U.S. Open of Surfing Festival Village at Huntington Beach, CA

Story and Photos by Kathleen Gasperini

The U.S. Open of Surfing celebrated its 50 years at the pier in Huntington Beach, CA (a.k.a. “Surf City”) from July 18-26, culminating in an estimated 500,000 fans attracted to watching top surfers vie for the largest purse in surf history–$100,000 (for the men only, unfortunately) courtesy of the title sponsor, Hurley. In addition Nike rolled out all of their action sports initiatives bringing in other sports such as skateboarding featured in the Converse Coastal Carnage competition in a massive wood bowl set-up, and the Nike 6.0 BMX event in an X-Games equivalent park.

Hurley, as the “surf” sponsor of the Nike trilogy (basically redefining the U.S. Open of Surfing platform) had a huge stage, banners, a Hurley Phantom Experience area where people could check out the latest trends in Hurley gear, particularly their new technical men’s boardshorts in neon block colors and patterns, and for additional exposure in case you were looking out at the surfers, floating Hurley buoys in the surf zone.

Sandy air from the 500,000 fans throughout the week. RedBull was one of the sponsors, but this was a Nike event with Hurley, Converse, and Nike 6.0 skate

This event, while not the Triple Crown of Surfing that takes place on the North Shore of Oahu in December, ending with the famous Banzai Pipeline where the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) champs are named for males and females, it is the mainland’s biggest surf event. The event is what’s called a 6-star qualifier meaning that top winners here can earn enough points to go on what’s called the Dream Tour -the ASP tour that takes surfers around the world on the biggest and most intriguing waves each ocean can provide.

Because of this, not to mention the loads of media on hand (streamed from Hurley TV, Fuel TV, and lots of citizen journalists) top surfers are attracted to compete in the U.S. Open each year. In the men’s competition, loads of drama took place over the course of 4 days as surfers like Brett Simpson, the hometown favorite and overall winner, competed with ASP World Champs such as Mick Fanning, 9-time world champ Kelly Slater, plus Adriano de Souza, C.J. Hobgood, Bruce Irons, and Rob Machado. The U.S. Open also runs concurrently with the Nike 6.0 Juniors event which means that younger surfers are also competing, adding to the action of the weekend, which is particularly important to watch for those tracking women’s surfing as many of the top Pro Juniors are now also capturing ASP titles.

Top surfer competing in several different events–top prize money $100,000.

In women’s surfing, things are moving younger, with once again, the top winners being in their teens. Courtney Conlogue, 15, won the Hurley U.S. Open, defeating the event champ from last year, Malia Manuel, who is also only 15. Interestingly, we saw Malia win the Nike 6.0 Pro Junior just before the ASP qualifying finals of the U.S. Open because she, like Courtney, can also compete in the Juniors because of their age. Malia came in second in the U.S. Open, but won the event just before which was the Nike 6.0 Pro Juniors. Malia defeated 2-time ASP Women’s World Champ Stephanie Gilmore, 21, which was a real coup. Other interesting aspects to note about surfing (vs. say, snowboarding where prize money is far more equal) is that the prize money for men’s and women’s events in surfing is notoriously skewed. Hurley pumped up the volume on the men’s winnings to $100,000 but the U.S. Open winner for women only took home $4,500 from what I could gather.

Other women surfers to note include Sage Erickson, 18, who came in 2nd in the Nike 6.0 Pro Juniors, and who is often covered by many teen mags thanks to her amiable personality and winning looks, followed by Cannelle Bulard, and Coco Ho, 18, a rookie on the ASP women’s tour and former winner.

Coco Ho who came in 4th in the Nike 6.0 Pro Juniors and now a rookie on the ASP Women%uFFFDs Tour and Sage Erickson who came in 2nd

To get an idea of the finals of the U.S. Open and Nike 6.0 Pro Juniors, you have to understand the set-up: a massive swell was ripping through with 12-foot faces. Just on the other side of the pier where regular people surfed and swam, the lifeguards were constantly on megaphones warning about the strong riptide. At times, the waves were so big you could barely see the “Corona” sponsored sailboat in the surf zone and the waves would crash again the bottom of the pier were thousands stood watching and shooting the event. Speaking of the pier, it’s also considered very cool if you can shoot the pier, meaning surf straight through the pilings to the other side. In the Corona Nose Riding Invitational, we saw just that happen as several of the big-board surfers pulled right through.

