When Prime Ticket's Don Meek first began pitching potential sponsors to help underwrite a big Southern California surf contest at Huntington Beach, the reaction was as cold as one of last winter's storms.
"I went to New York last February for three days," recalled Meek, vicepresident for event properties for the L.A.-based cable network. "And it turned into seven days because we got snowed in. You really have to believe you're on a mission while slogging through snow selling sponsorships to a surfing event to major corporations like 1-800-COLLECT and Coca-Cola in New York City.
"I would walk into their offices and they would ask, 'What are you here to see us about?' Well, I would say, 'The U.S. Open of Surfing.' And, they would say, 'Well, it's 10 degrees outside.' "
Meek didn't exactly inherit the Earth on this trip, but neither did he let that midwinter disinterest stop him from creating a contest.
Five months later, with those two sponsors and others in tow, Prime Ticket and Huntington Beach are putting on a two-week surfing bonanza.
Today through Sunday, the 13th Annual Op Pro Surfing Championship will draw top surfers to the southern side of Huntington Beach Pier. With more than 400 competitors vying on almost everything that floats, organizers are calling it the biggest competitive field ever assembled. It is a $70,000 World Qualifying Series event.
Next week (Aug. 2-7), it's the $140,000 U.S. Open of Surfing, the first time in two years that a world-tour event has been held in the continental United States. All this surf news, said Rockin' Fig, could mean a major revival for surfing.
How so, Figgy?
Well, there are a lot of things affecting surfing this year. The new movie "The Endless Summer II" is now out, and it's gonna motivate a lot more people to visit the beach. I'm not just talkin' about our inland population in Southern California. I'm talking about people in the Midwest and elsewhere. They'll be checking out surfing and seeing how much fun it is. With the Op Pro and the U.S. Open of Surfing, people are going to focus on Southern California, looking to see what happens at both contests because the big names of surfing are going to be here.
Coming to town for the Open are such stalwarts as Australia's Barton Lynch and Damien Hardman, world champ Derek Ho of Hawaii, Great Britain's Martin Potter and, from the other side of the globe, Brazil's Flavio Padaratz and Fabio Gouveia. Southland contenders include Cardiff's Rob Machado and San Clemente's Shane Beschen.
With such talent eyeing the Open, John Warner, Ocean Pacific Surfing Apparel Corp.'s chief executive officer, said Op was concerned that its contest might take a back seat to the Open. But Op has gotten word that 41 of the world's Top 44 surfers will also compete at the Op Pro.
"And, we've also added a tandem event," Warner said. "Kind of like the ol' Gidget years, which should be a lot of fun. With both contests, it should be an incredible 10 days of surfing."
Fig added: Don't forget the best longboarders in the world will be here, with guys like world champion Rusty Kealana, former champ Joey Hawkins and others. And we have all the best women in the world, including Florida's Lisa Andersen and Australia's Pauline Menczer. And they're gonna be having the Op Juniors contest, so they're gonna be showcasing the best up and coming grommets.
So we also have an amateur contest mixed in with the pros, eh?
Yup, that's it. It's gonna be big in all divisions.
It has even gotten the normally surfing-shy media's attention.
Last week, for instance, Sports Illustrated was looking for Hawaii's Sunny Garcia for a possible profile. Television's "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"--yep, Robin Leach--will highlight former world champion and teen-age heartthrob Kelly Slater. Sports Illustrated for Kids will be at the U.S. Open, as will TV Guide, MTV Sports, the "Today" show and possibly CNN.
Already, 175 journalists and representatives from 70 media outlets have asked for passes and camera space, organizers said.
Figgy, what's so big about having a world tour event like the U.S. Open?
We haven't had one in two years. You only get 10 or 11 world tour events a year, and this is the first time in two years that we've been able to sponsor one in the continental United States. It takes big bucks to put on a world-tour contest.
Fig, I asked Ian Cairns, the Op Pro's contest director, what kind of maneuvers these top pros will be doing.
"In the past," Cairns said, "surfers like Tom Curren would pull off, say, an off-the-lip turn, a maneuver that's really hot. But you would see one such maneuver on a single wave. The key now is to link them up, ride a tube and then pull a really radical roundhouse turn into another and then another, linking up two or three super moves on a single wave."
"Southside Huntington," said Nick Carroll, Surfing Magazine's editor-in-chief, "is an almost uniquely Californian phenomenon, including a pier-formed sandbar. No other wave on the world professional tour even remotely resembles it. The result? A wave that simultaneously rewards patience and risk."
Carroll said several people come to mind to win the Open: Dave Macaulay from West Australia is "Mr. Patient" personified; countryman Lynch, who won the 1991 Op, and half a dozen others also are likely. But Garcia and Slater stick out.
"If Kelly and Sunny make the final, and Kelly doesn't score four perfect, flawless, impossible waves, Sunny will eat him for breakfast, lunch and dinner," Carroll said.
