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U.S. Open of Surfing begins Saturday

Huge crowds are expected again for a top field in Huntington Beach

July 28, 2012|By Andrew L. John
  • Kelly Slater bested Yadin Nicol to take the title at the U.S. Open of Surfing last year.
Kelly Slater bested Yadin Nicol to take the title at the U.S. Open of Surfing… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

A year after huge crowds flocked to Huntington Beach, the surfing competition of the year is again playing host to what has become the largest action sports event in the world. And with additions made to the weeklong event, the crowds may be even bigger this year.

The U.S Open of Surfing, which begins Saturday, has been a staple in the surfing industry for decades, going back to 1959. It has drawn the top men's and women's competitors in the sport.

But what has evolved, especially recently, is the addition of other sports such as skateboarding and BMX freestyle competitions, a concert-sized stage for live music throughout the week, and vendors set up on a 14-acre site next to Huntington Beach Pier.

James Leitz, the event organizer from IMG, which owns and operates the U.S. Open of Surfing, said the hope is to further expand the event beyond the traditional surfing crowd and extreme sport demographics.

"It's kind of like going to Fenway Park for the first time," Leitz said. "You walk in, you see the lights, the green field. It's a experience most people enjoy, and we think we've created that kind of atmosphere here."

One way organizers have made the event more fan friendly this year is by using social media. Leitz said spectators can upload video content and various applications from the event's social media sites from their phones or tablet device. There's also an application they can download with facts about the competitors and the various events.

The physical landscape has changed a bit too. Adjacent to the pier, a 19-by-100-foot screen will be stationed to give spectators an optimum view of the competition, along with facts and bio information about the competitors and scoring during the event.

"It's all designed to enhance the fan experience," Leitz said.

This year, 30 of the top 32 men on the Assn. of Surfing Professionals circuit will compete, as will many of the top women. That group includes defending men's and women's champions Kelly Slater and Sally Fitzgibbons.

Forty of the world's premier skateboarders, including last year's winner, Tom Remillar, will compete at a 10,000-seat venue.

The U.S. Open will conclude with the men's and women's surfing final Aug. 5.

andrew.john@latimes.com

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