It has been billed as the place to be, worldwide, for action sports enthusiasts. Year in and year out, it hasn't failed to live up to that claim.
The Nike U.S. Open of Surfing launches nine days of continuous action Saturday at the Huntington Beach Pier. Many of the world's top surfers and action sports athletes are in Surf City for an event that last year drew record crowds to the pier, plus a record more than 3.6 million webcast viewers.
This year, the Open, which runs through Aug. 5, is coming up bigger and better, said James Leitz, vice president of IMG which owns and produces the U.S. Open of Surfing.
The 14-acre site at the south side of the pier, which began construction July 9, will showcase surf and skate competition, art, fashion and music.
"There is a certain 'wow' factor going on here right now," Leitz said Monday. "The structure, the actual footprint, is awe-inspiring. We're creating a new experience for the fans who come down and for the athletes themselves.
"There will be a lot going on down here for nine days. There is no other experience like it."
The U.S. Open is the largest surfing competition in the world and plays a key role for the men and women on the Assn. of Surfing Professionals, or ASP, World Tour. The contest is a North America ASP Men's Prime Event and, for the women, marks the conclusion of the 2012 World Title Tour.
A women's world champion could be decided Aug. 5.
"We have 30 of the top 32 surfers on the Men's ASP World Tour coming to Huntington to compete for the title," said Jennifer Lau, vice president of IMG Action Sports and event director for the U.S. Open of Surfing. "We also have the top skate athletes coming to Huntington, as well.
"It's very exciting for us. The number of athletes who are scheduled to compete speaks volumes about the event and how we try to elevate the athletes and their experience here. For the fans, in addition to the surf and skate aspect, we have 14 acres full of sponsors, vendors, musicians, art and product available."
Last August, division titles were won in surfing by U.S. athletes Kelly Slater (Men), Lakey Petersen (Junior Pro Women), and Joel Tudor (Longboard),Australia's Sally Fitzgibbons (Women) andBrazil's Filipe Toledo (Junior Pro Men).
Each reigning champion is back and will vie for a repeat title.
"This [U.S. Open] has become a 'must-do' event for a lot of the top surfers," Leitz said. "The contest kind of fell off a bit, what with guys touring all over the world. But now, with 30 of the top competitors set to enter this year's contest, Huntington Beach has re-established itself as the place to be.
"For the women, the [World Championship Tour] likely will be crowning a world champion here in Huntington. The lineup for the Juniors is 'sick,' as they say, and the Pacifico Longboard competition also is stacked. The competition will be amazing."
The U.S. Open of Surfing sports action package includes several skating events. The Converse Coastal Carnage, a pro/am skateboarding competition set to begin its fourth year, is expected to draw approximately 40 of the top skateboarders from around the world.
Top riders from the U.S., Brazil, China and Thailand will contend. The competition runs Aug. 3-5. Tom Remillard of San Diego won the Coastal Carnage title last year and is back to defend his title.
The Converse Skate Pavilion, a mini-bowl course setup, also returns this year. New to the lineup is the premiere of Damn Am HB, a street skateboarding contest presented by Nike Skateboarding and featuring some of the top amateur skaters worldwide. The Damn Am HB qualifiers are Aug. 3-4, and the finals are Aug. 4.
The concert stage kicks into action Wednesday. Musical acts also will perform Aug. 2-3.
Leitz said that one key component to this year's U.S. Open of Surfing is about "expanding the interactive experience" for fans. That interactive jewel, and new to the site, is a 20- by 100-foot JumboTron that Leitz said will hang from the backside of the Surf Stadium stands. The board, he said, will display "live action sports images, programmed messages and social media applications."
All U.S. Open of Surfing events are free and open to the public. They can be seen at http://www.usopenofsurfing.com. The U.S. Open of Surfing will air on NBC on Sept. 15.