Kelly Slater, 37, had a lot to say about conditions on Saturday during the semis. As he told the ASP reporters, “There are big, huge, walled close-outs, but there are a few corners out there. The tide is coming in and it’s not as hollow as this morning, there were probably a few barrels out there. That first one I got was so big, it just barreled. I started grabbing rail as I was going down the face, and doing a slow, long bottom turn, trying to brush off some speed. I was thinking, did I dork this, because for I second I didn’t think it was going to barrel. Then it started to pitch. I was starting to think I would look really silly trying to grab rail mid-face on a wave that didn’t barrel. I was hoping I could get out of it and get a hit, but it was just too quick.”

Corona Nose Riding Invitational for longboarders took place when the swell was going off.

He scored a 9.67 once back in the water after breaking his board, winning his heat and gaining the highest total in the men’s division. But it was the local fave Brett Simspon who won the U.S. Open and $100,000.

“I knew the tide was coming up and there weren’t going to be as many waves,” Simpson said. “I knew I needed a quick start. We (Mick Fanning and I) both got off to pretty quick starts. We both picked up some good scores off the bat and I was able to build a little momentum throughout my opening waves. I couldn’t believe it when the heat finished %u2013 I’m still at a loss. I can’t ask for more than to beat Mick Fanning in the Final at home. With that, and the $100,000 and the 2,500 ‘QS points, I’m nearly in tears at the moment.”
“When you’re riding on the ski in front of the crowd and you hear the applause it definitely pumps you up,” Simpson said. “Every time I was feeling a bit tired, the energy level of the crowd would lift me right up. It’s unbelievable to have all the support and my family and friends here with me. This is the best day of my life.”

Bold graphics in bikinis and neon colors in boardshorts.

From a fashion perspective, neon colors and more edgy graphics rather than aloha-surf flowers are definitely in for swimwear and boardshorts. Of course many claim in action sports that their brands are leading the trends in this direction, but as we’ve noted, much of this is coming from what’s going on in music right now and neon -especially via animated neon band merch, is popular among youth culture. Black and red are still going strong as color combos as well, which Billabong got right with various bikini styles. Nike came out with neon orange lids which everyone was wearing on the beach. Hurley’s entire phantom board shorts line are all about neon big patches, mixing nu rave elements and preppy styles together.

Other notable fashion styles included cut-off jean skirts and shorts, fedoras, especially in straw, and Ray-ban style sunglasses.

Hurley%uFFFDs Phantom boardshorts are technical with 60% stretch and super lightweight coming in bold neon block patterns and preppy stripes. They had a “Phantom” experience area where you could walk through and check things out.

In general in a place like Huntington Beach, CA, there is an over-saturation of good looking people. The unrealness of it all compounds when you’re talking about a good portion of some 500,000 fans -swimming, walking, or riding correspondingly cool beach cruisers.

And while most people were on the beach watching the surfing action, there were plenty more in the Festival village checking out the various sponsor booths and causing sandy air quality. The BMX and skate areas were packed with people, rivaling the crowds which will appear at the ESPN X Games July 30-August 2, further north in Los Angeles this weekend. 

Overall, it was the largest surfing event  that’s ever taken place (on the Mainland). It also hosted several concerts each night on the big Hurley stage, including Shwayze and the Murs, a Walk the Walk fashion design competition for high school designers sponsored by Hurley, plus a special Huntington Beach Walk of Fame in induction ceremony, loads of interactive booths by sponsors such as on-site haircuts and styles by Paul Mitchell, %u2026lost freebie tattoos, Fuel TV spin-the-wheel for prizes, Skull Candy prizes and games, Transworld Surf magazine area, G-Shock shop, Nike experience booth, Southwest Airline contest, and more.

During an economic recession, the success of the U.S. Open of Surf was quite a feat. As James Leitz, the Vice President of IMG and producers of the event had to say, “We are pleased the Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing continues to deliver the quintessential California experience in a safe and family-friendly environment that remains free to fans of all ages. We hope you will always remember it was 2009 that we reset the sport of surfing and our industry for another 50 years at the Huntington Beach Pier.”

