A Critical Evaluation of the US Open of Surfing.
I’m willing to divulge a secret. I fucking love the WQS.
Now before cries of “Liar, ideological traitor! - you despise the WSL! You despise competitive surfing! All you do is write it off - throw him in Richy Porta’s dungeon and let him suffer” Let me explain.
The CT is boring. The waves are really good and yes the surfing is amazing but it reeks of exclusively and to a certain extent complacency.
The QS is real. It’s tenacious. It’s tentative. Gritty. Raw. It’s teeting on the brink of acceptability and sustainability in everyway possible.
The surfers want it more. It counts more. The stakes are real. Quite simply, if you’re on the CT, you’ve (most likely) already made it - career wise. This is by default, boring. If you’re on the QS, you are (most likely) struggling and every dollar of prize money counts. The hunger is real. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s called the grind for a reason and we love it so.
The underdogs! The upsets! The school of no training! The small town heroes! The passion! The nonchalance! The not making your money back on flights on a round 1 knockout and having enough for a house deposit for a win! Those who surf sublimely well but also love to send it and turn up red eyed to heats and for that we salute you!
The partying is excellent and much recommended. Prize monies are burnt as quickly as they are earned. Everything you think about the QS is true. Everything anyone has told you about the QS is true. Every rumour is confirmed. It’s an international revolving door fiesta with a light focus on average waves. Some faces change but most are the same. A tiered global series of sub par nightclubs intermixed in daylight hours with a dashing of waves yet very good surfing. It’s a complete shit show.
Another not so secret – I love a shit show!
And what better place to come then the US Open - The ultimate shit show! Don’t just take our word – ask anyone! The Prize Jewel in the glorious Crown that is the world qualifying series of sending it. Huntington Beach - A place tainted, nay defined by extreme drunkenness, the most crass of clientele, awful waves and above all - rioting. We couldn’t think of a better place for a lil midsummer break.
Under the guise of ‘meetings’ stealthily boarded a flight to LAX. I arrive. Friends are baffled as to why we’re here for the “worst week of the year”. We heed their advice then bail to Mexico over the trials weekend. We are so clever we think to ourselves. We do things we cannot possibly put in print and then queue 6 hours to cross the border. We return. People are still very, very confused as to why you would come for the US Open. We are undeterred. They are blown off with answers of “we’re here for meetings”, “seeing people in town” and my new favourite - “We’re doing a thing”. These three phrases will cover all manner of sins and quell suspicion when asked at 2am why you have flown across the world to drink in a dive bar.
Huntington beach is an interesting place to say the least. The local people for the most part are very nice indeed thank you very much. The people it attracts are the opposite. If you are ever curious as to how Trump won the U.S election, take a sample of people on Huntington’s main street and your curiosity will vanish. It makes complete sense. Southern California in general is a fascinating, curious place where the rabbit hole is infinite but this is not the time.
The event site is huge, I mean festival size, and also very dusty. This is not convenient. It’s also very, very very, busy. The athlete area has nice juice and big sandwiches (Murcia!) but of course no beer. Oh no WSL we have been through this 3 times on three continents in the past year! The only part of the………. WSL I can respect is WSL Africa! Ballito had cold, delicious frosty beers from 7am and here in Surf City USA the Surf Nazis of the USA say no! We are constantly reminded that there is an official beer sponsor, and we are grown ups and we want this to be “unscripted” but that will be easier with beers! – However they are nowhere to be seen. What is this? My patience is tried and tested and my pen trembles in anger.
America has the issue of not being able to drink in the street. Nor on the beach. It’s actually very illegal to have fun in public anywhere and if you do want to you must be 21. Or drink warm beer in coffee cups away from prying eyes. I ask friends if America was to loosen up a little, take the French or Spanish approach say trial it for US open week: Lower the drinking age to 16 for beer and wine, 18 for spirits and oh, drinking on the street is now totally fine. This is met with blank expressions. This is incomprehensible.
“ In the riots of 86, Cop cars were being tipped over, set on fire. The riots of 2013 kids were throwing ketchup and instagramming it. It’s fucking pathetic” - Anon
The early days are are unremarkable, its early week. There are soirées (Bien sur!!) but it’s a usual mellow affair. The waves are remarkably good. I mean really really fun - as good as it gets. Newport, a very nice place with occasional very good waves is having it’s best day of summer. This presents a problem – we came to send, not surf. It’s usually the other way round and I feel like a sick little puppy, away from the teet for the first time. This is quickly solved by having a beer.
Then the knockouts begin. If you are knocked out of the US open the only two things to do are
1) Drive south and surf Trestles.
2) Stay and send it.
Now driving to trestles is not recommended. It is not far but California has not quite yet figured out Public Transport and this means everyone drives everywhere all of the time and it takes hours to get anywhere. Now Trestles is divine but oh my god is it crowded and there are better uses of your time. Staying and sending it does make sense as things close early in America (2am!) so you must begin in daylight hours!
The knock outs accelerate. The later you are knocked out, the more prize money there is and the more hungry you are for the send, having fasted for days to surf the banzai pipeline that is north side HB. Mikey Wright throws a premier and doesn’t show up. This we appreciate as it scores maximum points for being original and unpredictable. He truly does not give a fuck and this is the anthesis of surfing in Southern California. Aren’t conflicting ideologies divine!
Everyone is in California and this is fun. By this stage of the week we are still wide eyed and bushy tailed. There are more premiers. One ends with an after party 6.30 am and I set my hand on fire. This is very painful.
The week drags on and memory fades. People catch on we are here and summoned to aforementioned meetings. These strain the eyes and mind. Enter finals day. The surf is small and shitty. Mikey Feb gets knocked out. This is disappointing. Kanoa scores a controversial interference against Filipe. This is disappointing.
Kanoa then wins the Final. This is boring, and above all highly predictable. I won’t say rigged but we may say that which ever WSL marketing ‘guru’ that came up with the “You can’t script this” line needs to seriously reconsider that statement when Kanoa wins the US Open in 2ft dribble. You can script it. The surfer with the most points in a heat will always win. Come on.
The Monday after. It’s been nearly 10 days and we’re done. Ended ourselves, we’d achieved everything we could have ever hoped, overstayed our welcome and it’s time to go. Flights are boarded to New York, Lisbon, Cape Town, London, Dubai, Auckland. All wearily checking in. All wearily looking out the window to the right side of the aircraft as it climbs into the California blue, squinting down past Long Beach down towards Huntington. All wearily knowing we’ll most likely be back….