The Vans US Open of Surfing is like a mini city on the sand with tons of fun to get into.
And the best part? It’s free.
If you’re heading down to the festival — set up on the sand just south of the Huntington Beach Pier for the final weekend before it wraps on Sunday, Aug. 7 — here are a few fun things to check out. Of course, don’t forget the sunscreen.
Surf and skate shows
Action sports have come a long way in recent years. Once thought of as counter-culture pastimes, they have evolved into Olympic sports.
For the surfing, you’ll get to see some of the world’s best wave riders starting at 7:30 a.m. daily, conditions permitting, when both men and women hit the water.
Bring a towel or beach chair to watch from the shoreline or nab a spot on the Huntington Beach Pier for a bird’s-eye view of the action.
In the Van Doren Village, stadium-style seating is set up on the sand to watch some of the world’s best skaters competing in the Vans Showdown, with registration and open practice 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 5, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6.
Also on Saturday, prelims kick off at 2 p.m. A jam session, where athletes will compete with tricks for cash prizes is from 4 to 5 p.m.
Open practice on the final day, Sunday, Aug. 7, kicks off at 11 a.m., with an industry contest featuring legends and skate VIPs from 1 to 2 p.m. That is followed by a last chance qualifier at 2 p.m., and the finals at 3 p.m. A best trick session will happen at 4 p.m., followed by the awards ceremony.
Eat for free
There are plenty of downtown restaurants to grab a bit at — and even a new restaurant at the end of the pier called Bud & Gene’s. But if you don’t want to leave the sand, there are a few options to fuel up for free.
Steve Van Doren, son of Vans co-founder Paul, has been serving up free hotdogs all week from noon to 2 p.m., a tradition since the brand started sponsoring the event.
“It feels so good because it (was) sad we couldn’t be down here for two years,” Van Doren said from behind the grill this week.
And San Clemente-based Sambazon is dishing out acai bowls, a Brazilian superfruit that has gained in popularity in recent years, for free to people who download its app.
Stillhouse, a distillery that specializes in bourbon and whiskey, is offering snow cones out of its mobile van. The snow cones have fun, surf-inspired flavors (such as Beaches N’ Peaches, Gnarly Green Apply, and Pitted Cherry) but aren’t infused with booze.
Get your wetsuit fixed
One of the biggest bummers is having a wetsuit you love, only to start feeling the cold water seep into the seams.
But a few holes doesn’t mean that beloved suit has to be trashed.
A new brand called Stitchbox, based in Ventura, is offering free wetsuit repairs right on the sand. The repair crew is part of Patagonia’s wetsuit repair team, creating its own offshoot brand to fill a need to stop the cycle of waste.
“At the end of the day, our biggest thing is to allow surfers to keep their wetsuits in the lineup and out of the landfill,” founder Buddy Pendergast said. “The biggest sustainability initiative anybody can take is keeping the gear in use longer. Too many things in our consumer society today are deemed disposable.”
The first weekend was slow as word spread, but by mid-week, the crew was showing up to morning lines with surfers clutching their old, worn wetsuits — a welcome sight for the workers busy stitching up the suits.
Underwater virtual tour
One of this year’s sustainability partners, Orange County Coastkeeper, is offering underwater tours right on the sand.
The group has several virtual reality headsets that take you deep under the oil rigs off local waters, part of the non-profit educational efforts to highlight what could be done with the platforms if they are decommissioned in the coming years.
“They are currently producing so little oil, we just think it’s not worth the risks of having them out there,” said Dyana Peña, education director for Coastkeeper. “We’re also raising the awareness of how some of these oil rigs have really productive reefs underneath them.”
The virtual tour, which lasts about five minutes, features ocean life, showing sea lions and fish swimming below the ocean surface.
“We have the opportunity for some of these rigs to stay productive reefs,” Peña said. “We’re offering people the opportunity to have a dive of some of those reefs so they can see the biodiversity to try and join our movement to expedite the process.”
The futures of the oil platforms off the coast have been up for debate following an oil spill in October 2021 that showed the environmental risks and dangers they pose to the ocean, beaches, and economy.
Jack’s Surfboards will have the Volcom surf team out at 3 p.m., on Friday, Aug. 5, followed by a Monarch team signing from 5 to 7 p.m. with Sky Brown, an Olympic bronze medalist, as well as stand-out skaters Leticia Bufoni and Diego Najera.
The following day, Aug. 6, they’ll have Dane Reynolds and Jamie O’Brien signing autographs from noon to 1 p.m., followed by a Quiksilver event with two-time US Open winner Kanoa Igarashi and Ezekiel Lau.
Huntington Surf & Sport will have several team signings, including its own team riders Saturday, Aug. 6 at 11 a.m., followed by athletes from Vans, Hurley, and more.
Test out a surfboard
Inspired by all the surf action? You can grab a board and test it out — for free.
The Duct Tape Surfboard Demo area has a quiver of surfboards made by various Vans team riders, some outside of the surf world who got to try surfboard shaping and then offered them to the public to test out their creations.
“We cross over the athletes into different areas, and let them mess around with stuff,” said Tyler Charbonneau, a Vans employee working the booth.
After the event, the boards are donated to the non-profit Stoked Mentoring, which exposes kids to the ocean and surfing.
Bring an ID or credit card, and fill out a waiver to catch waves as long as you want. This is only open to those who are at least 18.
Play games for prizes
Remember that old-school arcade game ski-ball? You can play, but by rolling skate wheels instead. Or maybe you’re really good at cornhole? Try your luck with an inflatable version, tossing the rubber bottom of a shoe into the hole.
There’s even beer pong on the sand — kind of. Instead of those red plastic cups, toss a beach ball into big yellow trash bins in the Pacifico area.
There are plenty of fun games, most of them offering prizes for winners like Vans or other brand swag, such as wallets, bandanas, hats, and more.
Other games are set up just for fun. There are a few ping pong tables and even a giant Jenga-style game to test your steady-hand skills on the sand.
Vans is all about creativity, so there are plenty of places to get artsy right on the sand.
Like to jam? There’s a full music area filled with instruments — including drums, guitars, and more — to make music for the passing crowds.
There are also art stations where people can simply walk up and draw or color. Those interested can use pre-printed Vans artwork or make something unique.
You can’t miss the giant golf ball-clad interactive art installation right at the entrance of the festival — and you can even tuck into the wave for a photo op.
But this is no ordinary selfie surf spot. The artwork is called “Fore the Waves” and was created by countercurrentart.org director Ethan Estess and the Plastic Pick-Up, using marine debris golf balls, welded steel, and hardware.
Like many other art pieces on the sand, the goal is to educate, highlighting the impact plastic pollution has on the ocean ecosystem. It uses 50,000 plastic golf balls Plastic Pick-Up founder Alex Weber uncovered freediving underwater off Pebble Beach.