[IMAGE 1]If there’s one event that defines competitive surfing in America, it’s the U.S. Open. Of course, the world’s best surfers invading World Championship Tour (WCT) at Trestles in September is a great event as well, but when you combine a majority of the Top 44, the world’s best Qualifying Series (WQS) surfers, and Orange County, California locals in four-man heats, anything goes.
There’s plenty to do at Huntington Beach’s annual super event, but you’re there to do one thing and one thing only: cheer on your favorite surfers. If facing off against three other great surfers wasn’t enough of a challenge, competitors must also deal with the notoriously tricky lineup on the south side of the Huntington Pier.
The first thing to consider is the kind of swell that’s pushing the surf. Is it a west or northwest wind swell or is it straight-up south swell? Northwest-wind swell can be peaky and small, while a south swell generated from either a hurricane off Mexico or an intense storm near New Zealand can create huge lines marching their way through the pier toward Long Beach.
And that’s just the beginning. Is the tide high? Because if it is, waves break outside, crumble through the middle deep spot, and reform on the inside. Competitors are forced to hop their boards just to stay in the wave—a move commonly referred to as the “Huntington Hop.”
Then there’s the Huntington current. A lot of times you might notice a swift river-like flow of the ocean moving north. Competitors who take lefts through the pier often find themselves battling the current for the rest of the heat. Rob Machado’s a past winner who deals with the current by staying on the southern end of the contest area. If the south swell is pumping, look for Rob to be paddling upstream to his peak.
Often, a 25-minute heat isn’t long enough when you’re in dire need of a wave. Although only the top-two waves are counted, the beachbreak setup can go flat and leave surfers with nothing. Picking the right waves for the best scores means strategy is key in the U.S. Open—the best can fall due to one bad decision.
Another Huntington tradition to look for is the good ol’ interference. Interference is taking off on another competitor’s wave, and it can cost the offender one of their two waves. According to the rules, the surfer closest to the peak has priority for the wave. In a peaky Huntington setup, that can be extremely hard to define. If two competitors cross (one going right and one going left on the same wave), that’s a double interference. When the devastated surfers come in from the water after a call—angry at their fellow competitors, judges, and the world in general—that’s when the fun begins.
It’s been an exciting year competitively so far, and the U.S. Open should be no different. So look for your favorite surfers and cheer them on—they’d like that.—Checkwood