Remember the days when the surfing contests were all about the surfing and not about the sponsors?
Well, those days are back.
OK, not really. But, for the moment anyway, Huntington Beach's U.S. Open of Surfing — the largest surf contest in the world in terms of fan attendance and prize money — is without a sponsor.
Hurley and Converse along with their parent company, Nike, recently decided to pull their sponsorships and focus on other initiatives.
"Our opportunity is our ability to have a dialogue with millions of kids," Hurley Chief Executive Bob Hurley said in an interview with shop-eat-surf.com. "Will it be in the form of a U.S. Open somewhere else? Probably not. This isn't about moving our investment in Huntington Beach to a similar event somewhere else. It's about looking at new and innovative ways to connect with the next generation. We are continually pushing the boundaries on what might be."
The decision to move on had to do with a sense of accomplishment about the U.S. Open. Hurley said attracting nearly all of the best surfers in the world to compete — as well as an audience of more than half a million over the course of the event — made the four-year Nike-Hurley-Converse era an overwhelming success.
"In many ways, we achieved the goals we set for ourselves at the U.S. Open," Hurley said. "Now it's time to export the magic created at the U.S. Open and invest it into other aspects of our business, like a renewed athlete focus and new and exciting ways of connecting with millions of kids.
"The U.S. Open was good for Hurley because it proved what three major brands can do when they share a common vision. And it proved the value in putting the athlete and fan experience first before anything else. HB is where I learned to surf ... It was truly a dream come true."
That's great for Nike, Hurley and Converse, but what about Huntington Beach and the future of the Open? It's been estimated that the Open generates $20 million in revenue for the city's economy.
Fortunately for Huntington Beach and surf fans, the Open will continue. IMG Action Sports, which operates and manages the event in conjunction with the city, is already looking for a new sponsor.
"IMG is soliciting a new title sponsor now," said James Leitz, senior vice president and director of action sports. "IMG sits with the prospect, presents the materials, tailors the materials and looks for a fit with the brand. If there's a fit and the financial model works for both parties, we then try to close the deal.
"I'd like to get a deal done as soon as possible, definitely by year's end. I am not at liberty to comment on the target list, but it is important that the next title sponsor is a logical fit. They need to be credible and authentic in the youth space, with the assets and energy to hit the ground running."
Whichever sponsor IMG selects, it's sure to be a win-win for both Huntington Beach and the sponsor if they follow the model created by Nike, Hurley and Converse.
"Working with James Leitz and his team at IMG — the best event partners in the world — and the city of Huntington Beach, the [Huntington Beach lifeguards], [Huntington Beach Police], the local businesses and the people of the community … we can't say enough great things about these groups and look forward to working with them on future events and projects," Hurley said.
Chris Waring of Huntington Beach and Kaleigh Gilchrist of Newport Beach won the men's and women's divisions, respectively, of the American Pro Surfing Series contest last week on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.
The contest was the second of three APSS events, with the third and final one scheduled for Oct. 31 to Nov. 7 at the pier.
The third contest will crown an APSS champion for both men and women. Currently, San Diego's Torrey Meister leads the standings with 1,500 points, having placed second in the first two events.
San Clemente's Chris Ward, who won the first event, is in second place with 1,316 points and Waring is in third with 1,237.
In the women's division, Erica Hosseini of Newport Beach, the winner of the first event, leads the points standings with 1,369, followed by 12-year-old Meah Collins of Costa Mesa with 1,119 points.
JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at email@example.com.