Even longboarders will dazzle the crowds with hot new moves, said Hawkins, a Huntington Beach pro longboarder. Hawkins, 24, the former world champion, said today's longboarders have learned radical moves by adapting skateboarding maneuvers to the water.
"Today's pros are looking for a series of radical moves rather than just one mega maneuver," Hawkins explained. "If you pull off only one big trick, like a big (aerial), you won't get as many points (as) if you do a number of easier maneuvers that can win you a consistent score. Unfortunately, contests do not let you pull off real radical moves because you won't score as high.
"But for me," Hawkins continued, "you're going to see a lot of nose rides and 360s, dropped-knee cutbacks and floaters plus a lot of crazy stuff like from-the-tail 360s and from-the-nose 360s, when you throw the front of the board up into the wave and slide it back down. Also some 'shove it' 360s."
A "shove it" 360?
"Yeah," Hawkins said. "I sometimes take off, fin first, and shove the surfboard into a 360-degree turn and land with a switched stance."
All of which will be caught on film.
Fig, I asked Meek how an L.A. network that normally just televises events got into the business of producing the U.S. Open of Surfing.
"We're the event management company," said Meek, a youthful 36-year-old surfer from Pacific Palisades and former Newport Beach lifeguard. "Originally, Prime Ticket as the sole sponsor put up $250,000. But we've spent far beyond that in television inventory. I would estimate that a non-television company would have to spend about $1 million to put this on."
Essentially, Prime Ticket put up guarantee money and then sold sponsorships, right?
"Right," Meek said. "We have 1-800-COLLECT and Sebastian Hair Care products as premier sponsors."
Was there a surfing connection among Prime Ticket execs?
"Yes!" Meek said. "Roger L. Werner, the president and CEO of Prime Ticket, surfs. Also, we never would have gotten into this if not for Don Corsini, executive vice president of programming and production. He's also a hard-core surf guy. In fact, we all surf together at Malibu."
Cool. The Fig was happy about that.
It's kinda neat for Don Meek to be fortunate to have two bosses who are bigwigs in the industry, and those same guys surf! It's a stoker. These guys are into it, and that gives really everybody else out there in the surfing world a little bit of a chance, because Meek managed to persuade them on this contest. You gotta give a special thanks to those guys.
Fig, you're making me feel warm and fuzzy all over.
Hey, maybe they'll give me 20 free passes?
How will Prime Ticket make money here?
"We have the rights to domestic TV, merchandising, the live gate, concessions and sponsorships," Meek said.
Fig, I guess the boys from Prime Ticket are hoping for sunny skies and nice waves, huh?
Riiiiight. Lucky for them, Huntington Beach is well known for its consistency. It may not have the biggest waves, but if you're going to hold a contest, Huntington is a good choice.
As part of the festivities, Prime Ticket will co-host a dinner and concert Aug. 4 to raise money for Surfrider Foundation's environmental projects. The fund-raiser, featuring Chris Isaak, is scheduled for the Hard Rock Cafe in Newport Beach. Cost is $100 per person. For information, call (714) 361-2612. Also, 25 cents from every print program goes to Surfrider, which will also hold a raffle for a chance to win a pro's surfboard at the U.S. Open of Surfing. Raffle tickets are $1.
Bleachers at the Open will hold 7,000 people. It's paid admission. VIP sky boxes for companies and reserve seating will also be available.
Also, Prime Ticket has added a beach expo during the Open, featuring booths from ocean organizations and companies interested in the beach lifestyle.
Rockin' Fig and Dave's Surfin' Glossary
Bottom Turn--The surfer lays into a turn at the bottom of the wave, drives off the bottom really hard, and that sets up the next move. Says Fig: It's the biggest move you're gonna see at any contest.
Lip--The top section of a wave that topples over when the wave begins to break.
Lip Slash--No, not a lipstick accident. A big power turn off the top. Fig: You wanna be throwin' a lot of water. Basically a whip turn off the face of the breaking wave.
Huntington Hop--Something you're going to be seeing a lot of during the next two weeks. It happens when surfers catch an outside wave, then bounce on their boards attempting to catch the reform wave or inside shorebreak. It's probably not what the judges wanna see. They wanna see guys S-turn their way over flat spots trying to look fluid and not lose any speed as they connect to the inside section.
Shred--When the rider rips a wave going from maneuver to maneuver and just shreds it. Cannot use to describe big Hawiian power surfers such as Johnny Boy Gomes. Johnny Boy not only shreds, he gouges waves.
Suicidal--Figgy says it best describes his buddy, John Parmenter, 1986 U.S. Bud Pro Tour champion. Parmenter was surfing close to the pier recently on a big, eight-foot day. They were just throwing big and super hollow right next to the pier. You would take off and BOOM! You're right inside the barrel going as fast as a freight train toward the pier. He was riding my board. Real suicidal. He didn't care about the pier. He was getting some mean barrels. Big frothy green things. And, he's wearing this Day-Glo wet suit, and I could see him right through the lip as it broke over. He was, like, five feet behind the breaking lip, just tucked inside this thing. He made it.
Tailslide--Usually performed after a cutback where the rider shifts weight on his trail foot, pushes down and slides the tail of the board. You'll be turning the board around, changing directions and definitely drifting that tail, doin' a big 'ol tailslide while you're moving into the next section.
Wipeouts--As easy as putting on your shoes. You too can become a member of The Fall Off Club. Odds are that you will have fallen off dozens of times before you can ride a curl in to shore. Can include a simple dive off the surfboard to something more radical. An easy full soul arch can immediately turn into mayhem if your fins snag on something. A G-force bottom turn--full tilt with heavy body lean, hand cupped as it slips across the water--can wind up with the tail slipping right outta the water. Result: You slipping into traction.
Surf and Shop
The U.S. Open Surf Expo will be held behind the main staging area Aug. 2-7 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More than 50 booths will offer from surf wear to munchies to cellular phones. Admission is free. * Op Pro Remaining Schedule
Grandstand seating is free today and Friday; $5 a day Saturday and Sunday, or $6 for both days. A $20 ticket can be purchased for weekend seating at both Op Pro and U.S. Open. Today, 6 a.m. to 7:20 p.m.: men's Round 1, junior Round 1, long board Round 1 continues.
Friday, 6 a.m. to 7:20 p.m.: men's Round 2, women's Round 1, long board Round 2.
Saturday, 6 a.m. to 7:20 p.m.: long board quarterfinals, semifinals and finals; women's quarterfinals, semifinals and finals; men's Round 3.
Sunday, 7 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.: juniors quarterfinals, semifinals and finals; men's quarterfinals, semifinals and finals; awards ceremony.
* U.S. Open
Grandstand seating free Tuesday-Thursday; otherwise, $7 a day or $15 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Tuesday, Aug. 2, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.: long board Round 1, women's trials, bodyboard Round 1.
Wednesday, Aug. 3, 6 a.m. to 6:40 p.m.: men's and women's Round 1, long board Round 2.
Thursday, Aug. 4, 6 a.m. to 6:40 p.m.: men's Round 2, women's Round 2, bodyboard Round 2.
Friday, Aug. 5, 7 a.m. to 6:10 p.m.: men's Round 2 continues, women's quarterfinals, long board quarterfinals, bodyboard quarterfinals, volleyball exhibition (3 to 5 p.m.).
Saturday, Aug 6, 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.: men's Round 3, long board semifinals and finals, women's semifinals and finals, jet ski race and lifeguard exhibition (3 to 5 p.m.).
Sunday, Aug. 7, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.: bodyboard semifinals and finals; men's quarterfinals, semifinals and finals; awards and closing ceremonies. Sources: ASP Media Guide, Ocean Pacific, U.S. Open of Surfing, Times reports.
Researched by APRIL JACKSON / Los Angeles Times
Wave-slapping maneuvers at Op Pro Surfing Championships and U.S. Open of Surfing will show off skills of the sport's international professional contingent. A guide to watching and understanding totally stoked surf competition:
* Making Points
Contestants are judged on execution of radical moves at fast speeds on any size wave that can be surfed. Judges score top four rides from maximum of 10 to determine finalists. In final heat, best five of 15 are scored. * Priority Buoy
First surfer to paddle around priority buoy gets prime choice on wave selection for heat. Toward end of heat, leader may use priority buoy to bump other competitors off waves, preventing them from scoring.
* Wave selection
Choice of waves dictates surfer's ability to fulfill other judging criteria. Surfers will opt for outside set of waves for their size, shape and potential riding distance.
* Personal style
Judges examine how surfer works selected waves and strings together maneuvers for fluid ride.
Emphasis on big, explosive moves showcasing surfer's talents and harnessing wave's power. (More detailed maneuvers illustrated below.)
* Ride length
Carving inside section of waves is crucial. Longer rides mean more opportunities to perform scoring maneuvers.
Working a Wave
Pros make surfing look easy. But maneuvers take strength, balance, grace and endurance. Surfers also assess conditions and decide which waves best showcase their skills. Close-up of four moves and their scores:
Several turns in one. Surfer sets board on edge and slices back against wave break. Goal is to slam into foam, setting up a new series of maneuvers across wave face. High points awarded for solid cutbacks.
Surfer climbs to top of wave, then shoots across breaking section. Difficulty comes when surfer drops off top and turns back into wave face. Medium to high points.
* Tube Rides
Good wave selection and timing set surfer inside hollow portion of breaking wave. Ability to adjust speed to let tube catch up, then finesse staying inside as long as possible always garners high points.
Think saltwater skateboarding. Surfer turns hard off wave bottom, gaining speed up wave face, and blasts into air. While airborne, surfer flips board in opposite direction and prepares for splashdown. High points for those who stay on-board. Sources: ASP Media Guide, Ocean Pacific, U.S. Open of Surfing, Los Angeles Times reports
Researched by APRIL JACKSON / Los Angeles Times