It wasn't long ago that long-time Laguna Beach resident Pat O'Connell would have been a must-watch at the U.S. Open of Surfing.
Between 1998 and 2005, O'Connell — who turns 40 in late-September — was a force in the Men's competition, regularly making a run at the title with a couple of third-place finishes to his credit. With the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing heading into its stretch run this weekend at the Huntington Beach Pier, O'Connell is still in the thick of things, but it's in a different capacity: contest director.
"My job is to make sure everything is going smoothly, that everyone is having fun," he said after completing the fifth day of the competition Wednesday. "It's interesting to see things from a different perspective."
The nine-day U.S. Open of Surfing extravaganza — which in addition to surfing includes skate and BMX competitions — features the world's top surfers annually in what is the world's largest surfing event. The Open runs through the weekend, culminating with the Men's ($310,000 total purse) and Women's ($110,000 prize purse) semifinals and finals heats Sunday.
The Junior Pro Men ($20,000 total purse) semifinals field is set. Advancing to the final eight are John John Florence (Hawaii), Conner Coffin (USA), Tanner Hendrickson (Hawaii), Filipe Toledo (Brazil), Keanu Asing (Hawaii), Kolohe Andino (USA), Dylan Goodale (Hawaii) and Colin Moran (USA). The division's semifinals and finals are Saturday.
The Junior Pro Women ($6,000) semifinals and finals also are Saturday. The semifinalists are 2009 champ Malia Manuel (Hawaii), 2008 champ Coco Ho (Hawaii), Lakey Peterson (Santa Barbara), Pauline Ado (France), Leila Hurst (Hawaii), Laura Enever (Australia), Alexa Frantz (USA) and Alessa Quizon (Hawaii).
The Pacifico Noseriding Invitational (longboarding competition) qualifying round takes place at noon Saturday and the final is Sunday at Surf Stadium.
Skate and BMX competitions take place Saturday and Sunday. The Converse Coastal Carnage, featuring some of the world's most talented riders competing in a state-of-the-art skate bowl, has its final Sunday. BMX riders will go head to head in the Nike 6.0 HB BMX Pro, which concludes Sunday.
O'Connell has been impressed with several of the young hot shots in the surfing competition but says don't count out the seasoned veterans.
As of Thursday, past U.S. Open Men's winners Kelly Slater and Taj Burrow were still in the hunt for the Men's title. Brett Simpson of Huntington Beach, who won the Men's title the last two years, did not advance out of his first heat Wednesday. O'Connell said that young guns such as Florence and Miguel Pupo of Brazil could give the veterans a run for the money, which is a $100,000 first-place payout to the winner.
"I wouldn't be surprised if you see a couple of the young guys in Sunday's final," O'Connell said. "But there are still a lot of great veterans out there and you can never count them out. It's an old versus young thing and the young guys have been looking really good this year."
In the Women's division, the following competitors were still alive Thursday morning for the crown: Peterson, reigning champion Carissa Moore (Hawaii), 2009 winner Courtney Conlogue of Santa Ana, Stephanie Gilmore, Tyler Wright, Laura Enever and Rebecca Woods of Australia, Melanie Bartels of Hawaii, Sofia Mulanovich of Peru and Silvana Lima of Brazil.
There was no Laguna Beach presence at this year's U.S. Open.
"It's tougher (to enter) now, seeing as how it's a Prime Event for the men and this year a World Tour event for the women," O'Connell said. "Unless you're actively on the tour, you can't compete.
"Back in the day, guys like Jeff Booth (former Assn. Surfing Professionals top 5 surfer), who I think is probably the most decorated surfer from Laguna Beach, would qualify for this event. Other guys from Laguna also would take a stab at this (title) who weren't on the tour. It's a lot different now, especially with the Women's event this year being upgraded to a World Tour event. I think that's the issue as to why you don't see Laguna surfers in the U.S. Open anymore."
All U.S. Open of Surfing events are free and open to the public. The action also can be seen daily at http://www.usopenofsurfing.com.
7:30-9:33 a.m.: Surf, Men (Round 3, heats 9-12, Surf Stadium)
9-11 a.m.: Skate, U10 Skate (Public Park)
9:30 a.m.:5: p.m.: BMX, Team Video Shoot (BMX Park)
9:34-11:37 a.m.: Surf, Men (Round 4, heats 1-4)
11 a.m.-6 p.m.: Skate, Open Skate (Public Park)
11:38-12:29 p.m.: Surf, Junior Women (semifinals, Surf Stadium)
Noon-4 p.m.: Skate, Coastal Carnage Practice (Skate Stadium)
12:30-1 p.m.: Surf, Life Rolls on Expression Session (Surf Stadium)
1:01-2:18 p.m.: Hurley Pro Trials (heats 1-3)
8-10:03 a.m.: Surf Men (Round 5, heats)
9:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m.: BMX, Open Practice (BMX Park)
10:04 a.m.-12:07 p.m.: Surf, Women (Quarterfinals)
11 a.m.-1:45 p.m.: Skate, Coastal Carnage Practice (Skate Stadium)
12:08-12:58 p.m.: Surf, Pacifico Noseriding Invitational (Surf Stadium)
12:45-2 p.m.: BMX, BMX Pro Team Jam Session (BMX Park)
12:59-1:40 p.m.: Surf, Junior Men (Semifinals, Surf Stadium)
1:41-2:31 p.m.: Surf, Surf All-Stars (Surf Stadium)
1:45-4 p.m.: Skate, Coastal Carnage Qualifiers (Skate Stadium)
2-4 p.m.: BMX, Open Practice (BMX Park)
2:32-2:52 p.m.: Surf, Junior Women (Final, Surf Stadium)
2:53-3:23 p.m.: Surf, Junior Men (Final, Surf Stadium)
8-10:03 a.m.: Surf, Men (Quarterfinals, Surf Stadium)
9:30-2:30 p.m.: BMX, Open Practice (BMX Park)
10:04-11:05 a.m.: Surf, Women (Semifinals, Surf Stadium)
11:06-11:56 a.m.: Surf, Surf All-Stars (Surf Stadium)
11:57-12:32: Pacifico Noseriding Invitational (Surf Stadium)
12:33-1:34 p.m.: Surf, Men (Semifinals, Surf Stadium)
1-3 p.m.: Skate, Coastal Carnage Practice (Skate Stadium)
1:35-2:10 p.m.: Surf, Women (Final, Surf Stadium)
2:11-2:46 p.m.: Surf, Men (Final, Surf Stadium)
2:30-4 p.m.: BMX, BMX Pro Team Jam Session (BMX Park)
4-5 p.m.: Skate, Costal Carnage Finals (Skate Stadium)
5-5:15 p.m.: Skate, Best Trick (Skate Stadium)Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun