Thousands enjoy swell time

Mike Sciacca

Well, the party's over.

And it was some party.

Celebrations took place throughout the weekend as one of

Huntington Beach's premiere annual events, the Bank of the West Beach

Games featuring the Honda U.S. Open of Surfing presented by O'Neill,

wrapped up 11 days of intense competition.

There were first-time and repeat winners in the surfing

competitions; a first-time volleyball tournament, teaming legends

with today's names in the game; and a record-setting effort atop the

world's largest surfboard.

"There definitely was something here for everybody," said Mario

Bonaventura, production manager for International Management Group,

which staged the beach games. "There was a lot of time and hard work

that went into putting this all together, and now it's time for


The venue setup on the south side of the pier had a slight, yet

improved, change this year. By turning the Soul Bowl, home of the

skating, BMX and FMX aspect of the games competition, on a different

angle, it allowed for better flow of traffic created by the massive

throngs, organizers said.

Soon after the area cleared out, the post-games challenge began --

cleaning up after more than 300,000 people and knocking down the

festival village.

"We start tearing down on Monday and will go at it all week, until

we are done," said Bonaventura, who finished his third year as

production manager of the event. "This has been the smoothest running

of this event since I've been involved, by far. It's been a great

ride here again in Huntington Beach."

It proved to be a great weekend for Julia Christian and Andy Irons

in the U.S. Open of Surfing competition.

Christian, of Carlsbad, won her first six-star World Qualifying

Series event, the $30,000 Honda U.S. Open of Surfing.

She finished with a point total of 11.83 Saturday on a day the

waves were nonexistent.

Christian, 23, defeated Rebecca Woods of Australia in a final that

featured a first: Woods did not score a point in the 30-minute heat

-- the first time in U.S. Open of Surfing history that a finalist had

failed to catch one wave.

"This is the biggest win of my career," said Christian, who won

only her second professional tournament.

The waves weren't much better on Sunday, yet Andy Irons managed to

ride to his second U.S. Open of Surfing men's title by holding off a

late charge by Rob Machado.

Irons first won the crown in 1998.

It was a fitting end to the $185,000 U.S. Open men's competition.

Two former U.S. Open champions -- one a three-time reigning world

champion, the other a crowd favorite who has enjoyed an amazing

career -- battled in a 30-minute, man-on-man final.

The two share more than 40 World Championship Tour and World

Qualifying Series titles between them.

It was Irons who had to watch as Machado almost pulled off an

impossible and near-miraculous finish, who came out on top of a

finals heat decided after the final horn.

Machado, of Cardiff, won the U.S. Open in 1995 and 2001. He nearly

won his third event title, which would have been a first for the men

in history of the U.S. Open of Surfing.

The loss in the final heat was his first heat defeat following six

straight wins.

He had only lost his first heat, which came in the round of 96.

"It was fatigue," Machado said of his finish. "I was just stoked

to get that wave at the end. It came out of nowhere. I gave it a

shot, and the crowd went nuts."

Needing a score of 7.77 to overtake Irons, Machado caught one last

wave in the final 30 seconds.

Getting a ride on one of the better waves of the day, his

off-the-top cutback, followed by a floater into the inside and finish

with an upside down aerial maneuver in the shore break had the crowd

in a frenzy.

If the crowd's roar served as any indication to the outcome, then

Machado had appeared to have pulled out the win. But he fell just

short, with a final wave score of 7.33.

Machado had finished with 12.66 points, to 13.10 scored by

Hawaii's Irons.

"I had lost a couple of events in the final seconds before, and

when I heard the crowd going nuts, I thought, 'Here we go again,'"

said Irons, who was carried up the beach on the shoulders of a crowd

who had embraced him moments after he emerged from the water.

"Rob's a really cool guy and an amazing surfer, but this was a

tough final for us both. We both thought, how slow is this?" With the

lack of waves, It was tough to be patient, he said.

Irons received a check for $15,000, while Machado earned $7,500.

"Winning in Huntington Beach is a great feeling," said Irons, who

returned to Kauai on Monday.

He said he plans to take a two-month hiatus from competition.

"It feels just as good winning this today as it did the first time

around," he added. "The crowd going nuts here is just awesome to


Hank Gaskell of Hawaii won the $10,000 Lost Pro Junior Men's

competition, and Nikita Robb of South Africa won the $10,000 Target

Women's Junior Pro event.

Joel Tudor of San Diego won his eighth title in the $10,000

O'Neill U.S. Open of Longboarding.

Also on Sunday, the finals of the Karch Kiraly Invitational

volleyball tournament brought out the legends of the game, as well as

today's top pros.

The unique tournament format featured six four-player teams,

composed of three men and a woman representing beach cities along the

Southern California coast in the two-day event. Team Hermosa defeated

Team Manhattan.

It was the first time the tournament had been part of the Bank of

the West Beach Games.

"It's been a lot of fun to watch," Kiraly said. "It's great to see

the men and women work together. There have been some awesome

rallied. Mixing up the legends of the game with some of the top

players today, and mixing the sexes, has been a neat combo. We hope

to be back with the games next year."

Setting the tone for the weekend send-off of the games was a

successful attempt at setting an unofficial world record atop the

world's largest surfboard.

At noon on Friday, the unofficial world record for most number of

surfers riding on one surfboard was shattered when, under the

assistance of marine safety personnel, 60 surfers -- a mix of local

lifeguards and members from the Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguard

program, current pros and legends -- were towed by personal

watercraft into two-foot surf.

The surfboard measured 40 feet by 10 feet and weighed 1,200


The previous unofficial world record was set in March of this

year, when 47 surfers rode the board along Australia's Gold Coast.

The board was built by Nev Hyman of Australia, who was present

Friday for the record-setting attempt.


How well did the Beach Games and U.S. Open of Surfing go this

year? Leave your thoughts on our Readers Hotline at (714) 966-4664,

fax us at (714) 966-4667 or e-mail us at o7hbindy@latimes.comf7.

Please include your name and city where you live.

* MIKE SCIACCA covers sports and writes features. He can be

reached at (714) 966-4611 or by e-mail at


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