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A New Holiday Image for `Safe City'

Twenty years after the riots in Huntington Beach, this Labor Day bash is aimed at families.

September 02, 2006|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

In the years since alcohol-fueled riots broke out on the sands of Huntington Beach during the town's Labor Day surf and bikini contest, promoters have tried to turn down the volume and make the end-of-summer event more family oriented.

This year, on the 20th anniversary of the riots, they've changed some of the basic ingredients. A centerpiece of the event, which features nothing stronger than chocolate milk and Labor Day sunshine, will be snowboarding, with a snow-covered ramp built next to the pier.

But it's not risk free.

"If the weather gets hot and the snow starts to melt, we're going to have to call the snowboarders' competition off," said Mike Kingsbury, who has marketed the U.S. Open of Surfing and other major surfing events.

Boardfest 2006 is an all-girls event, featuring surfing, skateboarding and -- if the weather holds -- snowboarding. It's a far cry from the hedonistic event that left police cars in flames 20 years ago.

Kingsbury says Boardfest 2006 represents a milestone for the city.

"This is a really a family-oriented event," he said. "It's an all-girl action-sports festival. "There's no alcohol, no raging bands, and the environment is completely opposite of what it was 20 years ago," Kingsbury said.

For example, Boardfest's official drink is a chocolate-flavored milk beverage.

"There is a great irony here to think that in 20 years, we've gone from a mad riot on the beach to an all-girls event," said Bill Sharp, a longtime surfer and former editor of Surfing magazine.

"After the riot, there was a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking. People in the surf industry started asking was that typical or just a freak incident," Sharp said. "And people outside the industry starting thinking, 'if you get three surfers or more together, will that create a riot?' "

In 1986, hundreds of youths went on a rampage behind bleachers set up near the city pier for the final day of the Ocean Pacific Pro Surfing Contest. They pelted police with rocks and bottles, stormed a lifeguard station and overturned and burned police cars.

At least 12 people were injured, though none seriously. Nine arrests were made, but scores of youths who threw bottles at police, burned cars and took part in the assault on the lifeguard facility escaped.

The riots marked an unfortunate milestone for a town that had built its Surf City reputation on the allure of the waves that curl off its shoreline. After the violence, surf contest promoters found it tough to get permits, advertising for alcohol was banned -- eliminating many event sponsors -- and there was a sense of apprehension when Labor Day rolled around.

In subsequent years, the city slowly calmed down and resumed holiday beach events. And the surf contest came with a softer image. One of Kingsbury's events was even sponsored by Hello Kitty, a brand of accessories popular with young girls.

The events tend to cater to young families who arrive with strollers, said lifeguard Lt. Mike Baumgartner.

"This isn't the same type of event the OP Pro had, back when they had a bikini event and things went wild," he said.

This year's three-day event is no different. It offers something for young women and girls who want to participate in free surf clinics, skateboard events and also to watch professional snowboarders slide down the 20-foot-high, 75-foot-long ramp, covered with 20 tons of shaved ice.

The snowboarder's ramp will be finished Sunday, with participants doing practice runs at 9 a.m. The official demonstration, with $1,000 for the best maneuver, is planned for 9 a.m. Monday.

It's not the first time an entrepreneur has brought ice to the pier area.

Three years ago, a promoter set up an ice rink in December. But the weather stayed warm and the rink turned to slush.

The promoter hasn't been back.

And that scenario has crossed Kingsbury's mind. "That's one thing we're worried about," he said.

david.reyes@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Parkas at the pier

Twenty tons of ice blocks will be trucked to Huntington Beach Pier this weekend to be crushed and blown into flurries for an invitational snowboard contest at Boardfest 2006. The event, which starts today, is a girls-only festival for surf, skate and snowboard enthusiasts. The snowboarding events are Sunday and Monday only.

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Sources: MKM, www.boardfest.com

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