The city block-sized area just south of the Huntington Beach Pier on Friday finally looked like the staging area for a major surf contest.
After five days of small waves and mostly unrecognizable contestants, the list of the competitors for the Honda Element U.S. Open of Surfing became familiar to the throngs of spectators, and the waves grew in stature as well.
Add in a blue sky and the beginning of the event's spinoff activities and it was an aesthetic day at the beach.
Among the most popular arrivals was defending Assn. of Surfing Professionals champion Andy Irons of Kauai, Hawaii, who won his round of 64 heat against former three-time world champion Tom Curren of Santa Barbara. It was the first time they had surfed in the same heat.
Irons, who turned 25 last week, retook the lead in the four-man, 20-minute heat with about five minutes left, scoring a 7.33 out of possible 10. Curren, 39, shot through the pier minutes later and continued into the recreational surfing area, but his score of 5.93 was good only for third, one spot from advancing to Sunday's round of 32.
Irons, who had not competed in Huntington Beach since 2000, is finding life after winning a world title considerably different, especially at a crowded venue such as Huntington Beach. Irons was the biggest target for autograph seekers.
"I was loving it," he said. "There are definitely some perks" to being the defending world champion.
While Andy Irons is leading the World Championship Series, his brother Bruce is attempting to qualify for the tour. Bruce Irons took another step Friday, winning his heat over Australia's Chris Davidson.
The event's defending champion, Kalani Robb of Hawaii, also made his first appearance, going head to head with veteran Pat O'Connell of Laguna Beach and Australian aerial specialist Kirk Flintoff, who clinched the Quicksilver Airshow World Series title last month.
Flintoff's acrobatics, which included a successful 360-degree aerial spin, paid off with a victory. Robb also advanced, but O'Connell did not.
Tim Curran of Oxnard won his heat with some above-the-lip maneuvers. Although judges are awarding risky tricks more often, Curran said it should require more than altitude to win.
"There are so many great surfers who aren't doing that," he said. "It's going to take a combination of styles to win here."
A former runner-up to the world title, Michael Campbell of Australia also won his heat, as did Tim Reyes of Huntington Beach.
Two surfers who have been surfing since the men's competition began on Sunday also kept their streaks alive.
Rob Machado of Cardiff, who was forced to begin competing Sunday because he entered the event late, stayed alive by finishing second in his heat behind Cory Lopez of Florida.
Adriano de Souza, a 16-year-old from Brazil, has also survived six days of competition after winning the second heat.
Raoni Monteiro of Brazil scored a perfect 10 on his first ride of the fourth heat. The last surfer to do that at a Huntington Beach surf contest was Machado two years ago.
Among the early exits was WCT veteran Shea Lopez of Florida, a semifinalist at this event last year. Lopez failed to produce a wave score higher than 4.00 in seven rides.
The contest continues today with the women's and longboard finals.