It’s not just considered the biggest action-sports festival on the planet, the Vans US Open of Surfing hosted on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier is part of Surf City’s identity.

The mega, nine-day event kicking off July 30 had been a staple in the sun-drenched beach town – until the pandemic wiped out the 2020 competition and severely reduced last year’s festival. This year, the event makes its big comeback, bringing with it a wave of excitement not just on the sand and in the surf, but throughout the coastal city and beyond.

Pop-up kiosks in front of downtown surf shops are already selling merchandise, beachfront hotels are booked and restaurants and bars are bracing for the uptick in business that comes with the influx of visitors who flock to the event.

The past two years, Huntington Beach has felt the pandemic’s impact on the US Open; even though the surfing competition was held last year, none of the other action sports events were hosted and the footprint of what was held was significantly smaller.

“It’s like bringing the band back together,” said Jennifer Lau, vice president of IMG Action Sports, which has owned the US Open of Surfing since 2001. “This is such a legendary event, it’s iconic. It’s the US Open of Surfing… you can feel the buzz around it.”

Major surf contests at the pier have always been a part of the town’s identity, dating back to the late 1950s when the West Coast Surfing Championships brought the era’s best surfers out to compete.

  • Some of the many shirts on sale at Huntington Surf...

    Some of the many shirts on sale at Huntington Surf and Sport for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Workers build the skate park on the beach in preparation...

    Workers build the skate park on the beach in preparation for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • One of the many shirts on sale at Huntington Surf...

    One of the many shirts on sale at Huntington Surf and Sport for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Two cyclists cruise past one of the various structures erected...

    Two cyclists cruise past one of the various structures erected on the beach for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Work continues on the various structures erected on the beach...

    Work continues on the various structures erected on the beach for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Stan Gray, left, Jose Saavedra, center, and Ken Wong, right,...

    Stan Gray, left, Jose Saavedra, center, and Ken Wong, right, of Fastsigns in Long Beach, apply large logos to the what will be the roof of a structure on the beach in preparation for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Work continues on the various structures erected on the beach...

    Work continues on the various structures erected on the beach for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • People stop to check out the many shirts on sale...

    People stop to check out the many shirts on sale at Huntington Surf and Sport for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A worker on a lift puts a piece in place...

    A worker on a lift puts a piece in place on one of the structures on the beach for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Workers places logos on the windows of a beach structure...

    Workers places logos on the windows of a beach structure in preparation for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A sign on the beach lets beach goers know that...

    A sign on the beach lets beach goers know that work continues on the various beach structures for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A Huntington Beach lifeguard scans the water from his tower...

    A Huntington Beach lifeguard scans the water from his tower as work continues on the various beach structures for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Work continues on the various structures erected on the beach...

    Work continues on the various structures erected on the beach for the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A worker on a lift puts a piece in place...

    A worker on a lift puts a piece in place on one of the structures on the beach for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The oceanfront structures are in place for the upcoming US...

    The oceanfront structures are in place for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • People stop to check out the many shirts on sale...

    People stop to check out the many shirts on sale at Huntington Surf and Sport for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A skateboarder pulled by a dog cruises past one of...

    A skateboarder pulled by a dog cruises past one of the various structures erected on the beach for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A variety of shirts on sale at Huntington Surf and...

    A variety of shirts on sale at Huntington Surf and Sport for the upcoming US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on Thursday, July 21, 2022. The event, which brings tens of thousands of people to the week-long surfing competition, will be held on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, and will begin on Saturday, July 30, and end on Sunday, August 7, 2022. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

The OP Pro in the ’80s featured more of a wild festival atmosphere to the beach, but after a riot broke out on the sand during a bikini contest and financial troubles ensued, it eventually rebranded into the US Open of Surfing in 1994.

The US Open has had its wilder years, at one time hosting a freestyle motocross contest on the sand, poker in the festival area and even 100 steer and 25 horses on the sand in 2007 to promote the OC Fair.

