Cairns gets his due

The U.S. Open of Surfing is heading into its final weekend at the Huntington Beach Pier.

In the thick of it all is Ian "Kanga" Cairns, who many will tell you, was a key figure in bringing the famed contest to where it stands today.

At 10 a.m. today, Cairns will be standing outside of Huntington Surf & Sport — actually, he'll also be on all fours, making a lasting impression — at the corner of Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway. It's there where the 58-year-old, a Laguna Beach resident since 1991, will be etched into surfing history when he joins the prestigious Surfers' Hall of Fame.

Cairns, originally from Perth, Western Australia, is part of a three-member class of inductees joining the Surfers' Hall of Fame that includes fellow Aussie and three-time Women's world champion, Stephanie Gilmore, and Huntington Beach native Randy Lewis, a renowned surfer and board shaper.

At 22, Gilmore is the youngest person to be inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame.

Lewis, Gilmore and Cairns will each receive a piece of the sidewalk on Main Street where they will place their hand and foot prints, along with a message and signature, on their individual tile. They will bring the Hall of Fame tile total to 43, to go along with the two plaques dedicated to the late-Carl Hayward and Dick Baker that grace the area.

"This class is really special in that it connects 50 years of surfing," said Aaron Pai, owner of Huntington Surf & Sport. "Randy was a great surfer and learned how to shape under the legendary Gordie Duane. Ian, showing us how to surf the North Shore on Oahu and laying the blueprint for the U.S. Open of Surfing, and Stephanie, who is the reigning three-time world champion. They all share a common thread — a love for the sport of surfing."

Pai said the inspiration for the Surfers' Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class in 1997, came from Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

"Some of the sport's greats could be cemented here forever," he said. "The Surfers' Hall of Fame is all about giving future generations the chance to come and experience a little slice of our culture, on our little corner of Main Street and PCH."

Today's induction ceremony is the second in two days for Cairns, who has been busy all week, working in the capacity of surf coach at the U.S. Open since the world's largest surfing competition got underway last Saturday. On Thursday, he was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in front of Jack's Surfboards, also located on a corner of Main St. and PCH.

Cairns, who was honored in his class as one of two Surfing Champions, was part of Thursday's Surfing Walk of Fame class that included David "Dewey" Webster (Surf Pioneer), Sunny Garcia (Surfing Champion), Rick "Rockin' Fig" Fignetti (Local Hero), Dave Rochlen (Surf Culture), Candy Calhoun (Woman of the Year), and the late-Dick Baker (Honor Roll).

"It's always nice to have someone say something nice about you," joked Cairns of the two honors, adding, "I guess it's validation for being famous."

"All kidding aside, it's really cool to be recognized with your peers. There has been some incredible surfers and people who have worked in this industry for the last four-or-five decades, and to be considered among them is a great honor."

Honors, though, are nothing new to Cairns who is in both the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame and the Western Australia Sportsman Hall of Fame.

Cairns won six Western Australia state titles (1967-72) and co-founded the Australian Professional Surfing Assn. He was known as a powerful surfer during the 1970s when he dominated the North Shore on Oahu. He won the Duke Kahanamoku Hawaiian Surfing Classic at Waimea Bay in 1975, took two World Cup events (1976, 1980) at Haleiwa and was ranked No. 2 in the world in 1976, the first year of surfing's pro tour. He went on to become a surf contest organizer, promoter and coach — he currently is coaching the Pac-Sun USA Surf Team — and was the founder of the Assn. of Surfing Professionals in 1983.

Then there was the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. and the U.S. Open of Surfing.

He served as the executive director of the NSSA during the 1980s and brought competitive surfing back into the limelight by running the first OP Pro in Huntington Beach in 1982.

"Ian represents the present," said Cairns' fellow Surfers' Hall of Fame inductee classmate, Randy Lewis. "He's done so much with bringing a professionalism to surfing in the U.S., and he brought a scholastic angle to surfing in schools with the NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Assn.). "Believe me, if I was in school then, I'd have been a scholar."

Cairns said he ran the OP Pro contest from 1982-86, ran the U.S .Open of Surfing from 1994-2001 and owned the event from 1997-2001 before selling it to the current caretaker of the U.S. Open, IMG Action Sports .

The U.S. Open was founded in 1994, but the competition's history dates to 1959, when it was called the West Coast Surfing Championships. The U.S .Open is North America's only combined six-star World Qualifying Series event on the ASP World Tour.

Cairns said he never competed at the U.S. Open.

"I would have found it difficult to surf the event," he said.

Instead, he's lending his incredible knowledge and passion for the sport to a younger generation.

"It's a lot more fun coaching in the U.S. Open, than running it," he joked, again. "Either way, it's such an incredible event."

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