Every year, upwards of 700,000 people pour into Huntington Beach to watch the world’s best surfers compete against one another in the US Open of Surfing.
Named one of our top events for surf addicts. It’s an event that’s chaotic, boisterous, and draws in a crowd of colorful characters. Aside from your typical surf fans, street performers, Californians hailing from all over the state, beach bunnies – in arm with their heavily tattooed boyfriends, and people who could only be categorized by miscellaneous also come to watch the US Open of Surfing event unfold. Alas, you have to take the good with the bad and it wouldn’t be the world’s largest surfing event without such charismas to join us.
Not surprising to surfers, the best surfing events usually take place early in the morning before the wind kicks in. Arrive early and stake a claim to the stadium seats, beachfront area, or stand on top of the Huntington Beach Pier for a unique view of the contest.
The earlier you get there to throw a towel down, the better. Beware, other viewers may kick your items aside and swoop in on your prime territory. So, while the contest is held, take turns with other attendees to look after each other’s seating if you venture to explore the other activities on offer.
Johanne Defay on the Winners Chair. US Open of Surfing. Photo: Flickr Troy_Williams
Accommodation tends to fill up far in advance, and parking can be chaotic with hundreds of cars competing for the same spot. When choosing a place to stay, opt for somewhere as close as possible to the Huntington Beach Pier, where the contest will be taking place. That way, you can be near the action without having to brave the traffic.
Options include using Airbnb, renting an RV with friends and staying at a nearby caravan park (such as Sunset Vista), or booking a nearby hotel room. If you’re on a budget, venture inland for more affordable accommodation rates. Let’s be realistic, you’ll likely spend most of your waking hours at the beach and trolling through after-parties, so don’t be too picky on what the inside of your hotel looks like.
Huntington Beach is plagued by parking meters and two-hour parking limits. During the event, congestion is rampant. Bring or rent a bicycle to explore the area, especially if you arrive late and have to park far away. Though many contest-goers use a skateboard as transport, it will be annoying to carry throughout the day and is susceptible to getting stolen.
If you have no choice but to bring a car, do your best to carpool, arrive early, and park in one of the town’s mega structures between Walnut and Olive Street. There is also a free shuttle from Edison High School. Be warned, they have strict restrictions of what’s allowed on-board.
Aside from the iconic surf competition, the US Open of Surfing also hosts skateboarding contests, BMX events, live music, fashion shows, brand booths where you can score free swag, and much more.
The event now caters not only to fans of surfing, but also everyone else who just wants to be a part of the action (remember the “miscellaneous” people mentioned earlier?). The main street is also filled with restaurants, bars, surf shops, and random booths perfect for killing time between heats. Mingling with strangers is common, as are suggestive spray-on tattoos.
Out the back at the US Open of Surfing. Photo: Flickr Troy_Williams
Locals have taken to protesting the event, citing that visitors often leave trash, misbehave, and abuse the usually laid-back city of Huntington Beach. The event has left a sour taste with many residents, who clearly recall crowds that have rioted, tipped port-o-potties, and vandalized their beloved town center. Go easy on the alcoholic beverages and pick up your trash. Do this, and you (plus your tourism dollars) will be welcomed back with open arms for years to come.
Be sure to slather up on sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and bring snacks before watching the pros surf against one another to avoid a trip to the lifeguard station – common amongst newcomers.
Let’s say you’re finished with the chaos of the event and are ready to catch a wave at your own. Either side of the Huntington Beach Pier is bound to be crowded, so it’s best to head anywhere else during these nine days of competition madness. Fortunately, the region works almost 365 days a year. Check 17th Street, south of the pier beyond Beach Street, or around Golden West Street.
The area works best on a S-SW swell and offshore winds. If the swell is massive, be sure to stop by the wedge where you can watch surfers and spongers catch the seediest rides of their lives.
Tanner Hendrickson launching at the US Open of Surfing. Photo: Flickr Troy_Williams
The US Open of Surfing is an event that you simply have to embrace for what it is. It appeals to people of all ages, all surfing abilities, and all walks of life. Though increased security has caused it to mellow-out a little bit over the past few years, venture into the arena with an open mind and embrace the fact that there will be chaos. So. Much. Chaos. Enjoy!
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