HUNTINGTON BEACH — The glow of the spotlight bathed two local favorites in a warm embrace a year ago. Whose turn will it be to shine center stage this time in Huntington Beach?
Will it be one of the several athletes from neighboring Newport Beach?
The answer begins to reveal itself Saturday, the day the U.S. Open of Surfing gets underway at the Huntington Beach Pier.
The world's largest professional surfing competition, featuring the Men's and Women's Pro and the Men's and Women's Junior Pro, launches nine days of high-powered events through Aug. 8. This year's event comes on the heels of a 2009 extravaganza that drew 500,000 fans and offered record prize money and a competition that played out in incredible surf.
Last year, the event concluded with a double-whammy on its final weekend when a pair of locals, Courtney Conlogue, of Santa Ana and Huntington Beach native Brett Simpson, emerged with the coveted Women's and Men's Pro titles before an enthusiastic crowd that wildly cheered on the winners.
It marked the first time the two U.S. Open competitions had been won by local athletes.
Simpson and Conlogue are back to defend their titles. Some local talent wants to defeat them.
"I'm ready to go," said Erica Hosseini, 23, a 2005 graduate of Newport Harbor High, who is seeded into the Women's round of 48. "The U.S. Open is such a great event with all the media and the hype, and all the great talent that comes from around the world for this. Hurley does such a great job with it and it brings out the Kelly Slaters, Taj Burrows and Mick Fannings. It's such a great spectator event."
Hosseini said she has been competing at the U.S. Open of Surfing since she was 15. Her best placement was a third-place finish three years ago in the Women's Junior Pro when she was 20, the final year she was eligible age-wise to compete in the Junior Pro.
She'll surf her first heat Monday along with fellow Newport Beach athlete, Kaleigh Gilchrist who also is seeded into the Women's round of 48.
"When you're seeded into the round of 48, you already know that it's a great group of competitors you're going up against," Hosseini said. "It's going to be a great Women's event."
Hosseini also is opening the doors of her home to two other Women's division competitors, Rosy Hodge of South Africa, and Nicola Atherton of Australia. The two, she said, arrive Sunday.
"It's great to be able to give them a place to stay and have the chance to show them my hometown," Hosseini said. "I'm excited to have them here. The U.S. Open should be fun and exciting for all of us."
Newport Beach surfers Andrew Doheny, Victor Done, Jared and Taylor Thorne, and Chase Wilson, are scheduled to compete in the U.S. Open Men's Junior Pro. Doheny and Wilson are seeded into the round of 32, the Taylors into the round of 48 and Done into the round of 64.
Doheny also is seeded into the Men's trials.
For the first time, the U.S. Open of Surfing has been upgraded to "Prime" status by the Assn. of Surfing Professionals, said James Leitz, senior vice president of IMG Action Sports, which owns and operates the U.S. Open.
Leitz said that "Prime" status was awarded to the U.S. Open based on several factors, including an increased prize purse ($250,000) for the men, the history and prestige of the event, marketing of the event, media and web coverage and the structure of the event site itself.
"The U.S. Open is worthy of such status," Leitz said. "You can't deny the power of the U.S. Open. Our objective has always been to bring in the world's best surfers and really put on a great showcase for the city of Huntington Beach, and the world."
The U.S. Open was founded in 1994, but the competition's history dates to 1959, when it was called the West Coast Surfing Championships. The U.S .Open is North America's only combined six-star World Qualifying Series event on the ASP World Tour.
Although surfing is the crown jewel of the nine-day event, BMX and skate competitions, music, fashion and vendor booths in the Festival Village, all set within 14 acres at the pier, are also an integral part of the yearly success of the U.S. Open.
Construction for the massive event began July 13. Tear-down begins Aug. 9, the day after the Men's final.
"It's a monster of a setup," said Leitz, noting that when the U.S. Open ends its nine-day run, it will leave the beach "pristine … like we weren't even here."
He said that the tear-down will be completed by Aug. 14.
"It's 40% bigger and 100% more intricate than last year, although we haven't expanded past our 14-acre blueprint," he said of the venue.
With five days of free music with top national acts, a larger BMX course, two skate bowls, more grandstands, four TV production compounds, a 6,000-square-foot press room, a 7,000-square-foot retail store, 13,000-square-foot retail areas for Nike 6.0, Hurley and Converse, seven jumbotrons, 72 hours of live webcasting from four live sets and a whole lot more, Leitz said, the U.S. Open of Surfing has become "one of the largest sports, music and youth cultural events on the planet."
The interactive Festival Village features more than 100 exhibits and includes autograph signings, prize giveaways, DJs and guest emcees. Among the top national acts performing at the U.S. Open Music Stage Tuesday through Aug. 7 are Cobra Starship, Cold War Kids, Bedouin Soundclash, Switchfoot and Weezer.
During the U.S. Open, a pair of induction ceremonies will take place at Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, beginning with the Surfing Walk of Fame in front of Jack's Surfboards at 10 a.m. Aug. 5. The Surfers' Hall of Fame takes place at 10 a.m. Aug. 6, in front of Huntington Surf & Sport.
The $350,000 U.S. Open includes a $250,000 Men's Prime division that awards a $100,000 first-place prize and 6,500 points to the winner. Doheny will compete in a Men's Prime division that includes, among others, Simpson, Huntington Beach athletes Tim Reyes, Brad Ettinger, Shaun Ward and Jason Harris, Rob Machado (Cardiff), three-time world champion Andy Irons (Hawaii), Mick Fanning (Australia), Taj Burrow (Australia), C.J. Hobgood (Florida), Dane Reynolds (Ventura), Patrick Gudauskas (San Clemente) and Jordy Smith (South Africa), who is ranked No. 1 in the world.
Smith won the Billabong Pro Men's title in South Africa last week.
Machado (2006, 2001, 1995), Irons (2006, 1998), Hobgood (2007) and Burrows (2004) have all won the U.S. Open Men's title.
The $60,000 Women's six-star division has a $20,000 first-place prize — a record high — and 12 of the top 16 women on the ASP World Tour are entered in the competition. Hosseini and Gilchrist will go up against the likes of Conlogue, world champions Stephanie Gilmore (Australia) and Sofia Mulanovich (Peru), Jessi Miley-Dyer (Australia), Jacqueline Silva (Brazil), ratings leader Sally Fitzgibbons (Australia), Coco Ho (Hawaii), Sage Erickson (Hawaii) and Karina Petroni (Florida).
Gilmore (2007) and Mulanovich (2006) are previous winners of the U.S. Open Women's title.
Leitz said with the Women's prize purse raised to $60,000, and with $20,000 going to the winner, the U.S. Open Women's Pro purse is "one of, if not the" highest first-place prizes in women's surfing.
The U.S. Open Women's Pro and the $10,000 U.S. Open Women's Junior Pro (ASP grade-four event) finals are Aug. 7. The U.S. Open Men's Pro and $10,000 U.S. Open U.S. Open Men's Junior Pro (ASP grade-two event) finals are Aug. 8.