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SPOTLIGHT : PREPARE TO GET STOKED : Catch a Wave--or a Wave-Catcher--and You'll Be Sittin' on Top of the World

July 28, 1994|DAVID REYES and RICK FIGNETTI | Rockin' Fig is Rick Fignetti, a Huntington Beach surfer/shop owner. Times staff writer David Reyes has reported on U.S. surf teams competing in Bali and Brazil. and

When Prime Ticket's Don Meek first began pitching potential sponsors to help underwrite a big Southern California surf contest at Huntington Beach, the reaction was as cold as one of last winter's storms.

"I went to New York last February for three days," recalled Meek, vicepresident for event properties for the L.A.-based cable network. "And it turned into seven days because we got snowed in. You really have to believe you're on a mission while slogging through snow selling sponsorships to a surfing event to major corporations like 1-800-COLLECT and Coca-Cola in New York City.

"I would walk into their offices and they would ask, 'What are you here to see us about?' Well, I would say, 'The U.S. Open of Surfing.' And, they would say, 'Well, it's 10 degrees outside.' "

Meek didn't exactly inherit the Earth on this trip, but neither did he let that midwinter disinterest stop him from creating a contest.

Five months later, with those two sponsors and others in tow, Prime Ticket and Huntington Beach are putting on a two-week surfing bonanza.

Today through Sunday, the 13th Annual Op Pro Surfing Championship will draw top surfers to the southern side of Huntington Beach Pier. With more than 400 competitors vying on almost everything that floats, organizers are calling it the biggest competitive field ever assembled. It is a $70,000 World Qualifying Series event.

Next week (Aug. 2-7), it's the $140,000 U.S. Open of Surfing, the first time in two years that a world-tour event has been held in the continental United States. All this surf news, said Rockin' Fig, could mean a major revival for surfing.

How so, Figgy?

Well, there are a lot of things affecting surfing this year. The new movie "The Endless Summer II" is now out, and it's gonna motivate a lot more people to visit the beach. I'm not just talkin' about our inland population in Southern California. I'm talking about people in the Midwest and elsewhere. They'll be checking out surfing and seeing how much fun it is. With the Op Pro and the U.S. Open of Surfing, people are going to focus on Southern California, looking to see what happens at both contests because the big names of surfing are going to be here.

Coming to town for the Open are such stalwarts as Australia's Barton Lynch and Damien Hardman, world champ Derek Ho of Hawaii, Great Britain's Martin Potter and, from the other side of the globe, Brazil's Flavio Padaratz and Fabio Gouveia. Southland contenders include Cardiff's Rob Machado and San Clemente's Shane Beschen.

With such talent eyeing the Open, John Warner, Ocean Pacific Surfing Apparel Corp.'s chief executive officer, said Op was concerned that its contest might take a back seat to the Open. But Op has gotten word that 41 of the world's Top 44 surfers will also compete at the Op Pro.

"And, we've also added a tandem event," Warner said. "Kind of like the ol' Gidget years, which should be a lot of fun. With both contests, it should be an incredible 10 days of surfing."

Fig added: Don't forget the best longboarders in the world will be here, with guys like world champion Rusty Kealana, former champ Joey Hawkins and others. And we have all the best women in the world, including Florida's Lisa Andersen and Australia's Pauline Menczer. And they're gonna be having the Op Juniors contest, so they're gonna be showcasing the best up and coming grommets.

So we also have an amateur contest mixed in with the pros, eh?

Yup, that's it. It's gonna be big in all divisions.

It has even gotten the normally surfing-shy media's attention.

Last week, for instance, Sports Illustrated was looking for Hawaii's Sunny Garcia for a possible profile. Television's "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"--yep, Robin Leach--will highlight former world champion and teen-age heartthrob Kelly Slater. Sports Illustrated for Kids will be at the U.S. Open, as will TV Guide, MTV Sports, the "Today" show and possibly CNN.

Already, 175 journalists and representatives from 70 media outlets have asked for passes and camera space, organizers said.

Figgy, what's so big about having a world tour event like the U.S. Open?

We haven't had one in two years. You only get 10 or 11 world tour events a year, and this is the first time in two years that we've been able to sponsor one in the continental United States. It takes big bucks to put on a world-tour contest.

Fig, I asked Ian Cairns, the Op Pro's contest director, what kind of maneuvers these top pros will be doing.

"In the past," Cairns said, "surfers like Tom Curren would pull off, say, an off-the-lip turn, a maneuver that's really hot. But you would see one such maneuver on a single wave. The key now is to link them up, ride a tube and then pull a really radical roundhouse turn into another and then another, linking up two or three super moves on a single wave."

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