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International Surfing Takes Huntington Stage

The U.S. is expected to have a strong entry in the World Surfing Games that begin today.

October 14, 2006|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Its claim to the title "Surf City" has been debated in public and the courts, but Huntington Beach will certainly look the part over the next nine days.

The World Surfing Games will commence today with the Parade of Nations and Sands of the World ceremonies on the pier and beach. Thereafter, 34 teams will compete for their countries and as individuals in open men's and women's divisions, a men's longboard division and men's and women's bodyboarding divisions.

The Games were last held in the United States -- and Huntington Beach -- in 1996, when a U.S. team led by Taylor Knox, who won the individual gold, and Shane Beschen triumphed.

Ten years later, the U.S. team, whose best finish since was sixth place in 1998 in Portugal, appears poised for another strong finish.

"We're a medal contender, no question," Coach Peter Townend said. "It's just a matter of getting the spirit and laying down the results and staying alive."

Finding the spirit has been a struggle for Townend, a former world champion, whose so-called dream team never materialized.

Kelly Slater declined to participate as he was chasing his eighth world title, which he secured Friday in Spain. Rob Machado, who during the summer won the U.S. Open at Huntington Beach, also declined, citing other commitments.

Several other top men and women also turned down invitations.

Still, Team USA is formidable. Twins C.J. and Damien Hobgood, Pat O'Connell and Chris Ward, who will compete in the elite open men's division, are among the world's best. C.J. Hobgood won a world title in 2001.

The open women's roster includes WCT competitor Julia Christian and Santa Ana's Courtney Conlogue, a rising star and, at 14, one of the Games' youngest participants.

Christian, 24, finished second to Peru's Sofia Mulanovich in the 2004 World Surfing Games in Ecuador. "I really would like to win it this year after being so close before," the Carlsbad surfer said.

Colin McPhillips is one of the world's best longboarders, and Brad Mebust, Jeremy Wright and Tara Parsons should fare well in bodyboard divisions.

Australia and Brazil seem the most likely threats to the U.S.

Australia fields WCT standouts Tom Whitaker, Luke Stedman and Jessie Miley-Dyer.

Brazil's roster is especially strong in the open women's division, with Jacqueline Silva and Diana de Souza adept in beach break conditions such as those at Huntington Beach.

Hawaii, which will have its own team, did not lure any superstars onto its roster.

pete.thomas@latimes.com

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