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Going for the three-peat

Going with the flow.

That's the way Brett Simpson is approaching this year's U.S. Open of Surfing.

Simpson has been at the top of his game at his home break the last two years, winning the coveted Men's title consecutively.

The 26-year-old Huntington Beach High School graduate and Surf City resident begins his quest for a three-peat early next week when the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing launches nine days of action sports competition Saturday at the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.

Winning the world's largest surfing competition is something one never forgets. Doing it twice, and in back-to-back years, is rare air. It put Simpson in the company of Rob Machado (1995, 2001, 2006) and the late Andy Irons (1998, 2005) to have won the Open more than once.

His approach to this year's competition seemed pretty laid-back just days before he was to surf his first heat.

"There's no pressure, in a sense," Simpson said. "I definitely want to go out there and try for a three-peat. Winning the title the last two years has been amazing. I just have to feed off those feelings. That's how I'm looking at it."

Simpson, ranked 18th in the world, returned to Huntington Beach on Monday from South Africa, where he competed in a World Tour event. It was his first major competition since tearing the MCL in his left knee a few months ago. He said he injured his knee when he landed during a "free surf" while on a photo trip to Mexico.

"That put me out of the water all of May, and I missed prime events like Trestles and a tour event in Brazil," he said. "But I feel good now. I'm not 100%, but I'm feeling better."

The 2011 Nike U.S. Open of Surfing runs daily through Aug. 7 at the pier. The surfing competition starts at 8 a.m. Saturday with round one for the Junior Men. The Junior Women make their debut with round-one heats beginning at 1:36 p.m.

The U.S. Open is the world's largest professional surfing competition and a key event on the Assn. of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour for both men and women. Titles are on the line in both Men's and Women's divisions and in the grade-four Men's and Women's Pro Junior divisions. The Pacifico Nose Riding Invitational is also part of the Open.

Simpson and last year's Women's champion, Carissa Moore of Hawaii, are both back to defend their titles. Moore already has wrapped up the 2011 ASP Women's World Title.

The U.S. Open of Surfing began in 1959 as the West Coast Surfing Championships. The contest underwent a name change to the United States Surfing Championship, then became known in the early 1980s as the OP Pro. In 1994, the event came to be known by its present name.

Stephanie Gilmore of Australia is coming into the U.S. Open riding high. Earlier this month in Biarritz, France, the 23-year old, who won the Women's U.S. Open title in 2007, knocked off Moore to win the Roxy Pro. The triumph gave the four-time world champion (2007-2010) on the Women's ASP World Tour much-needed momentum heading into the U.S. Open.

Also earlier this month, she won an ESPY award for Best Female Action Sport Athlete.

"It's been a really good month and definitely a change from the intense start I had at the beginning of the year," said Gilmore, who late last December survived an attack outside her apartment in Tweed Heads (New South Wales).

Gilmore suffered a fractured wrist and cuts to her hand and head in the attack, but said she is doing "fine."

"I struggled in the first few events of the year," she said. "The first five (Women's Tour) events were closely together and I was not really prepared and just didn't have that confidence. Winning Roxy really was a great feeling."

Gilmore said there's nothing like the U.S. Open of Surfing.

"The fact that the U.S. Open really has the most media attention of any event in the world makes it so much fun," she said. "There's so much going on, and it's really flamboyant, but so great.

"This is the final event on our (Women's) tour. Carissa (Moore) may already be the new champ, but all of us women want to end the tour with a win in Huntington. When you win the U.S. Open, it's just a tremendous feeling and it's something you want to do again."

The Women's competition has been upgraded from a six-star event to World Tour event, and the U.S. Open is the seventh and final stop on this year's tour. The first-place prize is $15,000. Last year, Moore won a record payout of $50,000, the largest in women's surfing history.

The women's prize money is different this year due to the upgrade to World Tour status. The overall purse ($110,000) is bigger, but the money is spread out in the division. Sixty women competed last year in the six-star event. This year, only the 18 top-ranked women will compete.

