Huntington Beach resident Michael Heh said he was in awe at the scene on Main Street late Sunday.
At the front of this sea of young, alcohol-fueled humanity packed into a two-lane street of storefronts was a row of what Heh estimated to be 150 shirtless “tough guys” taunting the outnumbered police.
“Just not enough at all,” Heh told The Times in an interview Monday.
He estimated maybe 20 officers were initially downtown Sunday to deal with the aftermath of the U.S. Open of Surfing when the crowd on Main Street turned violent and broke windows and looted businesses.
“To be there and see that mass of people, you had to see it,” Heh said. “The pictures and video are bad, but it’s really worse.”
Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman complimented the police department’s response to the crowd.
“It could’ve been much worse than it was,” she said of the riot. “There was a plan in place to call on mutual aid in case it was needed. I think our police acted with great restraint given the crowd. They contained it very well.”
Heh, 48, has lived less than a mile from Huntington Beach’s main drag since 2009. He said he moved to Surf City specifically for the beach and surf culture and has come to expect some rowdiness about this time every year when the U.S. Open paddles into Huntington.
The crowds – who locals claim are mostly out-of-towners – are known to drink in their cars or discreetly from brown bags, urinate in public and leave their trash behind.
This year was different, Heh said.
“It seemed bigger, more people and more rowdy,” he said. “I’ve never seen this many people packed into Main Street into such small areas.”
Huntington Beach was forced to call for assistance from neighboring departments to get the crowd under control.
Photos and video from Sunday night’s fracas shows rioters smashing in windows with street signs and looting while others kicked over portable toilets. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd to disperse them.
At one point, Heh said, people were throwing stuff at police from a second-story restaurant along Main Street. When the officer aimed at them, they rushed away from the balcony edge, Heh said.
Heh said Sunday’s riot should mark a turning point for event organizers and city officials.
“Too many bars, too many people from out of the city looking to do I don’t know what,” Heh said. “I think it needs to be more family focused than bar focused.”