Big concerts about a decade ago drew a party crowd and the event again started to hit a tipping point. In 2013, a riot broke out in the downtown area following the surfing finals, causing police and officials to clamp down in following years.

These days, with Vans as title sponsor, the US Open has evolved into a more family friendly event, with everything from art stations to music lessons for kids, carnival games and, this year, surf lessons for youth just down the beach from where the pros are competing. There will also be an emphasis on sustainability and the environment this year, officials said.

Vans is also hosting music concerts nearby in Costa Mesa and other events, such as surf movie premieres, are happening far from the sand.

“Fan engagement and the experiences have evolved over the years,” Lau said. “That’s been really fun to create these programming elements to really enhance that fan experience.”

Getting the event back this year to full scale was a year-round effort, she said.

The actual build on the sand takes weeks, as workers scramble to set up scaffolds, VIP lounges, stadium-style seating on the sand and even a skate park – a staff of about 175 people bring it all together.

“With the pandemic and events, we were at a halt,” Lau said. “We want to be back in business, we’re ready to roll.”

Local businesses are happy about the uptick in workers, athletes and visitors flooding into Surf City.

Jacks Surfboards has already started selling official Vans US Open of Surfing apparel in front of its shop, said co-owner Ron Abdelfattah.

“With the US Open in town, it always brings more crowds and tourists,” he said. “A lot of people will be in town.”

The surf shop has been looking for extra staff to meet the needs of the influx of shoppers expected, but like many other industries the owners said they struggled with finding employees to meet demand.

Wahoo’s Fish Taco co-founder Wing Lam said he is also trying to staff up for the busy days, hoping to recoup losses from the event’s absence in recent years. The Baja-inspired, surfer-style grub also does catering for VIP areas at the event each year.

“There’s a lot of us (downtown) trying to catch up for the past couple of years,” he said.

The US Open of Surfing yields big profits for the restaurant, with sales usually up to 50% over a typical summer-day earning, he said.

“It’s just like Christmas week, Thanksgiving, Black Friday. It’s the same thing,” he said. “You get all these people from out of town, from all over the world. The hotels are booming, they are sold out.”

Direct visitor spending during the US Open of Surfing jumped from $21.5 million in 2010 to $55.8 million in 2018, more than doubling in less than a decade, according to Visit Huntington Beach’s last report released on the event’s economic impact.

A majority of visitors, 74%, spent at least some time shopping, while about 69% said they shopped and ate at local restaurants, according to the report. It was estimated that the overall economic impact to Huntington Beach of its visitor industry was $96.4 million in 2018.

Visitors spending during the US Open of Surfing also generated about $3.3 million in tax revenues for the city, the visitor’s bureau reported.

“I think the simple answer is: The entire community and region is really stoked that it’s back in its full capacity,” Visit Huntington Beach CEO Kelly Miller said.

Last year’s surf competition and scaled-down festival also were held later last year, in September after summer crowds left. “We certainly took a hit,” Miller said.

He said early figures show this could be one of the biggest US Open events yet, in terms of boosting the local economy, especially given what’s happening in tourism at the moment with a “drive market” looking to stay close to home because of high gas prices and airline troubles.

“It’s warm, it’s a safe place to be, lots of social distancing,” he said. “And it’s free.”

Vans US Open of Surfing

The nine-day event kicks off on July 30 and runs through Aug. 7.

Surf typically is the first event to kick off each day, with competitors in the water as early as 7:30 a.m. for the World Surf League’s Challenger Series, the week’s main attraction.

The Vans Duct Tape Invitational and Festival features longboard surfers from Aug. 2-7.

The BMX Waffle Cup is July 30-31 and the skateboarding Vans Showdown is Aug. 6-7.

Festival activities last throughout the day. Get in line to get free gear, check out the latest surf gear and other vendors in the Vans Community Market, watch shapers make surfboards, get your wetsuits patched up for free or hang out in one of the shaded lounge areas and just soak in the scenes.

Information: For a full schedule, go to: VansUSOpenofSurfing.com.

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