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SURFING

U.S. Open's $100,000 top prize is for men only

Hurley kicks in an extra $80,000 for the first-place finisher in Huntington Beach. The big purse attracts major stars, to the consternation of points-hungry World Qualifying Series surfers.

July 21, 2009|Pete Thomas

The Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing, underway through Sunday at the Huntington Beach Pier, will pay somebody $100,000.

Narrowing that down, it will not be the winner of the women's division, who will receive only $4,500.

Nor will it be the winners of the Nike 6.0 Junior Pro ($2,500 for boys' and girls' division champions) or the winner of the Corona Nose Riding Invitational ($4,000).

All that's known for sure is that the richest prize in competitive surfing history -- richer even than purses awarded in elite World Tour competitions -- will be given to the man who emerges triumphant in the main event.

After all, top-level men's surfing is all the majority of surfers and surfing fans care about, right? So why not jack up the top prize?

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Machado's grand idea

Who's throwing the bone in this Assn. of Surfing Professionals six-star World Qualifying Series competition? Not the ASP, though it would like to take credit.

It's the surfwear company Hurley, which is providing, at the request of its star athlete, Rob Machado, an $80,000 boost to the first-place purse.

"This event has more humans on the beach than any event in the world," Machado said. "I love the idea of bringing that stadium atmosphere excitement back. Plus, it's the U.S. Open, man. With a name like that, you've got to do something spectacular."

Machado, who lives in Cardiff, has won the U.S. Open a record three times.

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Big money, big stars

Putting $100,000 up for grabs doesn't seem fair to the dozens of WQS surfers using this highly rated contest to earn points they hope will help them qualify for the elite World Tour.

Why? Because the U.S. Open field is stacked with surfers who are already on the World Tour, including nine-time world champion Kelly Slater and three-time world champion Andy Irons, who do not need any WQS points.

Both were listed as contenders before Hurley upped the ante, but the big money will stoke the competitive fire among them and others like them.

They include veteran World Tour surfers C.J. and Damien Hobgood, Fred Patacchia, Mick Fanning, Taj Burrow, Adriano de Souza and Taylor Knox. Hobgood is ranked No. 2 in the world. De Souza is ranked No. 3.

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On the defensive

Nathaniel Curran of Oxnard is a rookie on the World Tour, ranked No. 33 on a circuit that automatically requalifies its top 27 at season's end. He's also the defending U.S. Open champion.

Curran credits his victory last year for providing the boost he needed to advance to the highest level.

He could use another boost. The top 15 surfers from the WQS qualify for the World Tour and Curran, who has not been competing in many WQS contests, must scale Mt. Everest to get into the top 15. He's currently at No. 137 in the WQS standings.

"I'm sure I will just be stoked to be home and pumped to be defending my title," he said.

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Four the hard way

Perhaps hungriest among Southland surfers in the men's field are Tanner and Pat Gudauskas of San Clemente, Brett Simpson of Huntington Beach and Austin Ware of Solana Beach.

All are in the top 10 in the WQS standings at about the halfway point of the fiercely competitive tour, all are hoping to finally graduate to the World Tour.

Tanner Gudauskas is No. 5, Pat Gudauskas is No. 8, Simpson is No. 9 and Ware is No. 10.

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Youth served

Malia Manuel, 15, recalled last year's victory over fellow Hawaiian Coco Ho, 17, in the women's division as "surreal." At 14, she became the youngest U.S. Open champion.

However, it's not surprising. Young surfers such as Manuel, who was groomed on the same Kauai breaks ruled largely by the Irons brothers, have been showing up top veterans regularly in the last few years.

Manuel is up against a stacked field, though. It includes reigning world champion Stephanie Gilmore, who is the dominant force in women's surfing, and former world champion Sofia Mulanovich.

Said Manuel: "Well, I guess I should feel some pressure as returning event champion, but I didn't expect to win last year, so maybe I should cancel my expectations again this year and just see what I can do."

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And finally

Other competitions include the Nike 6.0 HB BMX Pro and Converse Coastal Carnage skateboarding contest.

The former has a star-studded field that includes Dave Mirra, Dennis Enarson and Garrett Reynolds. The finals are Sunday at 2 and 3 p.m., respectively.

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pete.thomas@latimes.com

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