Tod Linklater knows the trick to getting a prime spot on the sand for the big surf show.

“The earlier you get here, the better seat you get,” said the Huntington Beach surf fan, who brought beach chairs down with wife Katy early Saturday morning for the start of the nine-day Vans US Open of Surfing.   “Whenever the US Open is in town, we’re down here as many days as we can.”

The pair were among the first to swell into the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, with crowds filling the shoreline to watch the surfing action and cruise around the Van Doren Village area that is offering games that earned people free gear and booths showcasing or giving out products.

  • Surfing fans watch the action from the beach and on...

    Surfing fans watch the action from the beach and on the Huntington Beach Pier during opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Gatien Delahaye of France surfs near the pier pilings during...

    Gatien Delahaye of France surfs near the pier pilings during his heat on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Adin Masencamp of South Africa surfs in his heat on...

    Adin Masencamp of South Africa surfs in his heat on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Surfing fans play foosball on the beach during opening day...

    Surfing fans play foosball on the beach during opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Surfing fans watch the action from under umbrellas on the...

    Surfing fans watch the action from under umbrellas on the beach during opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Kei Kobayashi of San Clemente poses for photos after surfing...

    Kei Kobayashi of San Clemente poses for photos after surfing in his heat on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. Kobayashi advanced to the next round. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Gatien Delahaye of France surfs in his heat on the...

    Gatien Delahaye of France surfs in his heat on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Kei Kobayashi of San Clemente surfs in his heat on...

    Kei Kobayashi of San Clemente surfs in his heat on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Surfing fans make their way past a giant Vans shoe...

    Surfing fans make their way past a giant Vans shoe on the beach on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Surfing fans play ping pong on the beach during opening...

    Surfing fans play ping pong on the beach during opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Surfing fans watch the action from the beach on the...

    Surfing fans watch the action from the beach on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Kolohe Andino of San Clemente surfs in his heat on...

    Kolohe Andino of San Clemente surfs in his heat on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Crosby Colapinto of San Clemente surfs in his heat on...

    Crosby Colapinto of San Clemente surfs in his heat on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Surfing fans watch the action from the beach as scattered...

    Surfing fans watch the action from the beach as scattered clouds fill the sky overhead on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Te Kehukehu Butler of New Zealand surfs in his heat...

    Te Kehukehu Butler of New Zealand surfs in his heat on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A surfer walks past a mural on the beach on...

    A surfer walks past a mural on the beach on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Jorgann Couzinet of France surfs in his heat on the...

    Jorgann Couzinet of France surfs in his heat on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Surfing fans watch the action from under umbrellas on the...

    Surfing fans watch the action from under umbrellas on the beach during opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Surfing fans watch the action from the beach and on...

    Surfing fans watch the action from the beach and on the Huntington Beach Pier during opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Kei Kobayashi of San Clemente, second from left, poses for...

    Kei Kobayashi of San Clemente, second from left, poses for photos after surfing in his heat on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. Kobayashi advanced to the next round. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Nat Young of Santa Cruz surfs in his heat on...

    Nat Young of Santa Cruz surfs in his heat on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Surfing fans watch the action from under umbrellas and on...

    Surfing fans watch the action from under umbrellas and on the Huntington Beach Pier during opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Thousands of beach goers and umbrellas cover the beach south...

    Thousands of beach goers and umbrellas cover the beach south of the Huntington Beach Pier in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. The best surfers in the world took to the waves adjacent to the pier on opening day of the US Open of Surfing. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A lifeguard pulls a surfing buoy that broke loose and...

    A lifeguard pulls a surfing buoy that broke loose and ended up on the beach on the opening day of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

The event this week marks a major comeback for the US Open of Surfing after being canceled in 2020 and held on a smaller scale last year.

This year, surfers came ready to battle for the prestigious surf title, the mega Vans retail store is back on the sand, the concrete BMX and skate park is ready for riders and Steve Van Doren, son of brand co-founder Paul, is back grilling hot dogs and burgers for attendees.

One of the first things Linklater did when he arrived? Found Van Doren to thank him for bringing the event back to full scale.

“Nobody ever says thank you to the host,” said Linklater, who used to bring his kids down to the event a decade ago.

Among the local surfers he’ll be rooting for is Nolan Rapoza, of Long Beach, who they met at last year’s event when the local surfer made it to the semi-finals.

“We’re big fans,” Linklater said.

Several surfers signed up for the contest pulled out at the last minute, including last year’s winner Griffin Colapinto. The US Open’s final day butts up too close against the start of the next World Tour event in Tahiti on Aug. 11 – and with the San Clemente surfer ranked fifth, he’s in a good spot to try and earn his first World Title at Trestles, his home surf break, in September.

His absence, along with other top surfers such as Brazil’s Italo Ferreira and Australian Owen Wright, opened the door for Colapinto’s younger brother, Crosby, to enter the event as an alternate.

“I didn’t expect to be in it,” Crosby Colapinto said after making it through his heat Saturday, noting he just flew in the night before from South Africa. “It’s fun, just no pressure.”

Fellow San Clemente Kei Kobayashi dominated during his heat, despite the small waves on offer, sitting south of the other three competitors in the water.

A big result here could give him momentum into the final half of the Challenger Series, which gives surfers valuable points to join the ranks of the world’s best.

“I know my time will come and all my friends and family are down here, that means everything to me,” Kobayashi said. “I definitely thrive off the energy everyone brings here to the US Open.”

And he wants a good result here to take that next step in his surf career.

“At the end of the day, I just want to show everyone how I can surf,” he said.

Ezekiel Lau, of Hawaii, is no stranger to the surf break, growing up on the amateur circuit and winning the 2010 National Scholastics Surfing Association National championship title in Huntington Beach.

“I feel good coming back to Huntington. It’s just somewhere that feels comfortable,” Lau said. “It was pretty rough today, there weren’t a lot of waves. It looks like there’s going to be some waves later this week.”

Surf is forecast to pick up mid-week, with waves in the 4- to 6-foot range starting Monday and big waves lingering a few days before dropping going into the final weekend.

Lau was cut mid-year from the elite World Tour and is trying to regain his spot among.

“Every event at this point is a make or break. If I do good here, it will put me in a really good spot to re-qualify,” he said. “I’m just focused on surfing and do good in the events I’m in, and enjoy it.”

In the festival area, the crowds cruised around the wooden planks set on the sand to check out all the offerings or just hang out in a shaded lounge area.

Huntington Beach’s Sarah Heinomen and Wendy Gabriel, who said they’ve been attending the event for seven years, stopped into the mega retail center set that’s also been opened.

They looked around confused when the Vans staff in the retail store suddenly broke out in applause and cheers, which they do every few minutes as people enter the store, greeted also by artwork made of recyclables and plastics for an educational component of the event.

“I think the art has been more integrated,” Heinomen said. “They’ve always been good about recycling and environmental health. I think I’ve seen that more integrated on a greater scale.”

Dad Chris Rinaldi and 11-year-old son Enzo, of Huntington Beach, decided to check out a surfboard to demo out in the ocean, another of the offerings at the festival.

“It’s really good this year,” Chris Ranodl said of the city that’s been created on the sand.  “It’s back to normal.”

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