U.S. Open catching a wave

The stage is nearly set, and the festivities are about to launch.

Action sports return in a big way to Surf City this weekend with the start of the 2013 Vans U.S. Open of Surfing at the Huntington Beach Pier. The nine-day spectacle, which runs through July 28, features surf, skate, BMX, art and music.

Vans is making its debut as the title sponsor of the US Open. Hurley, Nike and Converse previously held that role.

"The US Open is alive and well and we're excited to enter into a new era with Vans as the official title sponsor," said James Leitz, vice president of IMG Action Sports.

IMG Action Sports took ownership of the US Open 14 years ago, and Leitz has been on the beach, overseeing the event, for the duration.

"Vans is a great fit for this," he said. "They opened their first store locally (Anaheim) in 1966 and they have a deep heritage in skateboarding. We are really happy that they are the title sponsor.

"Our partnership and working relationship with the city is doing very well. Our goal is to put on a great show and to make sure that this event is safe and sane."

The Vans US Open of Surfing is a key event for the men and women on the Assn. of Surfing Professionals (ASP) world tour. Valuable points and seedings are up for grabs in both the Men's Prime — North America's only ASP Prime event — and Women's competition. The winner of a tight Women's World Title race could be determined at the Open.

Early Tuesday, a crew of more than 200 continued building the venue site. Surfing is the centerpiece of the Open, but myriad other competitions and interactive events will be offered, including the debut of the Van Doren Invitational. The invite-only skateboarding event includes pro and amateur riders and features a jam format.

The world's top riders will go head-to-head July 27and 28.

Additionally, Vans has brought back women's skateboarding and BMX to the Open.

Calling it "something to see," Leitz said work began July 8 on an all-cement bowl on the sand at the south side of the pier. The Vans Pro Bowl is new to the Open. Built by California Skateparks, its design is based on the famous Skatepark du Prado bowl in Marseille, France.

"It's pretty amazing and riders are going to love competing there," Leitz said of the Vans Pro Bowl. "The Vans skateboarding gurus were looking to change things up and thinking, 'What's the next step?' and 'Can we do this?' and came up with the bowl idea. It's incredible."

Vans will introduce the House of Vans, the company's Brooklyn-based music, action sports, art and street culture hub, and host the Vans US Open music stage. The two-night concert series is July 25 and 26. Also new to the Open will be the Van Doren Village, which will include 100 interactive exhibits, autograph signings, deejays, giveaways and movie nights.

The surfing lineup is set. The international field includes the top-ranked athletes in the Men's, Women's and Pro Juniors for Men and Women. The Joel Tudor Duct Tape Invitational surf series presented by Pacifico also is scheduled.

Vying for the title in the Men's Prime event is veteran Brett Simpson of Huntington Beach. The 28-year-old returned Saturday from El Salvador, where he reached the Round of 48 at the Reef Pro El Salvador.

Simpson is no stranger to the US Open, or the winner's circle. He has reached it twice, taking the Men's title in 2009 and 2010.

Last year, Simpson, who said he first attempted the US Open 11 years ago, finished in ninth place and lost a late heat to eventual Men's winner Julian Wilson of Australia.

Wilson is back to defend his title. Other key participants in the Men's Prime include 11-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater (Florida/Santa Barbara/Australia), Dane Reynolds (Ventura) and Jordy Smith (South Africa).

Defending US Open Women's champion Lakey Peterson (Santa Barbara) returns and will face off against the likes of current ASP Women's World No. 1, Tyler Wright (Australia), and local favorite Courtney Conlogue, who is ranked fourth in the world.

Simpson, ranked 25th on the men's World Championship Tour, and No. 28 in the World Rankings, said he "more than likely" will surf his first heat next Monday .

"The last two or three months on tour have been a little disappointing for me contest-wise, but I continue to plug away," he said. "However, personally, it's a very exciting time."

Simpson said he and his wife, Danielle, are expecting their first child in October.

"It's nice to be back home after traveling for the past few months," he said. "I didn't do as well as I had hoped in El Salvador, but I'm always excited for that next chance, and that next chance for me comes right here at home in Huntington.

"On the road, you surf in front of big crowds, which is nice. But it's always special to have the chance to perform in front of family and friends in my own backyard. I'm always excited when I get the opportunity to surf here."

All events at the 2013 Vans US Open of Surfing are free and open to the public. A live webcast can be viewed at http://www.vansusopenofsurfing.com and via the US Open app starting Monday .



Twitter: @MikeSciacca

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