Nike 6.0 HB BMX events had packed audiences in the stand. The bowl was epic and the riders were stoked, as were the competitors in the Converse Coastal Carnage skateboarding event in a nice wooden bowl configuration.

Coco Ho in the Nike 6.0 Pro Juniors

Coco Ho, 18, from Sunset Beach, Oahu

Joel Tudor dominated the Corona Noseriding Invitational. Point is to ride these really heavy longboards and move up to the nose. Some of these guys do 360s on the nose. Longer you can stay there, the better your score.

Noserider riding the nose.

The Nike 6.0 booth was massive and had long lines the entire weekend. They also gave away free neon orange hats.

Orange hat people got them from Nike%uFFFDs 6.0 exhibition or freebies handed out on the beach.

Sage Erickson–came in 2nd in the Nike 6.0 Pro Juniors. A favorite of magazines like Seventeen.

Straw fedoars and cut-off denim jean skirts and shorts are top of summer beach trends.

Billabong%uFFFDs black and white and red polka dot bikinis are totally punk-surf.

Bright neon boardshorts with sharp angle graphics are key for summer surf styles.Reminding me of the old school snowboarding days circa Damian Sanders, for those who remember.

Baby G and G-Shock were sponsors. We liked the watch display inside the board.

It was 2 o%uFFFDclock when this was taken.

Fuel TV was streaming the U.S. Open and also had a cool wheel of fortune sponsor booth on site that fans loved.

Part of Hurley%uFFFDs Phantom collection included more prep-styled boardshorts in bright green with big checks.

Hurley%uFFFDs Phantom experience (not to be confused with the Jimmy Hendrix Experience, of course.)

Longboard noseriding. Although he%uFFFDs not on the nose at the moment.

Now he is. This is Joel Tudor moving forward. Note the big Hurley blow-ups anchored in the surf break. A Corona sailboat sailed back in forth the entire time.

Rob Machado collage depicts him like a saint. Many fans of this soul-surfer think he is. Rob%uFFFDs defintely much loved in the surfing community.

Malia Manuel came in 2nd in the U.S. Open losing out to Courtney Conlogue at the very end, but she did win the event just before which was the Nike 6.0 Pro Juniors. Since she%uFFFDs only 15, she can compete in both events. Last year, Malia was the youngest woman ever to win the U.S. Open at 14.

Paul Mitchell continues to sponsor the U.S. Open. This time they offered up free cuts and styling. Excellent sponsorship idea.

Shaka Laka lip balm also donates proceeds to various non-profits including Keep-a-Breast.

Volcom%uFFFDs basketball sleeveless jersey top is a crossover fave between surfers and Laker%uFFFDs fans.

To Write Love on Her Arms (a.k.a. TWLOHA) is also on tour with the Vans Warped Tour. This non-profit has a large youth following and for good reason. They also have started a movement with their T-shirt messaging and block letters and colors.

Bag lady got her point across for Chico Bags. Nice use of recycling in sponsorship.

Neon bikinis once again.

U.S.Open from the Huntington Beach pier

More top surfing. The waves were perfect to showcase new moves and cutbacks which are so popular on smaller peaked waves.

View of the Huntington Beack pier and surfer longboarding.

Down in the trough

The Surf Heritage area had amazing old longboards and stories with each. This was a congregation place for older surfers and fans as people shared stories, especially about Hawaii and the creation of these masterpieces.

When you have a beautiful girl in a white bikini riding around on a yellow bike towing a giant bowl of free Honey Bunches cereal, mouths start watering. Nice job, Post.


The jetski guys were amazing as they pulled surfers back out through sometimes enormous surf.

U.S. Open of Surfing Men%uFFFDs Final heats line-up.

Huntington Beach pier with sponsor banners from the beach.

Coco and Sage hi-five each other as the exit the water after their heat.

Skater kids at the U.S. Open. Lots of girls on longboard skateboards. Even deck graphics are going neon.

Skullcandy cruiser bikes. Many of the cruisers were very cool. Pre-requiste for Huntington Beach.

SkullCandy booth with DJ Bles has it going on. Name-that-logo: Analog, Wave-Rate, Quiksilver, Neff, Elm, with a RedBull for refreshment.

SkullCandy handed out necklaces.

One sponsorship program that may not have worked as well as they hoped. Graffiti sand messages however did result in this booth.

More skaters, industry players, and very fit people.