World's top wave riders converge on Calif. for U.S. Open - pressofAtlanticCity.com: Surfing

World's top wave riders converge on Calif. for U.S. Open - pressofAtlanticCity.com: Surfing

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World's top wave riders converge on Calif. for U.S. Open

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Posted: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 12:05 am | Updated: 1:05 am, Wed Aug 3, 2011.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. - The Gudauskas brothers had a strategy: catch as many waves as possible.

San Clemente, Calif., surfers, Tanner and Patrick, found themselves in a heat together on Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. Open of Surfing, battling for the top two spots in a four-man heat on the south side of the pier.

"I had a weird feeling I was going to draw him," Patrick said. "I don't like it. The pressure for the both of us is tough. If it's just me, I only have to worry about my surfing. It's stressful."

Fortunately, both made it to the top spots of their heat - older brother Patrick taking the lead and Tanner coming in second - as the men's main event of the U.S. Open of Surfing got under way.

The world's best surfers are in town to compete in front of big crowds this week, with riders such as 10-time champion Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Rob Machado and more.

The sand was packed as surf fans came out to see the famous surfers. Slater - likely the most recognizable surfer in the world - generated cheers and applause as he walked out to the water for his heat.

There were many recognizable surfers taking to the water. World Tour surfer C.J. Hobgood - who was crowned World Champ in 2001 and won the U.S. Open of Surfing in 2007 - has been surfing the event for about a decade.

"A lot has changed, and a lot hasn't," Hobgood, 32, said. "You still have all the festivities. The prize money and points are more. There have been a couple different tweaks each year."

Hobgood said he's looking forward to seeing how Brett Simpson of Huntington Beach does.

"He's the hometown favorite. He's won it two years in a row - that's pretty gnarly," Hobgood said. "You have to be good out there and have luck. And it seems like there's always a kid that comes out of nowhere, so it will be interesting who comes in to make a name for themselves."

Because it's such a big stage, it's a place for young surfers to make it big.

Jack Freestone, the current World Junior champion, is surfing the U.S. Open main event for the first time. The contest lets him surf with his idols - like C.J's brother, Damien Hobgood - and win heats against them.

"I'm just excited to be in it, it's really good experience," said Freestone, 19. "I love the vibe down here, it's such a prestigious thing."

As always, Slater drew crowds during his heat, with fans crowding around him as he entered and exited the water accompanied by security. He said it was tough going from warm, tropical waters in Central America to wind-chopped chilly water here. But growing up in Florida, he's used to these kinds of conditions.

"This is my DNA," he said. "This is like a good day in Florida."

When asked who he has his eye on, Slater said he's been watching San Clemente's Kolohe Andino, who has been surfing really well.

"He's been getting so much better, so quick, and growing in confidence," Slater said.

For surfers like Tanner Gudauskas, this contest means big points that could land him a spot on the World Tour alongside his brother Pat at the mid-year change.

"I'm just having fun. I feel good, I feel like I'm improving," Tanner said. "It's always good to try your hardest, but I'm not going to beat myself up if I don't make it."

For brother Patrick, he wants the U.S. Open title. He's come close, making it to the quarterfinals twice.

"I want to win it. It's a lot of work though, so it's just one day at a time."

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