Surfing's best to converge on H.B.

For the past few weeks, the area surrounding the Huntington Beach Pier has gone through a detailed transformation in anticipation of one of the biggest action sporting events.

During a nine-day period beginning Saturday, that location will draw throngs of spectators and some of the world's top athletes.

The Vans U.S. Open of Surfing returns to Huntington Beach with a menu that includes surfing, skateboarding and BMX competitions. The sports action continues daily through Aug. 3.

James Leitz, senior vice president of IMG, which owns and operates the event, called the 2014 edition of the U.S. Open of Surfing an "important year" for the event.

"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," Leitz said. "That has always been there, but the idea this year was to sharpen the focus."

The U.S. Open of Surfing comes at a key stage of the Men's Assn. of Surfing Professionals (ASP) Qualification Series and the Women's World Championship Tour (WCT). For the men, the ASP Prime event offers valuable points toward a top 10 QS ranking; 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."

Some of the world's top surfers, indeed, are scheduled to compete at the U.S. Open.

On the men's side, Alejo Muniz, Kelly Slater, Jordy Smith, Julian Wilson and Huntington Beach's former U.S. Open champion Brett Simpson are among the participants. The women's field has, among others, Carissa Moore, Sally Fitzgibbons, Stephanie Gilmore, Tyler Wright and local athlete Courtney Conlogue vying for the title.

The U.S. Open also includes the Men's Junior Pro and Women's Junior Pro competitions. The invite-only Joel Tudor Duct Tape Invitational is a featured surf exhibition during the U.S. Open.

Last year at the U.S. Open, Carissa Moore of Hawaii and Muniz were crowned the women's and men's champions, respectively. Both are back to defend their titles.

Moore, 21, is attempting to win her third U.S. Open women's title. She first accomplished the feat in 2010.

She held off Courtney Conlogue in a tightly contested women's final last year that wasn't decided until the final wave score.

"Winning that first title in 2010 definitely was a crazy moment in my career," said Moore, who is a two-time ASP World Champion (2011, 2013). "I always looked at Huntington as a difficult wave to ride, but that year I was able to win there. Last year, it was a really exciting final with Courtney. No one knew who was going to win until that last score came in.

"Until last year, I had this wall in front of me competition-wise in that I had never won an event twice before. Last year's win in Huntington allowed me to break down that wall.

"I'm feeling really good coming to Huntington this year. It's been a long season so far, but I'm ready to go."

A busy July, which included the Honolulu native earning an ESPY Awards nomination (Best Female Action Sports Athlete), culminates in the induction Friday into the Surfers' Hall of Fame and her first heat Tuesday.

Moore is part of a 2014 induction class that includes Timmy Turner of Huntington Beach and Rusty Preisendorfer. Turner and Preisendorfer will be inducted during an Aug. 1 ceremony.

Moore said her family members will be present for the induction ceremony.

"I had hoped, one day, to make it into the Hall of Fame," she said. "To have it actually happen, and at such a young age, is surreal. I'm so flattered and really honored.

"It's going to be such a crazy, hectic week coming up. There is so much going on from the induction ceremony to the competition before so many spectators on the beach. It's an exciting environment."

Leitz said that one of the most anticipated bowl riding competitions is back at the U.S. Open: the Van Doren Invitational. The competition will draw pro and amateur bowl riders to the all-cement Vans Pro Bowl from Aug. 1 to 3.

"The Van Doren has become an in-command invitational," Leitz said. "It's grown into a serious competition in skate and it lit it up [here] last year. When you throw in BMX into the mix, you have a lot of great competitors vying for prize money and titles."

Vans is putting a special focus on Huntington Beach's celebration of its 100 years of surfing. Family oriented activities include the Van Doren Village, the Art and Soul of Surfing exhibit at the Huntington Beach Art Center, family movie nights and a free showing of Vans' latest surf film, "Get-N-Classic Vol. 3."

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