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40,000 Mellow Fans View Finale of Op Surf Championships

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jeffrey Pinchuk, 24, came from Venice Beach to enjoy the ocean air and watch the women.

Katy Vakili, 17, came from Irvine to catch some rays while “looking at the guys.”

And Richard Doummar, 38, traveled all the way from Virginia Beach, Va., to take the whole scene in as a slice of life in Southern California, where surfers tackle the big ones while crowd members work on their tans.

“It’s a lot more radical than Virginia,” Doummar said. “The people are a lot more carefree. It definitely fits the image.”

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The three were among the estimated 40,000 who turned out Sunday for the final day of the 13th annual Ocean Pacific Pro Surfing Championship just south of the Huntington Beach Pier. The event dovetails with the U.S. Open of Surfing, which begins at the same location on Tuesday.

Ocean Pacific organizers, who have worked hard in recent years to eliminate the surfing championship’s “beach party” image, characterize it as a major athletic event. And, indeed, much of Sunday’s polite and well-mannered crowd seemed to consist of serious surfing aficionados.

But the event has also taken on a certain quintessential Surf City quality, replete with skimpy swimsuits and the smell of suntan lotion.

“I think it’s synonymous with the Southern California lifestyle,” said Mike Kingsbury, Op spokesman. “You have fashion, music, surfing and environment all in one place. These are things that are important to surfers, and surfers tend to be trendsetters.”

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This year for the first time, Op officials had decided to charge $5 for seating in a series of bleachers set up along the beach and on the pier. Most of the audience opted for the free sand, however, leaving huge gaps in the stands.

For the most part, though, the crowd remained mellow as such favorites as Kelly Slater and Rob Machado battled the waves for dominance over nature and each other.


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