X Games X: More than Just A Game

Huntington Beach has seen it all. The peaky beachbreak on the south side of the HB Pier has long been a favorite for event organizers, who cared more about its accessibility to fans in Surf City than its warbly, peaky sets that invariably challenge and frustrate surfers. 45 years ago Jack Haley won the initial U.S. Open of Surfing, and for the past five decades, the south side of the pier has spent a few days each summer standing dutifully by as its shore gets flocked by rabid surfing fans and sexed-up beachgoers ambivalent to the competition taking place beyond the sand.

And this year, of course, was no different, as X Games X came to town. A week after the U.S. Open of surfing drew hundreds of thousands to Surf City, a residual crowd was joined by a more curious throng that gathered excitedly to be a part of the first live exhibition of professional surfing ever broadcast on television. But, as always, the beach remained the same—steadfast and humble, marginalized by a high-impact, wonderfully orchestrated event that saw blimps and zip line cameras, instant replay and giant screen televisions, and a new surfing contest format that promises to be played out increasingly in this same wave field for years to come.

The surfers in this year’s X Games couldn’t wait to be a part of it. In fact, their pre-event jitters were focused mainly on lack of surf, and not on their own performance. As it was, the surf in Huntington on Saturday was a marginal mix of southwest groundswell and northwest windswell—the standard SoCal summer blues beachbreak session. This was considerably disappointing to the surfers, who wanted to show that surfing is every bit as relevant as a Supermoto track or a fifty-foot vert ramp. But event without the waves, the surfers put on a show.

It was East versus West, with many of the same competitors from last year’s showdown won the East ran away with it. This year, however, the West had the added boost of World Champion Andy Irons, while the East retained hired gun Taj Burrow.

From the onset, it appeared that the East was on track for another victory. A first-half aerial show by Aaron Cormican and CJ Hobgood set the tone.

But when the West hit the water with a lineup of Pat O’Connell, Timmy Curran, Dane Reynolds and Andy Irons, they were intent to go into the half with the lead. Three consecutive sets poured through, and the crowd hung on every West Coast turn. Dane Reynolds ran down a right that reformed over a sandbar 50 yards south of the pier, using the reform as a launchpad. Timmy Curran did the same on a left near the pier pilings, and the West left the water with only a marginal deficit to make up iin the second half.

The East, however was just plain consistent. Slater, Taj Burrow and the Hobgoods led the team, posting a third quarter score of 24 points, which raised the bar for the West Coast, who, in the fourth quarter needed a 27-point run to win it.

And they almost did. Dane Reynolds set the tone with an 8.25, and Pat O, along with Timmy Curran posted modest but consistent sixes and sevens. It was up to the world champion Andy Irons. And, surprisingly, he let his team down. With three consecutive waves Irons could have posted the seven that his team needed, but simply failed to do so. He dug a rail on two turns and bogged on the last wave of the event, leaving his team sitting in the lineup listlessly, watching the horizon with 30 seconds left and not a sign of a wave.

Lack of waves or lack of Irons, or maybe both, the East Coast took home X Games gold for the second consecutive year. And though they were ecstatic and the West was dejected, that may not be the real story. Because somewhere in middle America a kid caught his first glimpse of the ocean today, and for the first time in his life he saw the best surfers in the world riding waves across his television screen. And he got stoked.