Kelly Slater competes in the semifinals of the U.S. Open of Surfing last… (Katie Falkenberg / For The…)
Of the action sports featured over the weekend at X Games 17, one of the most popular remains absent: surfing. That is where the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing comes in, beginning Saturday and extending through Aug. 7, at Huntington Beach.
The annual event attracts more than half a million fans and the top surfers in the world, as well as skateboarders and BMX riders who join in on the action next weekend.
"Essentially, it's like action sports Mardi Gras," said James Leitz, the event organizer from IMG, which owns and operates the U.S. Open of Surfing. "Action sports have evolved. From subculture and counterculture, this now is the culture.
"This is the new ballgame."
Two-time defending champion and Huntington Beach native Brett Simpson will headline the surfers as he pursues a three-peat.
"There are a lot of good surfers from around here and we're all competitive," Simpson said. "We've all pushed each other.… There's a lot of guys who have done well in the event, but I've been the one who's done the best."
Southern California produces high-quality surfers both because of the U.S. Open tournament and because of what Mother Nature provides, Simpson said.
"Pretty much 365 days a year, you can surf out there," he said. "Plus, you can draw a huge crowd and fit in a lot of people."
Fans flock to the event not only to watch the surfers, but also to enjoy the festival atmosphere. The Converse Coastal Carnage event brings more than 40 skateboarders, including X Games participant Rune Glifberg, to compete in the quarterfinals on Aug. 6 and the finals the next day. BMX competitors will also entertain fans at the beach next weekend.
"The top pros always say they get kind of shaken when they look in from the water at massive amounts of people watching them surf," Leitz said. "To win here means something."