“I love you, Brett!”, the crowd cheered as Huntington Beach local Brett Simpson skipped through the packed beach, surfboard in hand, to give his family one last good luck kiss before his heat in the Van’s US Open of Surfing quarter-finals on Saturday. The cloudy weather did not deter hundreds of thousands of fans from coming out for North America’s most iconic surf competition in Huntington Beach (aka Surf City), the quintessential coastal town that influenced the world’s love affair with chilled-out Californian surf culture. The crowd was dotted with teenagers, families, and weathered surf bums alike, with no shortage of bikini-clad promo girls, born-again Christian activists, and autograph-signing pro’s. A fully fledged celebration of surfing, the day was a rippling reminder of why I moved to Southern California last August.
I wish I could say that the most entertaining part of the day was the competition, but the eclectic crowd definitely takes that cake. The event was massively scaled down after last year’s riots, but that did not eliminate the fustercluck of characters the Open inevitably attracts. In the late afternoon, we found a circle formed around a young kid donning an Arizona t-shirt, ranting in the foreground of a protester yielding a “Jesus Saves From Hell” sign. He mockingly chastised girls for their revealing outfits, yelled at the crowd for disobeying the Bible, and got into tiffs with unsuspecting passerby’s ignorant of his irony. He even got the entire crowd cheering with his rendition of Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA: “I’m proud to be a virgin, for at least I know I’m clean”. Whether we were witnessing the effects of an acid trip or just some kid who wanted to shake things up a bit, we’ll never know. Either way, the whole ordeal was so hilarious it even had the cops chuckling.
Only in Huntington Beach.