Advertisement

A Wave of Popularity

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shading her eyes, 42-year-old Mary Weiler leaned over the pier railing and squinted toward the sand, where her three teenagers roamed Saturday near the star competitors in Huntington Beach’s annual surfing contest.

“My kids love the surfing,” Weiler said. “I love the pier.”

The refurbished Huntington Beach Pier Plaza, which opened in June, added to the draw this year for the G-Shock U.S. Open surfing event, bringing an estimated 100,000 people to the area Saturday.

“The new pier makes it a much more inviting atmosphere for anyone. . . ,” Weiler said. “The combination of the plaza and the [surfing competition] is a good advertisement for Huntington Beach.”

Advertisement

Others agreed that the excitement of the grand opening has enhanced the two-week Op Beach Festival, a 16-year local tradition that includes the surfing event.

“It’s been pretty busy,” said 19-year-old Osamah Shehadeh, tending one of dozens of festival booths that lined the shore behind the competition, selling everything from sunglasses to Internet services. “They have a lot more people who know about the events because of the [plaza] opening.”

Though Shehadeh said he missed the grit of the old pier, “the new one does attract people, and for business it’s great.”

While die-hard surfing aficionados watched the competition, which draws surfers from around the globe, thousands cruised the colorful walkways of the plaza, with its mural and amphitheater.

Advertisement

The opening of the plaza marked a long-awaited renewal of the area. The $11.5-million public arts project, funded by the city and local restaurant developers, was designed to make the pier more accessible.

Huntington Beach has “matured right along with the sport of surfing,” Deputy City Administrator Richard Barnard said. “Now the plaza has improved the look and the feel down there. So now it’s a wonderful place to sit and relax as well as a good place to enjoy the sport.”

The festival, which continues until Aug. 2, also includes volleyball competitions, bodyboarding exhibitions and concerts.

“There’s a big early crowd this year,” said 27-year-old Brett Baird of Huntington Beach, who has been coming to the event for the past five years. “You have the booths . . . and the [amphitheater] gives people a chance to see some musical acts.”

Advertisement

While some took advantage of the newly opened space, strolling and in-line skating along the new promenade, others concentrated their focus on the waves.

Sitting on the sand with a view of the competition, 21-year-old college students Lauren Billings and Sara Matthews said they had driven up from San Diego to take in the events. “We’re definitely here for the surfing,” Matthews said. Although this was the first time they had seen women in competition, Billings said, “We came mostly to see the guys surf.”

So did Karen Walker’s two boys, ages 5 and 8. While they kept their eyes on the waves, Walker, 32, of Cypress, enjoyed the plaza, drinking coffee and visiting. “It’s a big thing for them to do,” Walker said, “and for me it’s like a nice social event.”


Advertisement