While America’s pastime is often said to be baseball, the number of people that actually pick up a bat or attend a game pales in comparison to the number of individuals that spend a day at the beach. Naturally pairing the aspiration of a day at the beach with some emerging sports is recipe for success.
For over 50 years, the largest surfing competition in the world has called Huntington Beach its home. While now known as the U.S. Open (since 1994), it had previously been known as the West Coast Surfing Championship (1959-63), United States Surfing Championship (1964-1972), and Op Pro Championship (1982-93).
The nine day event offers surfing, skateboarding, and BMX competitions from the end of July through the early part of August. The event draws over half a million fans and contributes over $20 million to the Orange County economy.
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I was rather surprised by the limited offerings within the event itself. While fans could try to snack on free samples within the vendor village, that likely will not prove sustainable over long periods of time.
The most likely stop seemed to be Dwight's Beach Concession. This concession stand is most famous for Dwight's Famous Cheese Strips. The cheese strips are priced as plain ($2.75), cheese strips ($3.95), chili strips (3.75), or chili-cheese strips ($4.50). The original strip sauce seems to be rather popular as it sells at $4.95 a quart and $15.95 per gallon.
Other options include french fries, burgers, chicken sandwich, hot dog, veggie burger ($3.65 to $5.35), burritos, corn dog, taquitos, fish and chips, chicken strips, funnel cake, churro, pretzel, and nachos.
Huntington Beach can get a bit warmer as the day wears on, so desserts such as an ice cream cone ($2.50), hot fudge sundae ($3.75), chocolate covered banana ($2.75), and frozen lemonade ($1.35) are offered.
The beverage side includes Coke products ($1.98 and $2.65), root beer float ($3.45), fruit smoothie ($3.95), and bottled water ($1.50 & $2.50). As it gets chilly upon sunset, coffee and hot chocolate ($1.35 & $1.95) are also offered. Despite the many large, inflatable beer sponsors, I did not notice any alcohol offerings on site.
Main Street provides all sorts of restaurants and bars, but finding a spot in any one of them during the event can prove challenging.
This event easily provides one of the best atmospheres in all of sports. Quite frankly, I find nothing better than a beautiful day outside at the beach in a town as lovely as Huntington Beach.
The massive crowds are certainly a spectacle to see with thousands of fans mingling on the beach. In photos, it may look overcrowded, but there is plenty of room for all with such a wide-open space.
The crashing of the waves, the chirping of the seagulls, and the roar of the crowd upon an outstanding stunt all make for an incredible feeling.
Huntington Beach is a community worth visiting with or without such an event. With its pristine beaches, beautiful pier, clean and safe downtown, it can be enjoyable for all.
During the event, many of the streets are closed off for pedestrians and everything needed can be found in just a few short blocks.
The more popular spots include Duke's, Fred's Mexican Café, BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, Slater's 50/50, and Wahoo's Fish Tacos. Other worthwhile joints local to just Huntington Beach include Gallagher's Pub, Sugar Shack, TK Burgers, Spark Woodfire Grill, and the Huntington Beach Beer Company.
With half a million fans arriving annually, it's easy to see it is an event beloved by all. Some fans are there for surfing, some for the BMX, others for skateboarding or the live bands, and most for the overall experience.
Most of the fans are younger, mostly because the older fans cannot tolerate the traffic and crowds.
The die-hard action sports fans are in the seats supporting their favorite athlete and brand. While most of the events offer plenty of seating, a spot may be tougher to come by for the big events and finals.
The access remains one of the few drawbacks of the event year after year. While Huntington Beach is located off of the 405 freeway, most fans utilize the California State Route 1 (or Pacific Coast Highway). Due to its many stoplights, the commute is anything but free-flowing.
Near the pier itself, there are roughly five parking garages, but they are often filled and the wait-time to get in or out is intolerable.
The best way to attend the event is to either utilize the OCTA bus routes or park a few miles away and ride a bike to the event.
The sheer amount of people attending the event often makes it challenging to get around, but likely few areas are truly off-limits. If someone is trying to find his or her way, there are Hospitality Ambassadors clad in yellow shirts to help.
The restrooms are troubling; fans can expect to wait in long lines for an opportunity to utilize one. The portable toilets filled up quickly and often left an unpleasant stench in the surrounding area. It's best for fans to plot out a restroom strategy early on during the visit to avoid complications.
Admission to the event is free for all fans, a tremendous value for all of the entertainment provided. Fans get to see competitive surfing, skateboarding, BMX, and live music free of charge!
Parking and food costs can be evaded with some strategy, so fans can enjoy this event without breaking the bank.
The event is a "once a year" experience and showcases the world's best of surfing. Whether it's your time or money, this is something that provides the most in value!
While the opportunity to attend allows fans to walk around the beach and not be confined to a single seat seems an extra in itself, there are many other perks to attending the event.
The first is the International Surfing Museum, located just a few blocks from the pier. When fans step into this free attraction, they can witness all sorts of memorabilia surrounding the sport.
Closer to the pier, fans will find the Duke Kahanamoku statue and the Surfing Hall of Fame. On the corner of PCH and Main Street, fans will find the hand and footprints of some of surfing's finest.
There is also the Surfing Walk of Fame, which honors those who have made contributions to the surf industry. There are seven categories elected annually, including Surf Pioneers, Surf Champions, Local Heroes, Surf Culture, Woman of the Year, and Honor Roll.
Lastly of note is both the vendor village and the live bands that perform on each night during the event. Both of these additions make the event much more fulfilling for those that may not have a primary interest in the sporting events.
After spending most of my childhood and adult life attending events at the big five sports, I would gladly trade them all for a few more weekends at the US Open of Surf. Few events worldwide allow fans so many options and so much freedom in taking the experience in.
When scheduling your next summer vacation, try to make it in Orange County and allow yourself the opportunity to see this spectacle live!Follow Drew's travels via username @big10drew on Twitter & Instagram.
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317 Pacific Coast Highway
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
300 Pacific Coast Highway
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
200 Main St
Huntington Beach, CA 92648
8082 Adams Ave
Huntington Beach, CA 92646
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