Quinn McCrystal is glad to be part of the big party again.
Last July he missed it, while Courtney Conlogue and Brett Simpson were the toast of it.
The upcoming U.S. Open of Surfing will be the third time McCrystal, a Huntington Beach High product, will compete in the U.S. Open Men's Junior Pro, a $10,000 Assn. of Surfing Professionals grade-two event.
The U.S. Open of Surfing launches Saturday and runs through Aug. 8, the day of the U.S. Open Men's Pro and U.S. Open Men's Junior Pro finals.
Like the others in his division, the 20-year-old former captain of the Huntington Beach High surf team has his eye on the big prize.
Rather than look too far ahead, McCrystal says he's focused on only the now.
"I'm taking it one heat at a time, although my goal is to make it to the final," he said. "Obviously, if I make the final, my goal would be to win it. That's the ultimate goal. But like I said, right now, it's one heat at a time."
McCrystal takes to the waves for the first time Sunday. He hopes to continue where he left off when he last competed at the U.S. Open, the 2008 contest where he reached the Junior Pro semifinals.
He said he didn't register in time to compete last year. This summer, he's had the contest on his radar and has been out in the water every day getting ready for the event.
"I see a lot of the Huntington guys in the contest, like Billy (Hopkins) and Christian (Saenz), out there in the water, " said McCrystal, a former National Scholastic Surfing Assn. Western Conference champion. "Everyone's getting ready for the big event."
Hopkins, 18, is seeded into the round of 32 along with McCrystal, while Saenz, 18, and fellow Huntington Beach athletes Colton Larson, 20, Kyle McGeary, 18, and Derek Peters,17, start in the round of 64.
"I think all of us have a pretty good shot at doing well in this event," McCrystal said. "I know for me, it's always been a big dream of mine for as long as I can remember, to make the final out there. When I made the semis, it made me realize that I actually could do it. So, this year is going to be a big one for me. I'm expecting big results."
McCrystal said that the Men's Junior Pro field is stacked, and that there isn't any one favorite.
"There are so many guys out there these days, but some of the top guys are Granger Larsen of Hawaii, Kolohe Andino of San Clemente and Nat Young of Santa Cruz, to name a few," he said. "It just depends who's 'on'.
"I'm ready to go. I've got all my boards pretty much dialed in. I'm anxious to get started. The last couple of days heading into a big event like the U.S. Open is kind of nerve-racking. But once I get out there, it's all business-like."
Last year, Courtney Conlogue and Brett Simpson brought the Women's and Men's Pro titles home during the 50th anniversary of the competition.
Winning the U.S. Open had been a goal of Conlogue's since she first entered the U.S. Open at age 12. She accomplished the feat in just a four-year span. She's been deep in the throes of the competition, knows what to expect, and is solely focused on what's ahead in the coming week.
"Last year really was a milestone for me — winning the contest which was always a major goal of mine," said the 17-year-old who last July wrestled the Women's title away from defending champion Malia Manuel of Hawaii.
Conlogue, a recent graduate of Sage Hill School who has started her general course studies at Orange Coast College, is ranked ninth in the Women's World Qualifying Series. She'll compete in both the six-star, $60,000 U.S. Open Women's Pro — which carries a record first-place prize of $20,000 (Conlogue received $10,000 for last year's win), and the $10,000 U.S. Open Women Junior Pro grade-four event.
She starts the Women's Pro in the round of 48. Last year, she had to work her way up to the title out of the round of 64.
Conlogue is seeded second in a Junior Pro division that has Huntington Beach's Sara Taylor as the No. 13-seed. She opens the Junior Pro on Saturday and will first surf in the Women's Pro round of 48 on Monday.
"The U.S. Open was the biggest contest I had ever seen when I was younger," Conlogue said. "It's something I always wanted to conquer in my hometown, my own backyard. It was thrilling to win it last year, and my goal is to win it again."
A day after Conlogue reached the pinnacle, it was Brett Simpson's turn to climb to the top.
He became the first "local" to win the Men's Pro title.
"For me, it was a great accomplishment to win it on my home break," he said. "It's not Pipeline, or J-Bay (Jefferies Bay), it's the U.S. Open. I grew up watching this contest, wanting one day to be a part of this huge event. It seemed unreal when I won."
The 25-year-old pocketed a record $100,000 for winning last year's event, but it wasn't the only thing he earned.
"The money was cool and everything, but the big thing was getting those points to get to the WCT," said Simpson who currently is rated 24th in the ASP world title rankings. "I achieved that goal.
"Going into this year's event, the points, right now, don't mean that much. It's just a big event that everyone has their eye on and wants to win."
Simpson and another Surf City favorite, Tim Reyes, are seeded into the last round of the Men's Pro. Simpson is expecting to surf his opening heat Wednesday.
Brad Ettinger and Shaun Ward, two other Huntington Beach standouts, are seeded in the remaining rounds, and another, Jason Harris, is scheduled to surf Sunday in the Men's Pro Trials.
The 12 months have been nothing short of a whirlwind for Simpson. He won the U.S. Open, has traveled around the world for competitions and became engaged and will marry fellow Huntington Beach High grad Danielle Moss in January of 2011, he said.
He's grateful for the what the past year has brought his way, including the coveted title.
"I really appreciate all the support from the people in this city," he said. "They really cheered me on last year and it was a great feeling because I worked so hard, and it was really special to win it in front of the home crowd. That crowd that day was amazing. There's a reason they call Huntington 'Surf City.'"