“How would you feel if 100,000 people watched you surf?” As I took a seat in the shoulder-to-shoulder scaffolding south of the Huntington Beach Pier, I asked myself that question. Then I quickly surveyed those around me.
The answer was unanimous: extremely uncomfortable. So we made a collective decision to either not bother catching a wave – or do something crazy while we had everyone’s attention. Maybe we’d attempt a political statement or pray for a naked skydiver to divert the crowd’s attention. The skydivers actually came. Three of them. Clothed.
Apparently, U.S. Open finalist Yadin Nicol shared our anxiety, and unfortunately for us, he chose Option #1, not committing to a single wave in the final heat of the contest. The folks in the stands around me started explaining the situation. “He’s just a young fella, real intimidated by Kelly. The poor guy’s scared.”
Well, Yadin’s 25, but, to his credit, he had just hopped through eight consecutive heats to make it to the big show. The guy knows how to compete. And he, unlike me and the rest of the crowd, is a pro surfer. Luckily, Kelly Slater is too, and he’s not so coy about it. “I guess Yadin wanted me to win, because he didn’t catch any waves,” Slater said.
You got the feeling that Slater’s win might kick-start a delayed World Title campaign. Something about skipping J-Bay. Something about the taste of victory being addictive…
I ran into ASP CEO Brodie Carr for a brief moment after the final (I was searching for my lost wallet under the scaffolding…I’m still searching for it, actually) and he seemed a bit downtrodden about the event’s conclusion. Not much action, he said. But the U.S. Open isn’t so much about surfing as it is about spectacle. And that’s fine. It’s amazing actually.
Just a moment earlier, an airplane hoisting a Kelly Slater banner crisscrossed a Goodyear blimp (no doubt violating some kind of air traffic control policies). Teenagers laughed at the Skullcandy logos UV-burned into their skin. A skater ollied over a portable ice cream cooler. He fell. He was bleeding a little bit. We all stumbled into one another in the Nike/Hurley/Converse carnival: a dizzying civilization that revolved around riding waves and all that it inspires.
The swarm on the beach reminded me of a cover of National Geographic from 2009. The cover blurb asks: “When Henry Hudson first looked on Manhattan in 1609, what did he see?”
The top image is a computer-generated rendering of Manhattan in 1609. It’s vibrant and green. A healthy, unspoiled cell. Beneath it is an aerial view of Manhattan today: infected, carcinogenic and unnatural. Growth upon growth upon growth. According to these aerial renderings, humanity is a virus.
But that’s not fair. And that’s not what I believe.
While Manhattan and Huntington’s U.S. Open could be viewed as unexpected perversions of a pure idea and a clean place, they’re also inspiring. Both were seedling concepts from the minds of passionate people audacious enough to clear a path for their dreams. And yes, at times we’ve found ourselves in impossible quandaries as a direct result of them. So for the most part, I’ll stick to the green cells. But once a year (exactly once a year), when the Slater aircrafts are all gassed up and the Goodyear blimp is inflated, I, along with 100,000 other surf fans, am happy to visit.
Nike US Open of Surfing Men’s Final Result:
1 – Kelly Slater (USA) 16.27
2 – Yadin Nicol (AUS) 2.57
Nike US Open of Surfing Women’s Final Result:
1 – Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 14.23
2 – Lakey Peterson (USA) 12.40