What's at stake for the Men's winner is a cool $100,000 ($310,000 total purse). The prize purse is $20,000 for the Men's Junior Pro and $6,000 for the Women's Junior Pro.

Simpson said the competition for this year's Men's crown is stocked with talent. Last summer, he beat then-No. 1 ranked Jordy Smith of South Africa in the Men's final to claim $100,000.

"You have your Parkos (No. 1-ranked Joel Parkinson), (Kelly) Slaters and (Mick) Fannings in the mix, and some of the young Brazilians like Gabriel Medina and Miguel Pupo who are flying around out there," Simpson said. "And there's Taj (Burrows). He's lethal. You gotta look at all the World Tour guys, for sure. They'll be right there."

Simpson, as usual, will be rooted on by family and friends on familiar sands. He remembers well the feeling of being mobbed as he hit the sand following his triumphs at the U.S. Open the last two years.

"To have an event at home, you need to take advantage of it," he said. "You get to sleep in your own bed, get caught up with people you know. I was just in South Africa and slept on a bed that left me with a sore neck. That won't be the case at home.

"I'm just going out there relaxed. You just can't think about things too much. It takes more than thinking about winning to actually win it. Conditions play a huge factor, too."

The surfing competition isn't the only action sports event taking place at the pier. On the sand, the Converse Coastal Carnage features some of the world's most talented riders, who will compete in a state-of-the-art skate bowl. In addition, BMX riders will go head-to-head in the Nike 6.0 HB BMX Pro. All events are free and open to the public. The action also can be seen at daily at http://www.usopenofsurfing.com.

Sports Schedule

Saturday

8-10:47 a.m.: Surf, Junior Men (round 1, heats 1-8, Surf Stadium)

10:48 a.m.-1:35 p.m.: Surf, Junior Men (round 2, heats 1-8, Surf Stadium)

1:36-2:59 p.m.: Surf, Junior Women (round 1, heats 1-4, Surf Stadium)

*

Sunday

8-10:47 a.m.: Surf, Junior Men (round 3, heats 1-8, Surf Stadium)

10:48 a.m.-1:35 p.m.: Surf, Men's Trials (round 1, heats 1-8, Surf Stadium)

11:00 a.m.-6 p.m.: Skate, Open Skate (Public Park)

1:36-2:59 p.m.: Surf, Men's Trials (quarterfinals, heats 1-4, Surf Stadium)

3-3:51 p.m.: Surf, Men's Trials (semifinals)

3:52-4:17 p.m.: Surf, Men's Trials (finals)

*

Monday

7:30-10:35 a.m., Surf, Women (round one, heats 1-6)

9-11 a.m.: Skate, U10 Skate (Public Park)

9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.: BMX Team Video Shoot (BMX Park)

10:36 a.m.-1:41 p.m.: Surf, Women (round 2, heats 1-6, Surf Stadium)

11 a.m.-6 p.m.: Skate, Open Skate (Public Park)

1:42-3:05 p.m.: Surf, Junior Men (quarterfinals, heats 1-4)

*

Tuesday

7:30 a.m.-3:45 p.m.: Surf, Men (round 1, heats 1-16, Surf Stadium)

9-11 a.m.: Skate, U10 Skate (Public Park)

9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.: BMX Team Video Shoot (BMX Park)

11 a.m.-6 p.m.: Skate, Open Skate (Public Park)

*

Wednesday

7:30-11:37 a.m.: Surf, Men (round one, heats 17-24, Surf Stadium)

9-11 a.m.: Skate, U10 Skate (Public Park)

9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m: BMX Team Video Shoot (BMX Park)

10 a.m.-4 p.m.: Skate, Skate International Jam (Skate Stadium)

11 a.m.-6 p.m.: Skate, Open Skate (Public Park

11:38 a.m.-1:41 p.m.: Surf, Women (round 3, heats 1-4)

1:42-4:47 p.m.: Surf, Men (round 2, heats 1-6)

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