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Op Pro Huntington Beach


Clamorous midsummer professional surfing contest held between 1982 and 1998 at California's Huntington Beach Pier. California had previously hosted international pro events (the Katin Team Challenge, the Sutherland Pro, and the U.S. Pro, among others), but this was the first time the sport was tied into high-end West Coast marketing and promotions.

For its first 10 years, the Op Pro was the world's biggest and best-publicized surfing contest, covered by local and network news, reported in newspaper sports pages, and analyzed to extravagant detail by the surf press. It was often referred to as the "Super Bowl of Surfing." The Op Pro generally ran for five days, and by the weekend finale nearly 50,000 spectators would fill up bleachers on the south side of the pier and along the beachfront. "The Op," as California surfboard manufacturer Rusty Preisendorfer put it, "sticks the pros right in the face of the consumer."

Combined prize money for the men's and women's divisions of the 1982 Op Pro was $35,000. The men's event featured 120 nonseeded surfers, two wild cards, and 16 world tour pros; one of the wild cards was 18-year-old Tom Curren, who had turned professional just 10 days earlier. Australia's Cheyne Horan completed a backside 360 to beat South African Shaun Tomson in the final; Curren placed 5th. Becky Benson of Hawaii took the women's division.

Over the next few years, it was nearly automatic that Curren and Australian Mark Occhilupo would turn in the best performances of the meet; Curren won in 1983, 1984, and 1988, Occhilupo in 1985 and 1986. Four-time women's world champion Frieda Zamba of Florida was by far the most dominant Op Pro contestant, winning six times between 1984 and 1994.

The summertime surf was generally poor for the Op Pro, and the event's nonstop marketing Sturm und Drang helped make the event unpopular with many competitors. There were two options at the Op Pro, as surf journalist Nick Carroll put it: "suffer horribly, or win." The contest made national headlines in 1986 when hundreds of spectators rioted during the finals, setting three police cars and a lifeguard Jeep on fire.

The Op Pro was a world championship tour event from 1982 to 1991, and again in 1998; from 1992 to 1995 it was a second-tier pro event. The Op Junior debuted in 1989, and was won by future six-time world champion Kelly Slater. Other Op Junior winners included Rob Machado (1991), Kalani Robb (1994), and Tim Curran (1995). A longboard division was added in 1993, 1994, and 1995, with Joel Tudor winning all three years. A team format was used for the 1992 Op Pro. The 1995 Op Pro was the largest in the series, with just over 400 entrants; the 1998 Op was the richest, at $120,000. Op Pro winners:

1982: Cheyne Horan, Becky Benson

1983: Tom Curren, Kim Mearig

1984: Tom Curren, Frieda Zamba

1985: Mark Occhilupo, Jodie Cooper

1986: Mark Occhilupo, Frieda Zamba

1987: Barton Lynch, Wendy Botha

1988: Tom Curren, Jorja Smith

1989: Richie Collins, Frieda Zamba

1990: Todd Holland, Frieda Zamba

1991: Barton Lynch, Frieda Zamba

1992: Team USA: Kelly Slater, Richie Collins, Todd Holland, Mike Parsons, Alisa Schwarzstein

1993: Sunny Garcia, Kim Mearig

1994: Rob Machado, Frieda Zamba

1995: Sunny Garcia, Lisa Andersen

1996: (not held)

1997: (not held)

1998: Andy Irons, Layne Beachley