HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA Originally staged at the Huntington Beach Pier in 1959, the world’s largest professional surfing competition celebrates the 45-year anniversary of its founding, July 26 to August 1. The Honda U.S. Open of Surfing Presented by O’Neill, which anchors the 2004 Bank of the West Beach Games, is North America’s highest-rated qualifying event, drawing nearly 500 of the sport’s elite surfers from across the globe. Attendance last year soared to an international record 300,000 spectators over nine days, with 85,000 on hand for the grand finale.
The $175,000 Honda U.S. Open of Surfing is by far the world’s largest World Qualifying Series (WQS)-rated event for men and women. Last year, ten former world and/or U.S. Champions headlined a 288 person men’s draw that included 31 of the Top 44 World Tour competitors and 74 of the top 100 WQS. In addition to reigning event champion Cory Lopez (Florida), this year’s world-class field features current and former world champions Andy Irons (Hawaii) and Kelly Slater (Florida) along with world-class talent like C.J. Hobgood (Florida), Tim Curran (Ventura), Rob Machado (Cardiff), Taylor Knox (Carlsbad) and Shane Beschen (San Clemente).
Anchored by Team O’Neill’s tube-riding veteran Rochelle Ballard (Hawaii) and World Championship Tour (WCT) rookie sensation Melanie Bartels (Hawaii), the U.S. Open of Surfing women’s division features a majority of world’s Top 16 and WQS participants. Key competitors include four-time world champion Lisa Andersen (Florida), two-time event and former world champion Pauline Menczer (Australia), Julia Christian (Carlsbad), Serena Brooke (Australia), Sofia Mulanovich (Peru) and Holly Beck (Palos Verdes). Other divisions include the O’Neill U.S. Open of Longboarding and Lost Pro Junior.
The U.S. Open of Surfing traces its roots to 1959; Ben Hur won the Academy award that first year and a loaf of bread cost 14 cents. Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states, American Bandstand was the most popular TV show and Jack Haley won the inaugural “U.S. Championships at Huntington Beach’s famed pier. The event was an overnight success, drawing thousands of screaming fans to pack the sand and pier. In rapid succession the contest was opened to women and televised by ABC Wide World of Sports. Duke Kahanamoku (Olympic swimming champion, Hollywood actor and Hawaiian folk hero) attended and Sports Illustrated chronicled this new sporting event.
In 1966 Corky Carroll, who went on to star in Miller Light and Ocean Spray commercials, won the first of several titles and pioneered sponsorships for professional surfers with a Jantzen advertising campaign in Surfer magazine. Bell Helmet became the first mainstream company to sponsor the event in 1967 and the “Duke” returned along with fellow Olympic champion and TV’s original Tarzan, Johnny Weismuller. ABC provided the first “aerial” coverage in 1968 when helicopters hovered so close to the surf during the finals that they knocked Carroll off two waves.
The “Op Pro Surfing Championships took over in 1982 and elevated the “stadium seating” concept to a new level, as over 50,000 spectators were on hand. Dodge sponsored the event and awarded cars to the winners. New stars for a new generation were born as Australian Cheyne Horan performed tube rides and a backhand 360 to defeat South Africa’s Shaun Tomson for first place. Hawaii’s Becky Bensen defeated Australian Pam Burridge to win the Women’s Division title. American Tom Curren entered his rookie year, setting the stage for epic America vs. Australia showdowns for years to come.
The venerable Op Pro gave way to the U.S Open of Surfing in 1994. Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and Lisa Andersen went on to win titles and became household names. TV promotion, extensive marketing and a huge action sport/lifestyle festival drove attendance to over 200,000. In 2001, International Management Group (IMG) purchased the U.S. Open of Surfing and propellled America’s largest oceanfront event of its kind to a new level.
The “2004 Bank of the West Beach Games featuring the Honda U.S. Open of Surfing presented by O’Neill attracts more than 600 world-class athletes from across the globe and features surfing, skateboarding, BMX and volleyball in world-class venues along with live concerts and an interactive lifestyle festival spread over 12 acres. All events are open to the public, free of charge. The main rounds of surfing begin on Monday, July 26 and run through Sunday, August 1. Festival activities, BMX and skate competitions begin on Thursday, July 29. Volleyball and the live music will be held on Friday, July 30 and Saturday, July 31. Consumer information is available at U.S. Open of Surfing’s Web site and the Beach Games’ Web site.