Virgen: Calm, so far, at U.S. Open of Surfing

I did not attend last year's U.S. Open of Surfing, and missed what Peter "PT" Townend called, "just a skirmish."

Last year's events after the Open left Huntington Beach residents disgruntled because they believed mostly outsiders caused the trouble, damages that left HB to pay $30,800 in repairs because of a crowd that went wild through Main Street.

By the looks of things, through Thursday, this year's Open is tame and under control. I showed up after the surfing heats and the scene near the HB Pier remained festive. Plenty of young people dressed in beach gear, yet some girls were adorned with risque painting on their bodies, such as handprints on their bottom, and "hugs here" on their belly.

Even though the majority of people appear behaved, Townend's larger hope for the event seems far out of reach.

"The reason the contest started was to bring the best surfers in the world," said Townend, known as surfing's first world champion, who is on the board of the HB Visitors Bureau and is also one of the founding members of the Open, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. "So, people in Southern California could see the best surfers in the world. Somewhere along the road that got lost. The city has done a good job. And you have to give credit to Vans [the Open sponsor] because they've done a good job of trying to get back to the DNA and why we started this event in the first place."

This past Saturday, Townend said he sat with HB Police Chief Rob Handy outside the BJ's Pizza on the corner of Main Street and Walnut. Handy, Townend said, wasn't there to enforce rules or make himself noticeable. He was there to people watch.

Townend told the Handy he believed at least 70% of the people at the Open didn't even know why they were there. They just heard about all the females and the party scene and wanted to check it out, Townend said.

"This is the place to be," Townend said.

Townend noticed there were times when the HB Police did become aggressive to enforce rules. On Thursday, just outside of G's Boathouse on Main Street, two girls in a car were pulled over and later handcuffed and taken away. It appeared the female driver made an inappropriate gesture with her finger at the police officer, a man.

"[Handy's] guys are being aggressive because, to be honest, they should be. Right? Because there are some idiots coming down here," Townend said. "I mean, seriously, they're not coming down here because it's a surfing contest, which is why the OP Pro and the US Open started, was to bring the best surfers in the world. Somewhere along the way that all went wrong and it became something about you needed to come here to get in trouble.

There's two ways to look at it actually: to hook up with the chicks or get into some trouble. Maybe sometimes it can be the same thing. They forgot about the concept."

Townend believes there has been a sense of sensationalism by the media and, "they are just waiting for something to happen." He scoffed at a recent news story reporting that a 16-year-old Huntington Beach boy was arrested because he was planning to carry out violent acts at the Open.

The news was reported after a press release from the HB Police Department.

Townend and others with the city and event's staff know this weekend will be the true test of keeping things calm. There is plenty of security and police officers surrounding HB Pier and Main Street.

There are also several video cameras in place throughout Main Street and areas near the pier.

This could be described as a pivotal year with regard to the Open, and it's the 100th anniversary of surfing in HB. Yet Townend knows the Open isn't going anywhere. It's staying in HB.

"This is Surf City and Surf City should have a giant surfing championship or it wouldn't be Surf City," Townend said. "If it didn't have a surfing championship? It would be kind of ironic. Wouldn't it? So there's a few bumps in the road. But the city, the police department, the visitors bureau they're dealing with it in a way they want this to continue."

The Open concludes Sunday with the Women's Pro final and Men's Pro final. Saturday features the junior competition finale for boys and girls.

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