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2014 US Open of Surfing Review and Recap - The Year After the RiotAugust 10, 2014
It's been exactly one week since the conclusion of 2014 US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach. A few years ago I may have had to explain to you what this event was all about but ever since NIKE got involved under the guise of action sport brand Hurley (which they quietly acquired) back in 2009 it has become a major destination event for the entire world. Fans of surfing, extreme sports, beaches, and bikinis alike all mark their calendars for the biggest shoreline spectacle since Noah loaded up the Ark. Except, this year was different.
In 2013 CNN lit up the screen with scenes from the evening that wrapped up the final day of the US Open. Depicted were mobs of ne'er-do-wellers from Reseda, Riverside, and other inland slouches where the youth don't know how to act when they get near saltwater. Something must be in the chlorine of their parents' backyard swimming pool. Rabble rousers became rioters, windows were smashed, fires were started, teenage girls egged it on, and social media blazed as imbecelic participants posted their antics which ultimately resulted in their own arrests. What was deemed the greatest outdoor party EVER hours before was decimated the minute the first local business was violated. Don't f**k with Huntington Beach. Because when you do, you change the game.
Within days the City of Huntington Beach and current sponsor VANS stood up and declared they were taking away our toys. For the near future there would be no more concert stage, fewer vendors, far fewer scantily-clad testosterone-boosting promo girls, and an overall smaller event site. The main focus for the US Open of Surfing for 2014 and beyond? Surfing. What a whimsical idea.
Locals and local businesses applauded the quick declaration and VANS was informally awarded Good Samaritan status for not sulking about the lost opportunity of mass brand exposure. As the months toward this summer approached we all wondered what the US Open would bring in 2014.
I arrived in-person for the final weekend of the event after spending the last five days watching the live-streaming webcast, eying for a hint. I could already tell things were different before I touched down at LAX. Some of the big names, the superstars from the previous five years, were no-shows and excuses were doled out accordingly. Schedules conflicted, babies were being born, rehab rumors circulated, and Kelly Slater had a sore shoulder (sustained while wake surfing on Instagram just days before the event?). As our Cadillac sedan rounded onto PCH through Seal Beach to Sunset Beach our driver remarked on the unexpected lack of traffic as we passed Warner Avenue with ease. The size of the stadium ahead reflected the reduced traffic flow. Normally the event area spanned close enough to make the walk from the Hilton Waterfront Resort to the site of no consequence but as we pulled in front of the valet I realized I'd have an extra few minutes to ponder before I stepped into the epicenter. Yep, things were different.
My seat in the media tent gave me a front row view of the action, in the water. For the first time in years I didn't have to position myself in the AM around a beehive surface of beach umbrellas to see the competitors paddle out. On the way to check-in on Friday morning I was even able to stop and chat with Kolohe Andino. Kolohe is currently ranked #9 on the ASP World Tour but number one as a heartthrob in the eyes of Orange County teenage girls, and their moms. Inexplicably his blonde locks were not being swarmed by anyone other than me and my prying questions. It made me wonder how his corporate sponsors, Target and Red Bull, felt about this downsizing in athlete/brand exposure. They're coughing up seven figures a year to see this kid mobbed by their target demographic. It's no surprise after all that other big names were absent on the competitor board. Their sponsors often insist upon attendance at the US Open but perhaps this year they didn't want to risk the limbs of their prime athletes in a non-WCT event if the consumer payoff didn't justify it. Was the US Open of Surfing about to be buried in the sand? Not quite.
The morning sickness gradually wore off as Saturday arrived. The marine layer of clouds lifted and crowds eventually rolled in as if they were at the prom, waiting from the sidelines until the dance floor began to fill. The skate and BMX bowls swelled with an audience as extreme athletes stole mainstream interest from the surf while purist wave watchers took their bird's eye position on the pier. Fan focus was segregated and focused but that's what made it special, more intimate for enthusiasts. The event village was expectedly packed with inland teens looking for free swag, boys that think opening with "what's up baby?" still works on girls, and the girls that it actually still works on. They wandered around as prepubescent zombies, complaining that "last year was so much better". PCH bus stops between Main Street and Beach BLVD were packed by 3PM as they called the day early, dejected. The City of Huntington Beach, VANS, and locals smirked that their plan worked. Welcome to the US Open of Surfing, now go back to the Valley.
Saturday night's bar hopping scene between Fred's, Hurricanes, Baja Sharkeez, and Beachfront 301 was all that of-age US Open partygoers could hope for. The Huntington Beach Police Department made their presence felt, checking Slurpee cups for the scent of vodka and riding around on horseback as bannermen for HBPD. It concluded peacefully around 1AM in time for everyone to pop a few Advil, knock out some z's, and awake in time to do the walk of shame home before catching the final day's heats. Hundreds of thousands of spectators returned right on queue to send the US Open off right, ensuring that social media photos evidenced nothing less than a successful event.
The inconsequential waves didn't matter. The void in top level pros (mens) giving way to braggadocios Brazilian dominance of the event didn't bother the Aussie or Americans. Local hero Brett Simpson folding terribly in the semis was taken with good sportsmanship. Even the exciting women's WCT contingent in 2014 will remain an afterthought to the one factor that would determine the fate of the US Open of Surfing - the lack of incident.
The 2014 US Open of Surfing was a quiet success. Will it call for a return to the concert stage, Red Bull parachuting antics, and promo girls toting bags oozing with swag? After another year of the same in 2015 I believe it will. Will there ever be a riot again? Possibly, but not for at least a decade. It takes a generation or two to forget the consequences. Remember 1986?. If it does occur it will have nothing to do with surfing, action sports, or the beautiful people of Orange County. This is country full of restless youth and a few bad seeds will always cave against the urge to break a window. Fool Huntington Beach once? Shame on the rioters. Fool Huntington Beach Twice? Shame on them. A third time, in the distant future? Surf City USA may very well dole out its own brand of north side parking lot justice if that happens.
See you in HB, next year.
Wish You Were Here - Marcus Maraih, Editor, YAHglobal.Com
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