This Summer at Surf City, USA
(Huntington Beach, Calif.) For fifty years, there were always two rules about surf championships here: the prize money never went above $20,000, and locals never stood a chance at winning the U.S. Open of Surfing.
But now, exactly half a century after the first West Coast Surfing Championships back in 1959, things have changed drastically.
This past July, the U.S. Open of Surfing was held, as always, at the Pier at Huntington Beach –- the original Surf City, USA. But this time, Hurley, the famed surfboard makers, boosted the purse prize for the men’s title to $100,000 — the largest ever in surfing!
The winner was a complete surprise, too. An unknown Huntington Beach townie named Brett Simpson took home the U.S. Open’s men’s title. That was a first. 500,000 fans attended over the nine day event; at least some of them had to think that one of the 10 famous All-Stars would win as usual.
But this was the year the public voted to decide which of the competing males would be All-Stars of the World Professional Surfers’ athlete union. These fans brought the following surfers into the All-Star pantheon: Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, CJ Hobgood, Andy Irons, Bruce Irons, Dane Reynolds, Rob Machado, Taj Burrow, Jordy Smith and Yadin Nicol.
In gratitude, these stars gave bonus performances gliding atop the waves to the 140,000 fans who watched the men’s final. Fans also got an autograph session. Bruce Irons even signed a very pregnant bikini girl’s belly!
Other sponsored events included women’s events, junior events, and BMX competitions. There was also a noseriding invitational and a skating demo.
The surrounding sports culture made a good showing, too. For example, bands played the music showcases, and there was a fashion showdown called Walk the Walk. Celebrity judges included former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, actor Wilmer Valderrama, and of course Mr. Hurley himself.
But the biggest inspiration came from Brett Simpson’s win. Simpson’s father was a defensive back for the Los Angeles Rams; young Brett was expected to play traditional sports. Instead, he got hooked on surfing by the time he reached age 12.
Widely reported in the local papers was Simpson’s recollection of how his father questioned his passion, asking him, “What the hell are you doing?” He answered by going down to the beach twice a day, every day. He had, he said, only one goal in mind: the U.S. Open. Now 24, he had the satisfaction of knowing his father was in the crowd, watching him make this unexpected win.
Making — or watching — surf history is an extraordinary way for anyone to spend at least part of a summer vacation.
Hoiyin Ip is a freelance photographer and writer, who would love to wax Kelly Slater’s surfboard for the upcoming Hurley Pro Trestles 2009. Hoiyin admires the grace and beauty of the sport, if not the crowds.