U.S. Open proposal eliminates music, public skateboard bowl

A proposed plan presented to the Downtown Task Force for next year's U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach scales down the event considerably, but safety is still a concern among committee members.

Next year's event would be more "sport-focused," according to James Leitz, IMG Action Sports vice president and executive producer of the event. The new plan calls for omitting the live music stage, village area, free giveaways and public skateboard bowl.

Instead, Leitz proposed to have a high-end surf stadium viewing area, a skateboarding bowl only open to professionals in the competition, a retail area and eight booths for major sponsors. He estimates that the footprint has been reduced to about 8 acres from 14 acres.

"I'm really happy that you formed a task force to help large events, like the U. S. Open of Surfing, find a way to exist and coexist with the residents and the businesses here in Huntington Beach, especially the downtown area," Leitz said. "This is an event that I'm very proud of. It's one of a kind, unique, across the globe. But let's be honest, it's gotten too big and we gotta find a way to fix that."

The producer's goal with the revamped plan is to bring the event back to its surfing roots and eliminate the factors that contributed to rioting after the event ended this year. Other problems included sand kicked up in the air because of too many people, underage drinking, public indecency and fighting.

Leitz said he's looking to increase the number of police officers and security personnel on the beach and in the neighborhoods to crack down on any mischief that may pop up.

As part of ensuring safety and control on the beachfront, Leitz said that he also wants to keep an eye on "guerrilla marketing" done by other businesses.

"We can keep control of the beach, but when all of the other brands and everybody else wants to do what they got to do up in town, we need to expand our permit and work with city staff on that," he said.

To make the event more family and community friendly, Leitz is proposing to continue the movie nights at Pier Plaza and discounts on merchandise for locals.

The 2014 Open is scheduled for July 26 to Aug. 3.

A few of the board members questioned the logistics of next year's event.

Task force member Moe Kanoudi asked if there was any consideration to move the Open later in the year, when waves are bigger and attendance is smaller in the fall.

"Why are we having it when the surf is only 2 to 3 feet?" Kanoudi said. "Why not have it in October or November when we do need the business? Speaking as far as a business owner, I don't need any help in July … and the waves are probably going to be 5 or 6 [feet] in October or November."

Leitz said that they did look at a solution to move the event closer to the Hurley Pro at Trestles in September, but had their hands tied due to the Assn. of Surfing Professionals' tight schedule.

"We are slammed," said Meg Bernardo, executive manager for ASP North America. "ASP has its schedule set. We move from Huntington and it goes to Europe. They have that brief window at the Hurley Pro, but then we have world championship events that go back into Europe and then to Hawaii. There really is no room on our part for movement."

Task force member Kim Kramer was concerned if security size would be reduced if the attendance numbers are anticipated to be lower.

Leitz said that they are likely to have the same staffing levels as before, with the goal of having his staff handle the situation before turning to police. He said there were about 80 to 100 event security personnel on the beach and another group of "hospitality ambassadors," bigger and tougher men, to aid in spotting troublemakers at this year's Open.

"They would diffuse the situation before it would start," Leitz said.

Though the preliminary plans showed a much smaller U.S. Open, task force member Ralph Palomares doesn't think the event will be any smaller than before.

Leitz tried to reassure Palomares that he'll do his best to deter troublemakers from coming down through the use of social media and other marketing tactics.

"People are going to see that it's changing, they're going to know why it's changing and we're going to say why it's changing," he said. "We're going to say what you're going to expect when you come down there … So instead of [teens] going home and grabbing 15 of their buddies like they did this year, they might not do that [next year]. I think it's going to be more manageable."

Leitz added they'll have to wait and see how next year's event turns out.

"But we're not stupid enough to think that we're not going to have a big crowd, no matter what we do."

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