Thinking Hob-Good Thoughts from the US Open of Surfing

Sunday July 28, 2007 – – Although the US Open as a circus metaphor is clich, this year it is appropriate. Every year there are big tops and tents, and a ringmaster, and various peculiar wonderments such as 40-somethings with spiked orange hair and pierced lips. But this year there were also cows, steer, horses and a tiger. That's right, a Tiger— with a capital "T". And it's a good thing there was all this… other stuff. The waves were bad. The surfing, for the most part, put on the back burner.

Rumor has it that none other than Eldrick 'Tiger' Woods called Jordy Smith to convince him to wear the Nike swoosh.

Look, quite frankly it is easy to fall into the bitter, disenfranchised, look-what-our sport-has-become-two-foot-dribble route when writing about the spectacle known as our national surfing competition. This angle is as clich as the circus metaphor. Instead, today I promise to seek out the good. And, sandwiched between the 'crew' with dreadlock goatees, the full tattoo sleeved six-year-old and the misguided bikini choices made by many, I found plenty of it. Good that is.

First and foremost is 'good himself, CJ Hobgood. Our 2001 WCT world champion is on one hell of a national roll, winning the WQS at Sebastian Inlet in January, the WQS at Lowers in April and now, here in Huntington Beach, winning the US Open of Circus… I mean surfing.

CJ barely got through a tough semi-final against Dustin Cuizon in which Hobgood's legs looked 'heavy', his turns lacking a certain crispness, even his mental focus not quite sharp, as he fell on a number of rides. We ran into each other after his heat and I told him as much. "I know. I got the first wave in that heat, and I surfed it sort of stale but got a 5.5", CJ explained. "I felt like, 'wow, if I got a 5.5 for that crappy ride, this should be easy.'"

It wasn't. CJ bogged and slogged through the heat and generally looked tired. Cuizon was rolling along, banking around on smallish right-handers and whittling away at CJ's early lead with a 4.7, followed by a 5.3. Then, when it seemed CJ's run was over, out of the blue, Hobgood took off on a right hander near the pier and blasted into an air-reverse 360. Score = 8.33. Heat over. On to the final.

But before we get to that let me tell you about some more good: The ringmaster, Rockin Fig. Say what you will about his commentary, good bad indifferent, I find comfort in walking up to the big top each year and knowing that the ringmaster has control. Fig brings a sense of continuity and community to the affair and should be recognized for his good work.

And speaking of community… another good thing about the US Open is running into surf industry friends and business associates. Networking in an environment that gives you time to really talk as opposed to fast paced cocktail ramblings you might get into at your class reunion. "I really enjoy running into people,” said filmmaker Dana Brown. "I like being at the beach and really talking. I guess because we’re in our element."

And then there is the people looking. And lots of it. Both people and looking. Skinny people. Hairy people. Fat people. Marines, bums, bikers. Choppers, chicks, and Chinese. Bros bras and …bras. Tattoos, piercings and ponytails. Bikinis, butts and bandanas. Goons, grownups and groms.

Then came more good: The …LOST Pro Junior final. Anxious to see what all the Jordy Smith hub-bub was all about, I positioned myself next to a real housewife of the OC (Overly Chested) on the pier and pointed a watchful eye on the water below. The juniors were very impressive. Mason Ho was sharp and crafty. Chris Waring fast and fluid. Tonino Benson's surfing spirited and springy. And Jordy Smith…well Jordy didn't do much. When Smith did catch a wave he sparkled but not much came his way. Nevertheless, the juniors looked relaxed in the water and their surfing bore witness. All four busted out aerials of one pedigree or another. None of the pros that I saw in the Men's division looked as comfortable as these four Pro Junior surfers. Luckily, we'll get to see Jordy Smith on the WCT next year, and don't be surprised to see him hanging with Tiger Woods.

Every Good Circus Has a Tiger
The Jordy Smith free agent sweepstakes has ratcheted up a notch or two. In case you don't know, Jordy Smith is the next Kelly Slater. And he's a free agent. Sort of. Rumor has it that none other than Eldrick 'Tiger' Woods called Jordy to convince him to wear the Nike swoosh. Unconfirmed speculation of course, but where there is smoke there is fire, and an anonymous source close to the situation told me Sunday that the Tiger Woods to Jordy Smith phone call probably did happen. My sources are also telling me that Jordy isn't really a free agent, and is in fact under contract until 2009 with Billabong. We'll wait and see as this whole drama unfolds within the next week or so. Jordy surfed stickerless in the …Lost Pro Junior final on a sweet looking Merrick. Is he the next Slater, or, perhaps, the next Curren?

Then came the longboard final. The longboard final was, I dunno, …I promised I wouldn't get bitter. Let's just say that Joel Tudor wasn't in it. Unless you're into longboarders that shortboard, there wasn't much to watch. I witnessed no fading drop knee turns, no casual elegance, only chaotic anxiety. I promised you I would find the good in everything on this day, and this was a good time to line-up at the porta-potty.

The Men's final was slow going. Hobgood grabbed the lead early and sat on it as the waves stopped. Flores would eventually put some pressure on CJ, but CJ answered with a long right, was over-scored with a 7.1, but I'm glad. I want CJ to win and he does. How does the clich go? It's all good? Yeah, that's it. It's all good! As in Hobgood.

Quarterfinals: 8 surfers remaining (1st advances)
QF 1: Jean Da Silva (BRA) 13.43 def. Gabe Kling (USA) 10.33
QF 2: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 17.00 def. Royden Bryson (ZAF) 11.33
QF 3: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 14.90 def. Darren O'Rafferty (AUS) 13.36
QF 4: Dustin Cuizon (HAW) 15.50 def. Aritz Aranburu (ESP) 10.26

Semifinals: 4 surfers remaining (1st and 2nd advance)
SF 1: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 17.34 def. Jean Da Silva (BRA) 12.93
SF 2: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 15.00 def. Dustin Cuizon (HAW) 14.33

1 – C.J. Hobgood (USA) 12.60
2 – Jeremy Flores (FRA) 11.17

Lost Pro Junior – ASP Grade 2 Pro Junior

1 – Tonino Benson (HAW) 13.94
2 – Chris Waring (USA) 12.87
3 – Jordy Smith (ZAF) 12.17
4 – Mason Ho (HAW) 11.77

U.S. Open of Longboarding

1 – Colin McPhillips (USA) 18.00
2 – Taylor Jenson (USA) 15.53
3 – Cole Robbins (USA) 14.17
4 – Kai Sallas (HAW) 12.77