Joe Surf: Sport's popularity swells

June 01, 2011|By Joe Haakenson
  • A rider in last year's US Open of Bodyboarding.
A rider in last year's US Open of Bodyboarding. (Courtesy USBA )

The US Open is coming! The US Open is coming!

No, not that US Open. That one, the US Open of Surfing, is still a couple months away.

This weekend, running from Friday through Sunday, is the US Open of Bodyboarding — also known by its long version title, the 2011 Sports Chalet US Open presented by Morey Bodyboards. It's part of the Ocean Current USBA National Championship Tour presented by Dune's.

No, it's not surfing, but these guys and girls are growing their sport in their own right. And they like to make it clear — this is not surfing's little brother.

"A good analogy is the Kings and the Lakers," said Jason Bitzer, the operations manager and founder of the USBA Tour. "They play in the same arena, but it's not the same sport. They are separate entities with different aspects to competing and different dynamics.

"Over the years, the surfing industry has gotten so strong, and bodyboarding has gone through a phase where it was under the radar from the mainstream media. But thanks to our sponsors, we've been able to start new, start fresh, and we've progressively grown. And we're seeing some crazy stuff by these athletes. We're strong today."


An example of the growth of professional bodyboarding can be found this weekend. Bodyboarders will compete on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, the same spot where the surfing competition takes place. Five years ago when the USBA Tour began, they ran their event at Goldenwest Street.

"We had humble beginnings," Bitzer said. "But now the city sees us as an asset. We draw a lot of people, and tourism is important here. They're providing access to a different board sport. And there's history here, going back to the US Open of Bodyboarding in the '90s."

The scoring system for bodyboarding is similar to surfing's scoring system, but Bitzer said it's more like the scoring system in snowboarding. Tricks and maneuvers go a long way to scoring high, with an emphasis on big gyrations and more acrobatics, like backflips, according to Bitzer.

The top bodyboarders in the world will be in town this weekend, including Jeff Hubbard, who is a six-time U.S. national champion and two-time world champion. Other top bodyboarders including Jeff's brother Dave Hubbard, Jacob Romero, six-time world champion Guilherme Tamega of Brazil and U.S. women's champion Claudia Ferrari.

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