US Open of Surfing boosts Huntington Beach businesses

Alana Blanchard competes at the U.S. Open of Surfing on July 21, 2010.
Alana Blanchard competes at the U.S. Open of Surfing on July 21, 2010. Courtesy of U.S. Open of Surfing

Fans of ripping, airing and shredding can get their fill this week in Huntington Beach. The Nike U.S. Open of Surfing is in town. A half a million fans will descend on the town to check out their favorite surf stars.

It's a week of summer sports, and money, for Huntington Beach.

Huntington Beach knows how to make a buck off the beach. The city draws crowds with its surf-themed restaurants and shops in the Main Street area. There’s even a two-room surf museum.

Jeff Marsh is a volunteer there. He says that’s why people fistfight their way through a million stoplights on Beach Boulevard or Pacific Coast Highway. All that stop-and-go is worth it to get here – Surf City, USA.

"Surfing’s a culture. It’s a way of life, and that is Huntington Beach in a nutshell," says Marsh. "We’re so different than everyone else. Everyone knows everyone. It’s just an awesome feeling."

That awesome feeling translates into awesome revenue every summer when the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing comes to town. More than a half-a-million surfers, surfing fans, beach bums and wannabes descend on this stretch of sand every summer to ogle their favorite athletes, and other sights.

The City of Huntington Beach commissioned a study to find out how much money the weeklong surf meet brings in. The answer? A cool $21 million.

Heather Gurren works at a clothing store on Main Street. She says even though it’s crowded, "It’s worth it for the businesses, absolutely."

Her store almost doubles its sales staff during the U.S. Open just to handle the flood of customers. So for her, it’s job security.

"I mean I think the US Open is a great organization that comes every single year," says Gurren. "It brings a ton of tourist attraction, which means great money for businesses. It means great revenue for the hotels. It’s definitely good for the economy right now. It’s good for Huntington."

Matt Yuhas from Jack’s Surfboards says it’s also good for the action sports industry. Volcom, Billabong and other apparel and equipment manufacturers bring their top athletes for autograph sessions so they can connect with the customers.

"It’s crazy," says Yuhas. "It’s the craziest time of the year for down here as far as like the surf industry, this is where it’s at. This makes their whole year for everything."

Brand reps can check out what the pro surfers are wearing. That influences what the fans want to buy.

"Definitely in the last 10 years, it’s been changing," says Yuhas. "There has been, like, a lot of different trending as far as what’s been going on in the surf industry. They’ve kind of, like, geared toward a more punk rock kind of culture, and that part of the industry is booming right now."

But beyond the clothes and the cash, there’s the surfing. Most fans come to see surfers like Naomi Stevic. She’s a 17-year-old who just flew in with her dad from Australia. She’s competing in the pro junior ranks, and she’s stoked about the event.

"It looks like it’s pretty massive with all the stadiums and stuff so it’s really exciting to surf in front of such a big crowd," says Stevic.

I caught Naomi just as she was heading into the waves to get some practice. She says the facilities and town look great – but the waves?

"From a surfer’s point of view, it’s a crap wave," says Stevic. "Especially now it looks like it’s on ashore and a bit of a closeout, and so it’ll be interesting to see how I go out there in the tricky conditions."

She says the tricky wave doesn't have her too concerned. “Ummm, not worrying too much, just focusing on my own surfing. Just trying to figure out Huntington Beach I suppose."

The U.S. Open of Surfing runs through Sunday, August 7. Most of the big events start Thursday, but something’s worth watching all week long.

For those watching the competition this week, there’s more than just surfing, skateboarding and BMX bikes. MGMT, Jimmy Eat World, The Sounds and other bands will also perform during the event.

It’s free to watch ’cause it’s right down on the beach around the Huntington Pier. But Matt Yuhas from Jack’s Surfboards says remember this: "Give yourself time to park!" Yuhas laughs.

Parking in the city or state beach lots will cost a few dollars.

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