Huntington Beach holds breath ahead of U.S. Open of Surfing

The U.S. Open of Surfing kicks off in earnest Saturday at Huntington Beach, where thousands of people are expected to converge for the nine-day competition.

The event has been significantly scaled back after violent riots erupted last year, causing thousands of dollars in damage to storefronts and city property.


There will be no live music stage or a public skate bowl, and alcohol sales and consumption will be barred, organizers said. There will also be fewer vendors, and police have taken "a lot of different steps" to bolster security, Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy said.

But fans will still have the marquee competitions to look forward to -- surfing, skateboarding and BMX -- which organizers were keen to emphasize for this year's event, the Huntington Beach Independent reported.

"Our promise was to bring sports back as the main focus of the U.S. Open of Surfing, and we are on track for that," said James Leitz, senior vice president of IMG, which owns and operates the event. "That has always been there, but the idea this year was to sharpen the focus."

Last year, officers fired pepper balls and nonlethal projectiles at rioters as they broke through glass storefronts and overturned portable toilets. Several officers suffered minor injuries, and one person was treated and released from a hospital after being hit by a rubber projectile.

Of those arrested in connection with the riot, only one was from Huntington Beach.

City officials have said that despite the precautions, it's difficult to predict human behavior. Still, Leitz described 2014 as an "important year" for the event.

For the past several months, IMG Action Sports, which organizes the event, has been working with city officials and police to scale down the surfing competition. In addition to curtailing alcohol sales and other side attractions, the footprint of the event will be reduced.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Open of Surfing comes at a key stage of the Men's Assn. of Surfing Professionals qualification series and the Women's World Championship Tour. For the men, the ASP Prime event offers valuable points toward a top 10 ranking in the qualification series; for the women, the Open marks the halfway point of the WCT tour.

"I think the athletes we have coming here this year are fantastic," Leitz said. "I believe we have the best female surfers coming to Huntington and over 60 or 70% of the best male surfers in the world. Combined with some of the best skaters and BMX performing, you have a great pool of talent coming to Surf City."

Mike Sciacca is a Times Community News staff writer.

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