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U.S. Open of Surfing begins Saturday in Huntington Beach

July 30, 2010 |  5:13 pm

Brett Simpson, of Huntington Beach, holds up his championship trophy for winning the 2009 U.S. Open of Surfing at the Huntington Beach pier. The U.S. Open of Surfing begins its nine-day run alongside the Huntington Beach Pier on Saturday, with top male and female surfers' battling it out for impressive first-place prize purses -- $100,000 for the men and $20,000 for the women.

Expected to draw at least half a million spectators, the massive event is free to the public, and is North America’s only combined ASP men’s prime and women’s six-star-rated events.

Reigning champions Brett Simpson and Courtney Conlogue will return to defend their titles against the world’s top surfers.

"The main reason I’m competing this year is to surf a major event at home and defend the U.S. Open title," Simpson, from Huntington Beach, said. "I really enjoy competing at home in front of all my family and friends! I feel it gets me up and going more than anywhere else in the world to go out and give it my all."

Expected to compete is current ASP World Tour champion Mick Fanning and nine-time ASP world champion Kelly Slater, who has entered but not confirmed attendance, both aiming to dethrone Simpson for a part of the $250,000 purse, with their eye on that $100,000 first-place prize -- the largest in competitive surfing history.

Other marquee names vying for a piece of the prize purse include current ASP world No. 1-ranked Jordy Smith, Taj Burrow, Andy Irons, C.J. Hobgood and Rob Machado, along with Ventura's Dane Reynolds and the Gudauskas brothers, Patrick and Dane, from San Clemente.

"Most of the pressure is what you put on yourself, all the rest of the pressure is people just wanting you to do well and win," Simpson said. "You’ve got to beat the best to be the best. That was all I thought and was taught growing up, so surfing at my home break, I know I have a great advantage and I’ve got to go out there and capitalize on that as best as I can! It’s exciting to have the best surfers in the world in town. I think it’s really great for surf city."

On the women's side, top names including reigning three-time ASP women’s world champion Stephanie Gilmore, Sofia Mulanovich and Chelsea Hedges will be among those with their sights set on a share of the total $60,000 purse, including that $20,000 first-place prize. Conlogue, from Santa Ana, is ready to defend her title, but despite being a local at Huntington Beach Pier,  knows that her homebreak’s tricky characteristics make it anyone’s game.  

"Every year is so different," Conlogue said. "I obviously would love to make it as far as I can. I want to try and win again and get a good result, but Huntington is a tricky spot because the sandbars are always changing. It’s pretty much anyone’s ball game out there. I guess I have home field advantage because I get to sleep in my own bed, but I’m just trying to take it heat-by-heat and earn those points towards qualifying."

The U.S. Open also features the Men’s and Women's Junior Pro  and the Pacifico Nose Riding Invitational surfing events, plus BMX and skateboarding competition. 

There will also be lots of other things for attendees to see and do, headlined by a one-of-a-kind, 20,000-square-foot action sports’ retail and brand experience, where spectators will enjoy an interactive festival featuring more than 100 exhibits, autograph signings, DJs, guest MCs and prize giveaways.  Top national acts, including Cold War Kids, Bedouin Soundclash, Switchfoot, Cobra Starship and Weezer, will perform live on the concert stage Tuesday through Aug. 7.  

Surfing pre-trials will be held Saturday and Sunday. Heats will begin Monday from 8 a.m. until approximately 5 p.m. daily and run through Aug. 8. Finals will be held on the final two days of the event. A complete schedule of events is available on the website.

For those who can't make it to the beach to see the action in person, the events will be webcast live.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Brett Simpson, of Huntington Beach, holds up his championship trophy for winning the 2009 U.S. Open of Surfing at the Huntington Beach Pier. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times