Vans North America GM weighs in on what’s new at US Open of Surfing

The 2017 Vans US Open of Surfing marks the fifth year for the iconic heritage event under the Vans namesake and in partnership with IMG and the WSL.

what's new at US Open of Surfing
Fans pack in at the beach for the 2017 US Open in Huntington Beach.

While the fundamental principles of the Open remain intact, Vans has worked to evolve the week-long experience into much more of an interactive platform for its fans and consumers. Those in attendance on the sand have a myriad of options at their fingertips in addition to watching world class surfers. The retail element has been a main focus for Vans, for both its key partners and with its direct-to-consumer strategy — something that many brands are working hard to strike a balance with at the moment.

As the US Open of Surfing unfolds this week, we had a chance to sit down with North America General Manager Mitch Whitaker, to find out what’s new at this year’s event, how Vans is getting creative around engaging their fans and consumers, and what’s next.

what's new at US Open of Surfing
Vans GM North America Mitch Whitaker.

What’s new this year about the US Open, from both a behind-the-scenes business perspective and on the consumer facing front?

We have two major event introductions for the Vans US Open this year that speak to a couple of our key goals as a brand. The first is the showcase of the first-ever, Vans BMX Pro Cup Series. The BMX Pro Cup Series was introduced earlier this year and is closing out the global tour with its first world championships event in Huntington Beach. We are also continuing to grow the Vans Park Series by bringing the VPS Americas Continental Championships to HB for the first time. The Continental Championships provide an open pathway for all skaters in the continent to win a spot to compete at the world championships in Shanghai.

Both of these events have brought forth a true, global representation across the athletes competing. Some of the competitors were unknown a couple years ago and these platforms have given them a stage to showcase their skills and grow the sport of BMX and skateboarding, worldwide. It's really exciting to bring both of these competitive formats to such a large audience who are avid action sports fans.

what's new at US Open of Surfing
A youth workshop during this year’s event is getting the attention of the youngest groms out there.

What are a few examples of unique ways Vans is activating from an experiential standpoint over the course of the event?

A key focus for us at any event is making sure that we are engaging with our guests. This year you will find an increase in our House of Vans Workshops. This is where our fans can actively engage with our brand, learn something new and just get to have fun doing something creative in a unique setting. Guests can take a guitar lesson with the Mattson 2, participate in a collective drawing and can create their own surf wax. There are activities throughout the week that make this experience personal by bringing out their creativity.

Core retailers are always a focus for the brand – how are you elevating key retail accounts this year around the event, and which retailers are the strongest partners?

Elevating key accounts is not just specific to US Open, it's a partnership that is vital to us year-round. Our accounts are core to who we are as a brand. You'll find our accounts are carrying special products that are focused and made specifically for their consumer. We put the consumer at the center of everything we do and make sure we are supporting the businesses that serve those consumers through specialized product and marketing.

Lizzie Armanto, FS Invert. Photo: WSL / Vans

What is Vans the most proud of at this year’s event?

Ensuring that we are elevating action sports on a global scale is always what makes us proud. If you look at the park this year, you'll see it was redesigned to continue to reinforce park terrain criteria, showcasing what these concrete parks should look like in permanent builds around the world. It also shows the type of athleticism that comes from riding park terrain and allows the next generation to imagine themselves as one of these future athletes.

What does the future of the US Open hold – what direction do you see the event headed in?

The Vans US Open of Surfing is recognized as the largest professional action sports competition and festival in the world. It will continue to be a platform to enable creativity and elevate action sports onto a global stage, introducing newcomers to the culture.

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