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U.S. Open of Surfing turns Huntington Beach into hotbed of extreme sports

The Vans U.S. Open of Surfing arrived on Huntington Beach this weekend, turning the seaside city into an extreme-sports fan paradise featuring some of the best surfers, skateboarders and BMX riders from across the globe.

The festival, which runs through Aug. 6, kicked off early Saturday morning with the first round of heats in the junior men’s division. Though the summer months typically produce sporadic wave forecasts, many are excited for this year’s iteration of the festival because of Hurricane Hillary, a Category 1 storm currently stirring above the ocean off the Southern California coast.

The storm won’t bring much, if any rain, but it will bring swells expected to produce 4-to 6-foot waves throughout the weekend and 8-to-9-foot waves by Monday and Tuesday. According to 10-year averages of Huntington Beach from Surf-Forecast.com, waves that height come around just 2% of the time throughout July and August, potentially making this summer’s competition the most thrilling in years.

There was plenty going on out of the water as well.

Australian surfer Sally Fitzgibbons, currently ranked No. 2 on the World Surfing League Championship Tour, led a morning group workout on Fifth Street and Pacific Coast Highway. A few blocks over, Vans Park Series skaters took practice runs in a stadium bowl built on the sand; world champion flatland BMX riders held freestyle competitions; and hundreds of fans lined the shoreline and Huntington Beach Pier from as early as 7 to see their favorite surfers try to catch a wave.

The transformation of the normally picturesque beach into a bustling extreme sports compound is expected to draw 100,000 surf, skate and BMX fans this week.

But for the athletes, many of whom come from Europe and Australia, the U.S. Open of Surfing is a chance to revel in the classic Southern California vibe.

Matthias Dandois, a BMX rider from Paris who’s competing in his fourth U.S. Open of Surfing, says that the trip to Huntington Beach is one of his best parts of the year. With him and the rest of the Vans Europe crew staying in a house just a few streets from the sand, Dandois said his week is going to be filled with shooting new footage, freestyling on the beach and, of course, a little bit of partying.

“It’s my favorite city in the world,” said the six-time flatland BMX world champion. “Huntington Beach is so sick, I mean it has that crazy vibe and especially during this event, it’s something. They build the city right on the beach, and everybody is having a good time either riding the bowl, surfing or riding flat. … It’s unbelievable.”

The competition will heat up on Sunday, as the men’s surf trials begin, along with men’s and women’s divisions of the Vans Park Series Continental Championships. On Sunday evening, Dandois and other BMX athletes will participate in a flatland demo at the event’s amphitheater that will be followed by a beach side screening of “Moana.”

To see the full week’s schedule of events, go here.

tyler.blint-welsh@latimes.com

Follow Tyler Blint-Welsh on Twitter @tylergabriel_

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