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Column: Joe Surf: HB prepares for Vans U.S. Open of Surfing

Huntington Beach’s Brett Simpson surfs the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, the site o
Huntington Beach´s Brett Simpson surfs the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, site of the U.S. Open of Surfing on July 29-Aug. 6. Simpson, who won the contest in 2009 and 2010, will try to become the first three-time winner since Rob Machado won it in 1995, 2001 and 2006.
(Courtesy of Brian Bott)

The clinking and clanking of steel frame pipes. The “beep, beep, beep” of worker trucks moving through the sand, carrying heavy wooden planks. Ah, the sights and sounds of …

A surf contest?

The U.S. Open of Surfing is still more than two weeks away (July 29-Aug. 6), but the area on the sand on both sides of the Huntington Beach Pier has been like the 405 at rush hour.

Even though the action that matters most will take place on the water, the U.S. Open of Surfing, sponsored by Vans, is a corporate juggernaut fueled by what happens on the shoreline, so there’s a lot of construction underway.


It’s not only the biggest surf contest in the world, but the U.S. Open also touts itself as the biggest action sports event in North America. Besides the surfing, there is BMX and skateboarding, and unending rows of tents selling and giving away everything from sunscreen to energy drinks.

Many among the tens of thousands that will take on the challenges of parking and crowds throughout the week will not see any of the surfing, as it’s easy to get stuck in the chaos on the south side of the pier.

And that’s a shame, because some of the best surfers in the world will be there. The men’s contest is a Qualifying Series event worth 10,000 points, a vital contest for those trying to qualify for the World Championship Tour.

And there will be plenty of WCT surfers on hand, knowing that the winner takes home a $100,000 payday.


On the women’s side, the contest is one of the 10 WCT contests of the season.

But one person who won’t be around is 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, who actually was spotted on the sand at the south side of the pier during NSSA National Championships earlier this month.

But when I had the chance to talk with him a couple of months ago in Hawaii, the 45-year-old legend said the U.S. Open, which he’s won twice (1996 and 2011) just doesn’t appeal to him anymore.

“That event makes your head spin; I really don’t look forward to surfing that event again because I did it so many years it’s kind of one of those ‘been there, done that’ things,” he said.

Slater, though, said that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t take part.

“It’s easy to see the bad sides of it but there are some good sides too amongst it all,” he said. “There is a strong surf culture there, and a lot of history in Huntington. It has a lot of points and money for the guys so it’s an important event when you’re trying to get on tour. I had a lot of fun in those contests over the years. … The problem is, that time of year (late July, early August) the wind every day is predictable. It does the same thing every darn day.”


‘Simpo’ is game

Though Slater will not compete in the U.S. Open, HB’s own Brett Simpson — a two-time U.S. Open winner himself — will be there. He’s back in town now after a surf trip to the African country of Namibia.


Simpson, 32, won the Open in 2009 and again in 2010, which propelled him onto the WCT. But after six seasons on the world stage, he is now in his second season on the outside of the WCT looking in.

Though Simpson is working to get back on tour, he’s enjoying family life with his wife and two young children. Last year at the Open Simpson reached Round 4 before being eliminated, but takes a fresh perspective into the contest this time around.

“I really just want to put on a good show for my family,” he said. “I don’t really care about much more; they are the ones that have supported me through these ups and downs and have kept me grounded in who I am. So I feel I just have to adapt to what the conditions throw at me and bring the most energy I can to those moments. I surf this wave a lot so I know which waves I want, it just comes down to putting yourself in line for those chances.

“A lot has changed [since winning in 2009 and ’10], but I still get just as excited and nervous as I did my first time in the event,” he continued. “I feel I may be a bit more relaxed and understand more of what it takes to win the event. You need to surf really well but also need some breaks to go your way to have a long run in the event.”

And as for Slater and other top surfers who won’t compete? Simpson said he understands.

“Well, for a lot of the top dogs, if they don’t have sponsor obligations, they probably aren’t coming,” Simpson said. “More so due to the long year they have already. It’s such a great event for the fans and your image, so you’ll see a lot of the younger generation showing up to make their marks on American soil.”


NSSA Nationals

The National Scholastic Surfing Assn. (NSSA) held its national championships on the south side of the HB Pier a couple weeks ago, drawing a few hundred of the best amateur surfers in the world.


Even though they had to adjust to the “cold” water — cold to them — the Hawaiians basically dominated. Following are the results of SoCal locals who reached the final heats in their respective divisions:

Open Division:

Parker Cohn, Newport Beach (second place, Men); Alyssa Spencer, Carlsbad (second, Women); Cole McCaffray, Cardiff (fourth, Boys); Jak Ziets, Santa Barbara (third, Mini Groms); Kai Kushner, Manhattan Beach (fourth, Mini Groms); Kirra Pinkerton, San Clemente (second, Girls); Alyssa Spencer, Carlsbad (third, Girls); Olivia Pessanha, San Diego (fourth, Girls); Caitlin Simmers, Oceanside (second, Super Girls); Sawyer Lindblad, San Clemente (third, Super Girls).

Explorer Division:

Nick Marshall, Cardiff (first place, Men); David Economos, San Clemente (third, Men); Jabe Swierkocki, Ventura (second, Juniors), Dimitri Poulos, Ventura (third, Juniors); Jabe Swierkocki, Ventura (second, Boys); Nico Coli, San Clemente (third, Boys); Beck Adler, Venice (fourth, Boys); Jak Ziets, Santa Barbara (first, Super Groms); Makai Bray, San Clemente (fourth, Super Groms); Kurt Steinmetz, Huntington Beach (first, Super Seniors); Adam Janis, Oxnard (second, Super Seniors); Pat Pezzoli, Leucadia (fourth, Super Seniors); Curt Harper, Santa Monica (sixth, Super Seniors); Javier Huarcaya, Carlsbad (first, Duke); Mike Lamm, Oxnard (second, Duke); Rick Fignetti, Huntington Beach (fourth, Duke); Patrick Schlick, Leucadia (sixth, Duke); Liv Stokes, Aliso Viejo (second, Women’s Longboard); Dylan Hord, Huntington Beach (National Airshow Champion).

JOE HAAKENSON is a Huntington Beach-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at