Could Surfpocalypse bring 500,000 to Long Beach? (Quiksilver Pro Reality Check)



As the Quiksilver Pro rapidly approaches, and construction is in full swing, I figured it would help to make some comparisons as to what the City should expect – as opposed to the comical guesses the City of Long Beach posted.

Around town, people want to know what’s going on.  “How many people are coming?”  “What are they building.”  “I heard dangerous youths might be coming down to play their rock and roll music!!!”  “Ah, it will be a parking disaster”

Newsflash, Long Beach is already a parking disaster, but there are certainly a lot of unanswered questions and confusion about what’s going on.

A few weeks ago, the City of Long Beach posted a “Questions and Answers” that really only raised more questions, while answering few.  One key point is that they are claiming up to 20,000 people may come down to watch the event per day.  The crowd estimate specialists over there derived this number for an international event that will be covered 24/7 by the national and international media, broadcast on TV and online, bring down 32 of the top pros in surfing with many more vying to compete, dozens of pros from other disciplines, more than 20 bands, the whole time being  free to the public and compared that with  ticketed Great South Bay Festival in Patchogue.

No offense to Patchogue, but I don’t think the two are exactly similar.  Instead, I’ll be comparing it with something more in the same vein – the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing currently taking place in Huntington Beach, CA.

The event, featured in the video above, has a long – and sometimes storied history, has been a staple of surf culture for more than half a century.  This is as big as a surf tour stop gets.  This is part of the ASP tour – but a lesser “prime” event for men (not a world event) – with a $460,000 purse, and is a main event for the ladies, the women’s winner receiving the tour title.  The Quksilver Pro is one of 11 main events on the ASP tour for men, with a $1 million purse – wheras the rest of the events on the circuit have a measly $425,000 purse.

The Nike U.S. Open of Surfing has the whole scene – concerts, bmx, skate, and of course surfing.  Huntington Beach – sometimes called Surf City – has dozens of hotels, restaurants, and is used to a massive influx of summer vacationers.  Long Beach has one hotel, that is completely rented out by Quiksilver for the entire event.

As for the waves, yes, Long Beach is flat during the summer, but that’s why this competition is not in the summer.  It is in prime hurricane season.  Looking at the waves for Hungtington Beach, two of the days the competition was running were very similiar to a “good” day at Long beach – chest to shoulder high waves with a lot of shore break.  On Thursday when they were running some of the women’s heats, the waves were comically small, and at times had less than 4 sets roll through during the entire 30-minute heat.  Yesterday, they got big as Hurricane Eugene started pushing some swell into the Pacific coast.  For the Quiksilver Pro, we can hope Earl or Igor’s younger brothers make an appearance.  I say this all to underline that even “predictable” spots that are known for surf, sometimes don’t break.  Even if we get mediocre waves for the event, these guys will make it look huge.

Huntington Beach’s event will likely see 500,000 over 10 days, or 50,000 a day.  Will Long Beach, NY see that sort of crowd?  No.  Long Beach may have an ingrained surf culture, but New York (as opposed to California) does not.

Update: While watching the live coverage, they just said this was the biggest U.S. Open in history with over 593,000 already in attendance (175,000 of which just yesterday).

But, I do think the crowds will be substantial.  There is a massive advertising campaign across the island, and all over New York City and with the concert schedule now out, I think a lot more ears may begin to perk up.   That said though – I don’t think it will be chaos in the streets, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria, etc.

As the video up top shows, it’s a lot of people, hanging out on the beach, watching surfers.  People enjoying a massive beach festival that celebrates everything good about beach culture and the sports and music that go along with it.  I’m sure there will be some hiccups, but fear not, these event organizers have done this before, at dramatically larger and more hectic venues, and have succeeded – and are invited back year after year by the host cities.  And remember, Long Beach signed a three year contract, so if they don’t get it right this year, they still have two more years to work out the kinks!

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