By Chris Cote
Using the phrase, “the circus is in town” to describe the atmosphere at the U.S Open would be a gross understatement. Now if you said the circus, the World Tour, the Playboy Mansion, the strip bar, the trailer park, the Hell’s Angels, the high school, the models, the players, the poseurs, and the pro-hos are in town—that would be more of a correct statement.
I saw a pair of real breasts, just one pair, though. I witnessed a lot of obnoxious tattoos (one guy had a wave breaking with a surfer in the barrel throwing a shaka across his whole back—awesome!). I also saw some of the best surfing ever. The waves were super rippable, and the surfers were taking advantage by killing the life out of every wave.[IMAGE 1]
I started my journey across the dusty beach on Sunday the third of August. The sun was out, and the beach was a buzzing beehive swarming with Orange County’s finest and not so finest. The first thing that struck me about the Honda Element U.S. Open of Surfing Presented by O’Neill (besides the horrendously long name for the event) was the sheer magnitude of the setup on the beach. A maze of booths and wooden walkways emptied out into a courtyard complete with a mammoth drive-in-movie-sized screen for video-karaoke. A teenage girl shrieked the chorus of Madonna’s “True Blue” while I walked past.
Twenty minutes into my walk, sweaty and dehydrated, I reached the grandstands happy to finally see the ocean. I sat down on a couch in the upper-area of the VIP tent and looked toward the ocean. A strong current pushed from the south toward the pier, and no waves were on the horizon. Just as I thought, “Great, another year with shit waves,” a troop of Southern Hemi lines marched up the beach. I fumbled for my heat sheet and realized it was the round before the quarters. Rob Machado faced Cory Lopez, Roy Powers, and Adrian De Souza. Cory was in amazing form. He whipped his board everywhere and easily dominated the heat ’til Rob, who was sitting way over to the south, caught a three-footer and slapped it silly about 50 times. I immediately put my money on Rob for the eventual win of the U.S. Open title while placing a side bet on Cory.[IMAGE 2]
The other heats of round 32 were exciting, but the only thing I really remember about them is that Bruce unfortunately lost, Taj was going mental, young Aussie Kirk Flintoff became a crowd and surfer favorite with his solid 360 airs, Kalani demonstrated fine form, and Shane Beschen frothed.
I slept in and missed most of Saturday’s heats, but from what I heard, the women started out a bit timid in the opening minutes of their final. Eventually, they got in the mix and began catching waves. Chelsea Georgeson, far and away the best women out there, ripped a bunch of lefts on her forehand. She was the best female surfer on WB’s North Shore Boarding House, and also at the U.S. Open.
The longboarders also had a final on Saturday, and apparently they put on a show. I don’t really know what kind of show—I guess it was a variety show, because some of the guys were spazzing and others were cruising. I personally prefer the cruising (à la Joel Tudor). The winner of the event was a mixture of cruise and spaz. Taylor Jensen is no Joel Tudor, but he deserved the win and showed promise with a few good noserides.
Back to Sunday, the final day of the event (which drew a world record attendance of 85,000). Thank god there wasn’t a riot like in ’86, because a lot of really cute girls would’ve gotten all messed up.[IMAGE 3]
In lieu of the thousands of adorable females, the majority of the crowd came to watch the surfing, get autographs, and beg for free stuff. I heard a kid ask for Rob’s board: “Rob, gimme your board, man.” And the kid was dead serious.
Pushy kids aside, this was one of the greatest surf events in history. I’ll bypass the quarters and go straight to the playoffs. The semi-final heaats were as exciting as any heat I’ve ever witnessed.
Semi One: An epic duel ensued between friends Cory Lopez and Andy Irons. These two guys seem to feed off each other and turn up the heat with each and every exchange. Unfortunately for my bet and me, Rob was left in the dust, and the Cory and Andy show went on to the final.
Semi Two: Taj flew all over the place. His speed and flair made him the crowd favorite. Dark horse Bobby Martinez quickly wrapped up second place with a barrage of quick snaps. Bobby and Taj in the final![IMAGE 4]
The final four met and exceeded any expectations surf fans could’ve asked for. The heat started off with Taj blasting off a good one and Cory matching him with an almost equal score. Andy kind of fell on his waves and got a few closeouts. Bobby just got bad waves, too, but with the heat only a quarter of the way through, it was still anybody’s ballgame. Cory took advantage of an early good wave score, by absolutely devastating a wave for an 8.83. Taj tried his best to match the score, and just as the top spot seemed reachable, Cory capitalized with yet another high score. Andy decided he was out of the running, so he took the opportunity to help a brother out and sat on Taj for the rest of the heat. Even with announcer Rocking Fig claiming the result wasn’t official, Cory was the clear winner.
The standard champagne shower and oversized check awaited Cory in the winner’s podium. The crowd showed its appreciation by creating a wave of ovation.
The contest with the longest name upped the ante for all surf events to follow. No spectator went home unhappy, un-autographed, or un-sunburnt. Thank you Huntington Beach for another job well done.