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Veterans Liven Up U.S. Open

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Professional surfing is a young man’s sport, but on Friday, all eyes were on the old-timers as two of surfing’s greats advanced in the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.

Spectators and competitors alike cheered as Tom Curren, 34, and Mark Occhilupo, 32, won their heats to advance to the third round of the men’s open.

In the 1980s, Curren and Occhilupo staged some of professional surfing’s most memorable heats as both seemed to be at their best when surfing against each other.

Each needs to advance one more heat for a quarterfinal meeting.

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“It’s like Bjorn and McEnroe,” said Ian Cairns, the contest organizer. “These two were, and still, are great surfers. There was always electricity when they surfed against each other. And if they meet in the quarterfinals, it would truly be a dream heat.”

It has been 10 years since Australian Occhilupo surfed Huntington Beach. So he’s excited to be back. But he’s more excited that he and his old rival, Curren, might be surfing against each other again.

“I’m hoping Tom advances so we can compete against each other again. That would be very exciting for me,” said Occhilupo, who’s ranked third on the World Championship Tour.

While Curren easily won his first heat Friday, he had trouble in his second. He was in third place with only two minutes left and the top two finishers in each heat advance.

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However, with less than a minute left, the three-time world champion Curren scored an 8.5 on a wave to move into second. That score was one of the highest of the day.

Taylor Knox of Carlsbad, who was the winner of the K2 Big Wave Challenge, was in the heat with Curren but failed to advance. Knox was suffering from food poisoning, and it was amazing that he was able to surf at all.

Occhilupo’s heat was immediately after Curren’s. But unlike Curren, Occhilupo only had to surf one heat. He won with a score of 22.30, with a high wave score of 8.0.

This was Curren’s fourth heat this week, so he’s not as fresh as Occhilupo. Nevertheless, Cairns said if Curren can win his third-round heat, it could give him the confidence he needs.

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Last year, when Curren was testing the comeback waters, he was eliminated in the third round of the U.S. Open.

“He’s going to want to win. I’m still waiting for that special spark from Curren. And if that happens, he could very well go on to win this contest,” Cairns said.

Jeff Deffenbaugh of Huntington Beach and Pat O’Connell of Laguna Beach, both advanced. Deffenbaugh, who’s trying to requalify for the WCT and gain a wild-card entree for the Op Pro, took second to Marty Thomas of Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

O’Connell also took second, as Tim Curran of Oxnard just edged him in the final minutes of the heat.

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The Iron brothers of Hawaii also advanced, with both winning heats Friday. Bruce, 18, who’s ranked 22nd on the World Qualifying Tour, has been touted as the next Kelly Slater.

“I really thinks that sucks,” Bruce said. “All that does is put a lot of pressure on me and I don’t like it. I just want to surf.”

Bruce and his brother, Andy, 19, are National Scholastic Surfing Assn. men’s open champions. Andy won in 1996, and Bruce in 1997. Both said they would love nothing better than to get a wild-card spot for the Op Pro next week.

“I love to surf Huntington Beach at this event. The waves might not be that good, but the atmosphere is so cool. It’s like a circus. You got all the crowds, the booths, the music and the girls.”

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Notes

San Clemente’s Shane Beschen, who was supposed to surf in heat 16 of the second round, will surf his heat today at 7:20 a.m. Beschen is ranked second on the WCT. . . . Rob Machado of Cardiff-by-the-Sea failed to advance to the next round after taking third in his heat Friday. Machado said he didn’t want to surf in the U.S. Open but decided to at the last minute. Only a couple of hours before his heat, Machado was in Santa Monica with Kelly Slater promoting their new CD, “Songs from the Pipe.” “I guess I should have stayed in Santa Monica the way I surfed today.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Surfing Contest

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* What: U.S. Open of Surfing

* When: Today-Sunday. Surfing begins at 7 a.m. each day and ends about 4 p.m.

* Where: South side of the Huntington Beach Pier, Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street

* Today’s schedule: 7 a.m.--men’s main Round 2; 7:40--bodyboard quarterfinals; 9--Wahine quarterfinals; 10:20--men’s main Round 3; 1 p.m.--longboard semifinals; 1:40--Wahine semifinals; 2:20--longboard finals; 2:50--Wahine finals.

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* Parking: Paid parking in lots by the pier and in the downtown area.

* Information: (714) 366-4584

* Web site: https://www.surflink.com


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