We caught up with Peru's rock star of the sea on the phone while she was competing in Sydney, Australia, at the Beachley Classic last week. Mulanovich, now 26, earned third place Down Under just behind the comp's champ, Silvana Lima of Brazil, and the current ASP women's world No. 1, Stephanie Gilmore of Australia.

Here's what Mulanovich, South America's surfing sensation, had to say about her proud Peruvian roots.

ESPN.com: So Sofia, you're of Croatian descent, but you were born in Peru. That makes for some pretty cool juice running through your veins. When people ask you about your heritage, what do you say?

I am a Peruvian inside and out. My country has always been so supportive of me, and I am so proud of my country. I am lucky to travel the world through surfing, but my heart and soul will always be in Peru.

How many days a week do you wake up at the crack of dawn and climb into the water?

Really, it depends on the swell and where I am. When I am northern Peru, I am always up at the crack of dawn to get in the water. The waves are so sick then. When I am traveling, I am checking Surfline a lot [for wave forecasts]. When I'm home, my dad will call from his house if it's firing, or I will call him if it is good in front of my house.

What role did your family play in becoming a pro surfer?

My dad taught me to surf at the age of 4, and we've always just been a surfing family. Surfing with my brothers always made me strive to better them, too. It is a way of life for us; it is just who we are.

If you weren't surfing, what would you want to be doing with your life?

Well, I would always be a surfer -- maybe not pro, but a surfer. Maybe go to university and study marketing or business. Or open a surf school in the north and cruise.

How many languages can you speak?

I speak English and French. My native language is Spanish.

You're the first South American to win the world surfing title and the first to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. You're treated like a rock star in your country today. How does that feel?

I am very proud to be able to inspire other South Americans. It meant a lot to me to not only help put Peruvian surfers on the map, but to bring attention to all South American surfers.

You travel at ton, but what's life like when you're actually at home?

When I'm at home, it is all about my family and friends. I surf a couple times a day and train in the gym or do yoga. I like to spend time surfing with my dad and brothers, being spoiled by my mom and enjoying the waves of Peru. I like to have a routine when I am off the road … and eat all the Peruvian food I can!

What are some of your other favorite South American delights?

Food, I like chicha juice, made from a purple corn, and ceviche – Peruvian, of course. For music, I listen to reggaetón. My favorite vacation cities are Cusco or Mancora, and my favorite surf spots are Senoritas, Lobitos, La Isla and Punta Rocas.

Speaking of home sweet home, do you have only one residence or do you keep a couple of addresses?

Right now, I just have my home in Peru. This summer, I rented a home in Southern California, but mostly I live out of my suitcases.

Since becoming a pro, you've been in several movies. What was the coolest thing about "The Peru Project"?

People were able to see my country and learn about the waves and the people. Also, my documentary, "Sofia" educated people on what life was like in Peru and how surfing has become important to my country.

What has been the most influential lesson that your heritage has had on your success?

"Si se puede," meaning "Yes you can." I have always wanted to inspire young people to believe we can do anything we dream to do. While growing up, my country was in a very volatile state, yet my countrymen and women came together to really support me in my dreams of becoming world champion. Words cannot describe how proud I am to be Peruvian and represent Latin America.

Mary Buckheit is an ESPN.com Page 2 columnist. She can be reached at marybuckheit@hotmail.com.