Orange County California Medical News

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U.S. Open of Surfing: Your guide to Huntington Beach parking, crowds and competitors. And what about sharks?

Surfing is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the U.S. Open of Surfing, but there’s so much more to the event.

Want to get an autograph with your favorite surfer? You can do that. Want to check out world-class skateboarding. Take a seat and enjoy the show.

Hundreds of thousands of people show up in Huntington Beach for the event, which runs this year from July 23 through July 31 on the south side of the pier.

Here’s a quick guide to get you prepared:

1. What is it?

As the name suggests, it’s a surf contest, but that’s only part of it.

The massive festival area has games with freebies, autograph signings, art exhibits by pro athletes and skate and BMX contests.

The surf contest attracts about 200 surfers from around the world to compete for the prestigious titles. Each year the event draws more than half a million people to one concentrated area.

The event is hosted by Cypress-based Vans, and they’ve renewed their contract through 2018, so expect a lot of branding and marketing by the action-sports company.

RELATED: If U.S. Open is world’s biggest surf contest, why is it held in Huntington Beach? It’s not the waves

The contest has a long history in Surf City, which has hosted a major competition every year since 1959, except for a brief hiatus in 1980 and 1981. The contest became the US Open of Surfing in 1994, but was previously called the OP Pro, which some long-time locals still slip up and call it today.

2. Who are the top surfers to watch?

Last year’s winners were Japan’s Hiroto Ohhara and France’s Johanne Defay in the women’s competition.

The Brazilians have done extremely well here the past few years – what’s called the “Brazilian Storm” has been taking over the competitive surf world. Brazilian Filipe Toledo won in 2014 and fellow countryman Alejo Muniz won in 2013.

But don’t count out local surfers.

San Clemente’s Kolohe Andio is coming in as the top seed in the entire event. The world-tour surfer has come close in recent years, making it to the quarter finals last year and all the way to the finals three years ago.

Huntington Beach surfer Brett Simpson won here in 2009 and 2010, and is always a crowd favorite, though he’s been keeping it low key since falling off tour this year.

And of course, there’s Santa Ana’s Courtney Conlogue, currently ranked number one woman in the world. She earned a title here in 2009 – and with a title within grasp, no doubt she’s going to be putting up a fight on her home turf.

Plenty of other local surfers will be there to root for, like San Clemente brothers Tanner and Pat Gudauskas, who are working hard to make it back on tour. For the men’s contest, it is a QS10,000 ranking, just one step below a World Tour event.

The Juniors also have a lot of familiar names, with a big field of local surfers, especially from the San Clemente area. Griffin Colapinto, of San Clemente, will be defending the men’s junior’s title.

3. Should I bring my kids?

There’s nothing kids love more than getting to play in the sand all day.

It’s better bring them early before the chaos in the festival area gets going, though Vans is working hard to bring a family-friendly vibe to the event like adding movie nights that show “Toy Story” on a big screen near the event.

The event suffered a huge blow three years ago when riots broke out downtown after the event ended. Images were splashed around the world showing rowdy partiers tipping over port-a-potties and smashing business windows.

Police have cracked down and have a no-nonsense approach, and will check bags of selected beachgoers before they enter the event. There were more than 100 U.S.Open-related arrests last year.

There will be FBI-borrowed cameras watching over the sand and downtown Huntington Beach. Police on horses will hover over the crowds. Undercover officers will be searching nearby streets and parking lots to make sure people aren’t “pre-game” drinking before heading to the surf festival.

And don’t even think about flying a drone over the massive crowds at the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing.

One of the big changes the year following the riots was additional police patrols in surrounding neighborhoods. This year, there will be added portable restrooms to help mitigate public urination, and trash bins will be set up around town to cut back on litter.

But there are additional concerns this year following the shootings in Dallas that killed five officers and the attacks on officers that followed.

