Yet what happened after the storm surprised many people: city officials decided that, after months of preparation for such an anticipated international event, it should be canceled because some people were cleaning flooded basements, while others were still without power. The fact that numerous merchants had spent thousands of dollars preparing for this didn't seem to matter. Fortunately, after a strong public outcry, the surf contest, if not the attendant music and action sports festival, went on.
And the end result was nothing short of amazing — thousands of people lined the beach to watch the world's best surfers compete for the largest prize money ever awarded in a surfing contest. Mother Nature gave Long Beach epic waves that had not been seen in years. The wind was perfect and the sun was out. By my estimation, of the thousands of people who lined the beach, more than half were locals. And the word around town is that most people loved the contest. The international surfers raved about the hospitality of the locals, and it appears the contest went off without a single negative incident.
Unfortunately, the contest was not as kind to our local merchants. From most reports, the merchants gained nothing from the crowds, who were mostly concentrated around Quiksilver's surf site and merchandise tent on the beach and the boardwalk. The reason given by city officials to cancel the festival — people cleaning out flooded basements and those still without power — made no sense whatsoever. Bands still ended up playing, but they were local bands. And although they were good, they were nowhere near the caliber of performers — the Flaming Lips, Taking Back Sunday, Interpol, etc. — that people were expecting. Often, the crowds that the local bands attracted could be counted on two hands. Was the water in the basement any less annoying because a local band was playing, rather than one with a national following? For some reason, city officials seemed to think so.
Still, what did come out of this event was an identity for Long Beach that I think many people are comfortable with. While we may not want guests at our homes everyday, once in a while we like to throw a party and show the world our hospitality. The fact that the party comes along with front row seats to an Olympic-type event like the Quiksilver Pro N.Y. makes it all the more appealing. For many of us, this was a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity, and we missed work or school to come down and watch it. To date, I have not heard a single regret about time spent at the contest. It is a shame that some city officials did not think we were resilient enough to handle the full event. They still have a lot to learn about Long Beach residents.
Roy Lester is a longtime Long Beach resident, lifeguard, attorney and a member of the Board of Education.