HUNTINGTON BEACH – A thick fog that lingered into Saturday afternoon at the U.S. Open of Surfing didn’t stop the crowds from gathering on Day 1 of the event.
The action in the water got off to a slow start, with the surfing competition put on hold through the morning.
But that didn’t keep Mark Eynon from his post in a chair set up on the sand as he waited for the contest to get underway.
“It’s a little frustrating, but a good fan always sticks around,” said the Huntington Beach resident before the contest started at noon, then was put on hold again when the fog rolled back in.
“It will be well worth the wait,” Eynon said. “The waves are big.”
Despite the lackluster start to the competition for the nine-day event, the festival area where booths and a massive skate bowl were set up on the sand was busy with beachgoers.
“I thought it would be less crowded and less hot,” said Heather Alcaraz, of Huntington Beach, who brought her 3-year-old twins Owen and Gavin down to the sand early in the morning. “We wanted the boys to get to see all this stuff and hang out.”
Alcaraz liked the family-friendly vibe of the event, which in the past had a rowdy reputation.
“I think it’s gotten a lot better lately,” she said. “I know there was a period it got crazy.”
There was more than just surf to draw people to the action-sports festival, considered one of the largest in the world.
Adar Ginsberg, 29, of Huntington Beach, spent the morning gathering Pokemon in the area. She nabbed about 20.
“They said they would be around big places, so I was expecting it,” she said.
Based on last year’s attendance, an estimated 60,000 people were expected to show up through the day – maybe more with the Pokemon craze – and by the final weekend those crowds will swell to 100,000 each day.
Steve Van Doren, son of Vans founder Paul Van Doren, was getting ready to grill about 1,300 free hot dogs and 500 free sliders on Saturday, which he does each day of the event.Van Doren said his father moved from Boston in 1964, and he attended the surf event in those days, meeting surf legend Duke Kahanamoku.
Shortly after, Paul Van Doren made shoes for Kahanamoku and launched his own shoe business in Costa Mesa, what today is known as Vans.
It’s the fourth year Vans has been involved in the event.
“The first year, we gave everything out from the back of the van,” Van Doren said. “It was like a mosh pit.”
To make it less chaotic, Vans set out areas around the festival where people could line up and play games to win prizes like backpacks, wallets and key chains.
One of the busiest areas was a retail store set up on the sand selling gear including U.S. Open shirts, umbrellas and towels.
Friends Melita Varga and Jordana Hannigan, in town from Toronto, were stoked when they found out the big event coincided with a work trip. They searched the store for souvenirs.
“You can see there’s a lot of energy here, a lot of excitement,” Varga said. They didn’t know the pros, but it didn’t matter.
“We like surfing.”