A City Celebrates a Surfer’s Win

It takes only seconds to understand why Huntington Beach is “Surf City U.S.A.”. Main Street is lined with massive surf retail temples that pay homage to California’s laidback lifestyle and fashion. Every window display, billboard and bus stop bench is adorned with surf imagery. The foot and hand prints of wave-riding legends have been plastered into the sidewalks for posterity, and menus at every bar and restaurant are filled with items named after famous waves. So you can imagine how this place felt when their home-grown underdog, Brett Simpson, 24, upset the 2007 world champion Mick Fanning of Australia to win this years Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing.

There was already plenty to celebrate before Simpson’s win. For starters, the world’s best surfers were competing in Huntington for first time in nearly a decade thanks to the $100,000 winner’s check, a record for the sport. Then Mother Nature joined the party, throwing massive waves into the mix. All of that, along with record crowds, was the perfect way for this city to celebrate its 50th anniversary of hosting surfing tournaments. And frankly, nobody would have complained if one of the world’s best surfers, like 9-time world champion Kelly Slater or three-time world champion Andy Irons walked off the beach with the win. But fate’s script writers had a better idea.

In front of tens of thousands of his hometown fans Brett Simpson pulled this aerial-reverse 360 to clinch an upset victory at this year’s Hulrey U.S. Open of Surfing in Hungtington Beach, Calif.. Photo: Michael Lillande

Brett Simpson is a Huntington Beach treasure. He knows every kid behind every counter of every shop in town. He’s been waving the H.B. flag for a number of years now on the World Qualifying Series (WQS), surfing’s version of the minor leagues. Last year he was a flea’s whisker away from breaking through to the ASP World Tour (the glamor circuit with stops in Tahiti, Fiji, Australia, etc…) before a season ending meltdown shattered his dream. This year he’s been hanging dangerously close to the bubble again. He needed a solid result here, but it seemed all the more impossible with five world champions and nine event champions all on hand competing for the record prize.

“Every time I thought I had nothing left in the tank the crowd kept pulling me back into it,” Simpson said. “Having them, and knowing how this lineup behaves in the conditions we’ve seen all this week was a huge factor. Still, I couldn’t even dream of this happening. When there was about 30 seconds left it finally started to hit me. Mick and I were sitting out there and I knew there were no more waves coming, and when he started paddling toward me to shake my hand I heard the crowd roar and I just lost it. To pull this off in front of friends and family…this is the best day of my life for sure.”

Simpson’s wallet fluffing led to one heck of a party. Surf City isn’t likely to recover for days.

Simpson (in the red jersey, middle bottom) gets mobbed by the Huntington Beach fans on his way back to shore. Photo: Lillande