4. How bad is parking, and are there shuttle services?

Get there early, and it won’t be that bad. But anytime after noon, even on the slower weekdays, is a pain, and you’ll be circling around looking for a space.

The downtown area is peppered with meters with the rate of $1.50 per hour, with a two-hour maximum. If you plan on staying longer, try one of the big parking structures. There’s a 830-space parking structure on the east side of Main Street between Walnut and Olive streets where you might get lucky. But be warned –rates shoot up during special events.

A free shuttle service to and from the downtown area will be available Saturday and Sunday, July 23-24 and July 30-31. No alcohol, coolers, chairs, beach umbrellas, surfboards or pets are allowed on the shuttled, which run from Huntington Beach and Edison high schools both weekends and from Huntington Beach City Hall on the last weekend of the event.

5. Will a surfer be attacked by a shark?

Let’s hope not.

While Southern California has always been a breeding ground for sharks, they typically leave when the water chills up. The problem is, it has stayed warm, and the great whites are lingering – and getting bigger.

Stretches of beach – including Huntington Beach – have been closed several times and warnings have to be posted when a sizable shark is lingering in the area.

There was an attack in Newport Beach on May 29 when a swimmer nearly lost her life after being bit by what experts believed was a 10-foot great white shark.

6. Where can I stay if in town visiting?

Whether you are coming from out-of-town to check out the U.S. Open of Surfing, or planning a quick overnight stay-cation during the surf festival in Huntington Beach, here are a few options for places to stay in the area.

There’s the bigger chain hotels, like the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort or the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, walking distance from the event.

Or maybe you’re looking for something smaller, like a boutique with style. Check out the newly opened Pasea Hotel. Perhaps you’re hoping for a surf-star sighting, check out the Shorebreak Hotel, where many of the athletes stay while in town.

Whatever you do, book quick. Rooms fill up – if they haven’t already – during the big event.

7. What does it cost?

The best thing about the U.S. Open of Surfing: It’s free!

There’s no tickets to get in, you simply show up and enjoy the festivities.

Watching the surfing simply requires a beach towel, or find a spot on the bleachers to get better view of the water as surfers compete on the south side of the pier.

The festival area – where there’s dozens of booths set up by various brands – is also free.

Even the goodies they give out at some of those booths set up are free, though you might have to stand in a long line and participate in an activity to earn the swag.

8. What should I bring?

You won’t want to forget your sunscreen if you are planning on hitting the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing this year, but make sure you leave the booze at home.

The contest website lists a few items organizers suggest to bring and not to bring when heading to the big festival at the Huntington Beach Pier, scheduled for July 23 – 31.

Among the things on the “bring” list by organizers: Water, camera, footwear, sunglasses.

I’d also add a few things. Make sure you bring your bathing suit, in case it gets hot and you want to take a dip in the ocean on the north side of the pier or south of the contest area. Bring a hat to keep you in the shade. Bring a beach towel to sit on to watch the surf contest. And consider bringing snacks or a packed lunch so you don’t have to brave Main Street crowds for lunch.

Organizers also suggest a few things to leave at home, like weapons of any kind, alcohol beverages, pets, controlled substances, beach toys like frisbees and footballs, and my favorite suggestions, a bad attitude.

Cops will be out full force and will be on the look out and searching bags, so better to just leave the above behind.

9. Where should I eat?

If you’re inspired by all the surfing, check out some of the surf-inspired eateries around town. You won’t want to miss the poke at North Shore Poke or the sandwiches at Sessions that opened about a year ago downtown.

Of course, there’s the classics like the fish tacos at Wahoo’s. And if you want to know where the surfers eat before and after their sessions, head to Sugar Shack on Main Street, where there will be plenty of salty surfers grubbing. Stay tuned for Thursday’s Food section for a complete guide.

10. What if I don’t want to deal with the madness?

The surf, skate and BMX contests will be streamed online at

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This story was originally posted in 2015, but updated for 2016.