Monday, August 3, 2009

Big Swells Attract the Masses to the 2009 Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing

The 2009 U.S. Open of Surfing was destined to be big. Nike and its portfolio of brands (Hurley, Nike 6.0, and Converse) became the official sponsor for this year’s six star World Qualifying Series (WQS) event and upped the ante by raising the men’s purse to $100k and the women’s to $10k. If that wasn’t enough to attract some of the bigger names in surfing, they scheduled “WPS All-Stars” expression sessions where some of the best of the ASP World Tour would put their skills on display.

The early heats were off to a slow start with small swells typical of lazy Huntington Beach summers, but almost as if ordered by Hurley themselves, a substantial southern hemisphere storm system kicked up a south swell which began to build the Thursday night before the finals. Friday and Saturday were truly ones to remember with Kelly Slater scoring a perfect 10 on a massive barrel and later shooting the pier on a triple overhead bomb that he paddled into just south of the pier.

Kelly Slater’s Perfect 10 at the 2009 Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing

“WPS All-Stars” Expression Session – Slater Shoots the Pier

Despite the exceptional surf displayed at this year’s U.S. Open, one couldn’t help but feel that the event has become much more commercialized with Nike’s entrance as the title sponsor. The “village” was dominated by a large Hurley U.S. Open retail shop (in partnership with Huntington Surf and Sport), a building displaying Hurley board shorts in glass cases, and a Nike 6.0 building with gratuitous product placements. The smaller sponsors seemed less visible as the layout of the village channeled visitors to commercialized Nike venues. While the Nike 6.0 building was occasionally popping when they were handing out neon orange hats or when the BMX stars were signing autographs, the Red Bull tent seemed to be the center of excitement. Red Bull had endless free samples, a hip lounge like atmosphere, and various points of interest.

As the Huntington Beach U.S. Open of Surfing continues to evolve into what is one of the largest surfing and action sports events worldwide (the larger ESPN X-Games noticeably lacks a surf competition), fans everywhere hope that the soul of surfing is not replaced with too much focus on product placement and commercialization. Past events focused on free samples and a light community atmosphere that celebrated the sport of surfing, a stark contrast to this year’s event which was characterized by shameless branding and corporate dominance. Let’s hope that future events straddle the happy medium between commercial promotion and the purity of surfing.