When Nike announced late last year that it was withdrawing from its highly successful run as sponsor of the U.S. Open of Surfing it left many wondering what was to come for the storied event. For over half a century surfers have been competing in the shadow of the Huntington Pier, but the Open's future remained in question until now. Announced today, Vans and International Management Group (IMG) have entered into a three-year partnership that will see Vans banners blowing in the afternoon winds at Orange County's most iconic surf spot.
"Vans and IMG have been partners for the better part of two decades. Being able to continue this relationship via such an iconic platform, in our own backyard, is simply a perfect fit," said Vans' Vice President of Marketing Doug Palladini in his prepared statement to the press. "We are really looking forward to bringing the entire surf and skate industry back to the U.S. Open, leading by working with all of our peers, and inspiring a whole new generation of action sports fans. As we continue to grow our role in surfing, the U.S. Open and the City of Huntington Beach afford us one of youth culture's most powerful events to share our spirit of Off the Wall with millions of people."
The caveat in all of this is that in the press release one finds the phrase "an all-inclusive, world-class surfing competition and cultural festival." Surf contests are surf contests, it's hard to wander too far astray with them. It's the "cultural festival" part that has made the U.S. Open a hot topic of conversation over the last couple of summers. The Open grew considerably under Hurley and Nike's watch, so much so that beach attendance was being counted in the hundreds of thousands on any given day. But things like the Honda Element drum circle and Rock Star Energy spray tats repulsed many a surfing purest. Restoring that, making the Open a contest for surfers by surfers will be the challenge to Vans.
"The event has been growing rapidly over the past several years and Vans has stepped in, harnessed all that energy and with their authentic roots and inclusive vision, will help steer this massive happening for many years to come," said James Leitz, SVP of IMG and Executive Producer of the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing.
We'll find out exactly how Vans and IMG plan to harness all that energy this summer. The U.S. Open runs from July 20-28, and this year will be the contest's 20th anniversary. From Occy and Curren, flaming riots and corporate whitewashings, surfers have learned to if not love, at least endure the Open, warts and all. And so begins the next chapter with Vans at the helm. As they might say, let's get classic.