Chaos reigned last night at Huntington Beach. The US open aftermath saw riot police take to the street, popping out tear gas canisters at wannabe looters and inebriated spectators. Far from a challenge to state repression, this was a drunken rampage perpetrated by hoards of sunburned teenagers.
Perhaps the two foot final day conditions had not sufficiently excited the spectators. Or maybe, as reports suggest, the mayhem was triggered by a bottle of ketchup thrown from a rooftop. Whatever the reason, soon after the last heat left the water, portaloos were being flipped by overexcited youths and brawls broke out sporadically throughout the crowd. When a group broke off and attempted to storm a surf shop, a line of riot police arrived, clad in bullet proof vests and wielding tear-gas guns.
“The whole thing started around 7:00pm,” says Andy Leavelle, an employee at Sakal Surfboards on the beach front. “There was a fight in front of Jack’s Surfboards over some people stealing. I saw about 30 cops take off towards the pier. Then, all of a sudden I saw this giant crowd moving from the pier up Main Street.”
A loud speaker announced that anyone who remained on the streets would be arrested, then the police proceeded to disperse anyone blocking their path. “I watched the cops unload 200 rounds of tear gas to keep the crowd moving back, block-by-block.” Says Leavealle. “They did a riot line with riot gear, bulletproof vests, kept walking up and up the street, shooting tear gas.”
Forced into a hasty retreat, the crowd coursed through the streets, ripping out street signs in a tide of testosterone and juvenile frustration. A bike was plucked from a smashed shop window, before protective locals put an end to any more pillaging. One group attempted to upturn a truck, but to no avail. By 8pm, the streets were deserted, leaving shop proprietors free to sneak out of their premises and inspect the damage. At least eight people were arrested on suspicion of failing to disperse.
The recent events evoked grim memories of the US Open in 1986, when surfing’s carefree reputation was irreparably tarnished by a spontaneous riot, resulting in the torching of several police cars, a lifeguard Jeep and an ambulance.
Of late, regular spectators of the event have increasingly complained of unruly crowds, as stated by Newport Beach local, Steven Hahn. “The US Open has been getting out of hand for some time. Took my family down Thursday to avoid the crazies and my 7 year old girls want to know why all the girls have writing on them saying “Touch me” and “Touch Here” and “Free Hugs” and “Free Kisses” These kids are like 14!”
Following the tumult of last night, US Open organisers released a statement saying: “We’re extremely disappointed and saddened by the disturbance that occurred up on Main St after the close of the US Open of Surfing. We work tirelessly with City staff, police, fire and other agencies to ensure a safe environment for all. We appreciate the quick response of HBPD and are awaiting further information.”