Jordyn Barratt stood at the lip of the pool with her foot pressing down on the tail of her skateboard.
“You know what you’re doing,” she thought to herself. “You’ve done this a million times, and this is easy. It’s not a big deal. Don’t worry about it.”
She tried to ignore her racing, doubtful thoughts, the boisterous crowd of 110,000 fans, and the nervous pit in her stomach as the contest judge signaled her to get ready.
The 19-year-old Barratt is blindly confident in almost every activity. As she should be. After all, she graduated high school with a 3.8 GPA, and at 17, she was the first woman to compete in both the U.S. Open skate and surf competitions.
But this contest was different. In most competitions, Barratt would have four runs to perfect her score. But at the pinnacle of all action-sports contests, the X Games, Barratt would only get two runs. On top of that, she was the defending bronze medalist. And on top of that, she’d fallen halfway through her first run trying to do a hand plant on the coping of a 12-foot pool. Barratt needed a flawless second run if she wanted to defend her medal and once again etch her name among the greatest skateboarders in the world.
“This is super-easy,” she thought. “Why’re you second-guessing yourself now? It’s mellow. Be mellow.”
The endless legion of eyes at Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium honed in on Barratt, who stood under the purple-and-white spotlights of the X Games stage. She leaned forward and dropped into the bowl for her second and final run.
Few spectacles in the world of sports rival the X Games. It’s the Super Bowl of action sports, attracting millions of at-home and live spectators. And it’s where you can always expect history to be made; for example, Tony Hawk landed the first 900 in 1999, and Travis Pastrana landed the first double backflip on a dirtbike in 2006.
If the X Games is the Super Bowl of action sports, then the U.S. Open of Surfing is the Kentucky Derby. The Vans-sponsored contest is one of action sports’ oldest, most prestigious events. As with the Derby, the mass of human indecency scantily clad in pasties, smeared with vibrant body paint and drunkenly calling themselves U.S. Open spectators are as much of a highlight as the contest itself.
Huntington Beach has hosted the U.S. Open of Surfing on the south side of the pier since 1959. Back then, it was known as the West Coast Surfing Championship. Except during a brief hiatus in the 1970s, the contest has continuously grown in its nearly 60-year history and is considered the largest surf contest in the world by sheer volume of spectators.
Though the U.S. Open has been marred by controversy—most notably the 2013 Huntington Beach riot, which cost the city $30,800 and resulted in 20 arrests—the contest adds tens of millions of dollars to Orange County’s economy each year. According to the U.S. Open Economic Impact Study commissioned by the city, the nearly 500,000 contest-goers in 2010 spent $21.5 million in the county, $16.4 million of which was spent directly in Huntington Beach.
The event’s expansion includes the Vans Park Series, a vital contest in professional skateboarding, and now the Vans BMX Pro Cup. Running from July 28 to Aug. 5, this year’s event promises as much action in the contests and in the stands as every other year.
Of all the competitors past and present, Barratt is among the most prestigious. She won skateboarding bronze in 2016, the same year she was the first woman to compete in both the surfing and skateboarding competitions. This year, Barratt seeks gold as well as to make history as an inaugural member of the 2020 U.S. Olympic skateboarding team.
Barratt’s mind emptied as soon as she dropped into the bowl on her second run of the 2017 X Games. She hit the first ramp with furious speed, careened 8 feet into the air over the ramp, arched back and grabbed her board with her left hand, then landed with flawless grace on the other side. Barratt wasn’t even thinking about landing the first jump. In her head, she had already landed it and was thinking one trick ahead to grinding the coping atop the 12-foot-deep pool in front of her.
“I always think one trick ahead,” Barratt says. “It’s kind of a mind trip because when I’m thinking about doing a backside air but I’m doing a frontside grind, I know I’m not going to think too hard of the frontside grind. If I was only thinking about the frontside grind, I’d get in my head too much. If I’m thinking about the next trick, I’ve already made it and I’m onto the next trick.”
Barratt picked up speed. Traveling around the pool, her pink-streaked, braided blond pigtails trailed every movement of her skateboard. She approached another ramp, launched into a grab and landed easily.
Barratt pumped her legs for speed, scaled the vertical face, planted her left hand to the coping in a one-handed handstand, and rode back down the ramp effortlessly.
Most people would back away from tricks such as this after falling, but not Barratt. “If I fall on something and I’m scared to try it again,” she says, “I always go back to the trick I slammed on. I don’t want a trick to defeat me.”
Barratt coasted with surfing-style ease, landing every grind, every hand plant and every air out of the pool. The Park Series is perfect for Barratt because it’s just like Banzai Skatepark in Hawaii, where she learned to skate. “Banzai is all small transitions, no street at all,” she explains. “It’s basically how a park is today—like the U.S. Open or the X Games.”
The final air horn rang out across the cheering crowd at the U.S. Bank Stadium. Barratt aired out of the pool, caught her board and landed on her feet. A broad smile widened across her tan face while she held her board victoriously above her head.
Barratt walked over to a scruffy-chinned fortysomething man in a white shirt who was grinning wider than anyone in the stadium. Over the past few years, 10-time X Games gold medalist Bucky Lasek has become a mentor to Barratt. Lasek has taught Barratt the style he and other pool skaters of the ’80s invented and has even instilled a reverence for that era’s punk rock in her.
“Growing up, Bucky was always my favorite skater,” Barratt says. “The first skate video I ever saw was of Bucky. If you’d told me five years ago that I’d be skating with him, I’d have been like, ‘Good joke!’ It’s almost like it’s too crazy to even be happening.”
