One of the oldest events in California, the Vans US Open of Surfing showcases some the world's best surfing talent, drawing hundreds of thousands of onlookers to the water's edge south of the pier in Huntington Beach, Calif. But with the excitement of the crowd comes more pressure to perform.
"I probably couldn't handle it today," said four-time World Champion and 1994 event winner, Lisa Andersen (USA). "During the bigger part of the swell when you're sitting way out there and people can see the sets coming on the pier, they start yelling and screaming. You all of a sudden get adrenaline and a pounding in your heart and you just get crazy goose bumps."
Surf City has hosted a major competition every year since 1959, except for a brief hiatus in 1980 and 1981. The contest became the US Open of Surfing in 1994. While it has long been a part of the men's and women's professional surfing circuit, the US Open has been a contest at the Championship Tour level intermittently. As Stop No. 6 on the women's 2015 Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour and a men's Qualifying Series 10,000 rated event, it will have a significant impact on the season's standings for both women and men.
Surfline's Best Conditions
Best Tide: Medium
Best Swell Direction: Combo of swells from the SSE/S/SW and W/WNW
Best Size: 4-8' faces
Best Wind: NE/ENE
Summertime in Southern California isn't known for particularly sizable waves. South swells, however, usually offer consistent surf on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier throughout the US Open's waiting period.
In 1994, the first year the event name officially became the US Open of Surfing (previously called the OP Pro), Andersen won the event and went on to win her first World Title later that year. She left Ormond Beach, Florida at age 16 to pursue her passion for surfing, adopting Huntington Beach, Calif. as her new home break. More than two decades later the four-time World Champion knows how the break works better than most.
"When you get a really big deep south swell it tends to wall up and be really fast," said Andersen. "[It's] all lefts towards the pier, good for one big move on the shoulder. Then people just try to make that reform on the inside. An incoming tide is the best because you can get [a wave] outside when the sets come. The medium ones are the best, never the bigger waves, never the smaller. Not the first wave of the set, but the second or third, they have better shape. You take off left, just in front of the judges' area, that turns into a right off the bank and then a right again on the reform."
As a beachbreak, the wave offers multiple takeoff zones with both right and left walls. But in the summer months the left, known to many as Machado's Left for goofyfooted three-time event winner Rob Machado, fires up. For regularfooters like Andersen, however, the obvious option may not always be the key to success.
I have this really cool connection with Huntington.
"I have this really cool connection with Huntington, it's always been there and has ebbed and flowed throughout my life. Every now and then with a little northwest wind swell mixed in with a south [groundswell], you get these little rights that come off just inside Ruby's Diner [the restaurant at the end of the pier]. The sneaky little righthand peak would come off the pier and to me that's Curren's Peak," said Andersen. "That's the peak I always relied on to get me through [heats] -- I don't like going left."
Once it hits the sandbar on the inside the wave flattens, forcing surfers to employ what has since been dubbed the "Huntington Hop": Pumping up and down to carry momentum over the flats to the inside where the wave reforms.
At the end of the day, it separates surfers that have a better, more stylish approach.
"[The Huntington Hop] actually is a famous term in Huntington because it is detrimental if you don't make that inside section and finish the wave off," Andersen said. "The 'hop' isn't visually compelling, but at the end of the day it separates surfers that have a better, more stylish approach, more of a rail-to-rail transition."
It might seem like more effort than it's worth, but with sandbars shifting and waves changing on varying tides, surfers must maximize scorelines wherever possible.
"I'm always telling the girls [on the Top 17] you can't fall on the shore break," continued Andersen. "You cannot fall when you get there. No matter how small the maneuver, that's the difference between the next round and packing your bags."