Sights from the US Open of Surfing: A cool kickoff to the action-sports festival in Huntington Beach
Sandy Spiger stopped in her tracks when she saw the surfboards set up on the beach.
The new mom from Newport Beach told her husband to keep exploring the beach festival with her 1-year-old while she checked out the unique yoga class – with participants trying to stay balanced while stretching on the boards set up on the sand – at the US Open of Surfing.
“That was exciting, it was so different,” she said after finishing the 5-minute class with about a dozen others who spontaneously joined the fun. “Being outdoors on the sand, on a surfboard, it was unique. It’s not like you’re stuck in a studio.”
The “Surfer Says” yoga class was just one of the offerings on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier as the nine-day action-sports festival kicked off in Surf City. The event brings surf, skate and BMX to center stage, but also an array of activities for thousands of beachgoers who trek down to the massive city built on the sand.
Overcast skies through the morning and afternoon – along with a light beach breeze – kept attendees cool on the kick-off day as they scoped out the scene.
“It’s getting better every year,” Spiger said as she looked around the festival.
Next to the yoga, a crowd gathered to watch as beachgoers attempted to do pullups at an Army booth for the chance to win free sunglasses or a T-shirt.
Chaney Martin, of Bakersfield, couldn’t quite make it to the 20 needed to win free stuff, but friend Matthew Smith, also of Bakersfield, showed his friend how it was done without even breaking a sweat.
“It’s like a party,” Smith said of the US Open.
A massive retail center was set up for shoppers to grab US Open of Surfing gear, and skate fans filled into bleachers to watch top athletes do tricks in a big concrete bowl. Others simply strolled around on wood planks set up as walkways on the sand, checking out various booths.
Others lined up for free hot dogs handed out at lunch time, among the chefs Steve Van Doren, son of Vans co-founder Paul, a tradition he does every year, every day of the event.
“The Vans US Open is one of the highlights of the year,” he said, as hot dogs sizzled in front of him. “It’s free for everyone, and we have something for everyone.”
Van Doren is joining an elite group to be honored at the Surfing Walk of Fame at 10 a.m. Thursday in front of Jack’s Surfboards.
“It’s going to be an honor. I’ve been around surfing, not in the water but supporting it, for more than three decades,” he said.
Husband and wife tourists Katie and Byron Alarcon were visiting from Arizona and planned on going elsewhere on Saturday, but then saw the set-up for the event in Huntington.
“We decided to come to this instead. It seems very organized, super clean and lots of cool people,” Byron said.
For new surfer Alexis Reeves, it was her third year coming to the big festival. The Costa Mesa resident, found playing a game of ping pong, recently took a surf class at OCC and was looking forward to the female athletes hitting the water.
“It has inspired me to keep surfing, seeing all the different surfers out there,” said Reeves, sporting a hat with big letters that read: SURF. “It’s cool, the whole community coming together.”
The US Open of Surfing draws mixed emotions from long-timers who have spent decades attending the annual event.
Don Bigalow has been going to the US Open since it was called the OP Pro more than 30 years ago. He was there when riots broke out in the 80s, and the years following avoided the event when it got too crazy.
“I didn’t come because it just became chaotic. I took a break for a good 10 years,” he said.
For the past few years, Vans has worked to make it a more family-friendly event, adding activities like art areas for kids and games on the sand. At night, movies are shown on the grass near the north side of the pier.
But still, drawing hundreds of thousands of people near the pier over nine days can cause tension with locals.
“I don’t have a problem with the crowds, as long as they respect that this is our backyard,” Bigalow said, noting that piles of empty booze bottles have been left behind on the sand in past years.
One of the big events was the Stoke-O-Rama just south of the festival area, where young surfers gathered for a fun surf contest put on by the San Clemente Gudauskas brothers — Dane, Tanner and Pat — who started the contest series as a way to give back to the youth.
“It feels like a mini US Open for them,” said Tanner Gudauskas.
It’s the third year they’ve held the event during the US Open of Surfing, and this year they incorporated a surfboard drive with people bringing old boards to donate for kids in need.
Chris Stacy, of San Clemente, watched as his 10-year-old son Nathan took on waves during the event.
“The vibe out here is just perfect,” he said.
Pat Gudauskas, who will be surfing the main event starting Monday, said the Stoke-O-Rama felt like the kick off to a “big week-long celebration of surf.”
Quaid Fahrion, 10, had a good outlook, even as the Costa Mesa surfer had trouble finding the right waves to surf during his heat.
“It was hard to find waves,” he said. “But you just have to be stoked. That’s why they call it the Stoke-O-Rama.”