While Barratt and Lasek cracked jokes, the judges worked furiously. After a moment, an announcement boomed over the speakers: “86.66 for Jordyn Barratt.” The crowd erupted with applause.
Barratt took the silver medal in the 2017 X Games with her flawless second run. During that breakout season, Barratt seized gold in the Vans Combi Bowl contest in Orange and first place at the Bondi Beach Bowl-a-Rama in Australia.
As her skills grow and she accumulates accolades, Barratt is excited for the 2018 U.S. Open, for which she has been preparing feverishly. She needs to, as a win here could mean an opportunity to represent the Stars and Stripes in Japan.
Conner Coffin didn’t enjoy the 2012 U.S. Open of Surfing very much. Though he’d been competing at Huntington Beach since he was 10 years old, he’d never performed well and felt out of his element among the seething crowd. Though Huntington is only 130 miles south of Coffin’s hometown, Santa Barbara, the buzz of the community was a little unsettling.
“All the people, and it just felt so crazy and hectic—it was wild,” Coffin remembers. “Santa Barbara is pretty mellow, and [this] wasn’t the sort of scene I thrived in.”
But there he was, sitting on his board while wearing a red rashguard and searching for a rideable wave in a sea of sloppy surf under the hot sun on the eighth day of the U.S. Open. Any residual uncertainty from his previous losses had to be left on the shore that day. Coffin was on the cusp of either accomplishing his dream of becoming a professional surfer or quitting the sport.
Surfing against Coffin in the Junior Pro that day were Filipe Toledo, currently the top-ranked World Surf League (WSL) competitor of 2018, and Kanoa Igarashi, the Huntington Beach native who’s currently 17th in the WSL.
Coffin’s biggest tool against the others wasn’t just talent—shit, they were all talented. But rather, it was a renewed determination to succeed. Just a few months prior, Coffin, feeling disheartened about the ups and downs of his Junior Pro career, decided to take time off the competitive circuit to reconsider his surfing career.
“I hadn’t won a contest in so long,” Coffin remembers, “and I was like, ‘Man, maybe I’ll never win one of these things again.’”
Coffin returned to Santa Barbara, where he worked for his father, a contractor. “I think I shoveled gravel, carrying 5 gallon buckets full of dirt every day for months, and thought, ‘Man, this is not as fun as surfing,’” he recalls. “So it really motivated me to work harder.”
He began treating surfing as though it were a 9-to-5 job, putting the same effort into the sport that he had put into working with his dad. “I took that same work ethic to the World Qualifying Series and the desire to compete,” he says. “I thought, ‘Man, I gotta dive in here one more time and really give it a solid go.’ Being on the tour was a dream I’d had since I was young. Once I was ready to hone in and give it my all for a year, I was able to make it happen. I didn’t want to look back and say I was that close and walked away without giving it 100 percent.”
In his first run in the final round of the 2012 U.S. Open Junior Pro competition, Coffin dropped in and crouched low on a short, mushy left-handed wave. The wave didn’t look too promising, but Coffin surfs with all the swift improvisational turns of a blues guitarist, driving low into the wave’s pocket like a bass note before swiftly carving up its face to glide along the high treble notes of the cascading crest.
Though the wave wasn’t perfect, Coffin’s determination to stick with it paid off. After he dropped back into the pocket, the wave reformed perfectly. Coffin pumped, leaning low against the wave, and whipped his board high on the lip.
Each following wave that day was equally mushy and slow to form, yet Coffin kept going against stiff competition from Igarashi and Toledo.
Igarashi treated every wave like a ramp. No matter how sloppy the wave, he managed to launch out of the lip and land clean.
It was a dogfight between Coffin and Igarashi for the rest of the final heat. Each move was perfectly countered, and the judges made careful notes.
When the final air horn sounded and the competitors went ashore, Coffin was met by a hoard of cheering fans. His brother and dad hoisted him onto their shoulders and carried the young surfer across the sand to the podium. His scores of 8.17 and 8.93 were the highest of the day. Coffin had won the 2012 Open Junior Pro for the first time.
A reporter approached Coffin immediately after and asked, “Winning the U.S. Open, what’s going through your head right now?”
Between exhausted breaths, Coffin replied, “I’m just over the moon right now. I’ve been doing this contest for so long, and I used to struggle terribly at Huntington Beach, so I worked really hard to get better at that. I’m just really stoked that that final went my way.”
The following year, Coffin won the U.S. Open Junior Pro again. He still remembers almost every detail of those two competitions. For Coffin, a win in Huntington is like a win in his hometown. He feels proud to compete in California and to participate in the historic U.S. Open.
Today, Coffin is ranked 11th professionally in the WSL and is hot off a fifth-place finish in South Africa earlier this month.
Watching Coffin surf is akin to listening to an extended dueling guitar jam from the Allman Brothers. Which makes sense because Coffin is both an accomplished guitarist and a fan of ’70s blues rock. Despite his obvious talent, he always humbly describes his accomplishments in surfing and music.
“To me, music and surfing, I’ve never felt like I was the best,” Coffin says. “People can do so much crazier shit than I can do on a board and with a guitar. But for me, I’ve always been inspired by people who can do something simple with style and flow and with emotion. Music and surfing are so expressive: When someone’s doing their thing, you can connect with that, and when someone’s faking or trying to force a style, you know. It’s very improvisational—that’s the word I’d use between surfing and music. When it’s feeding off itself and what’s happening, that’s kind of like surfing. You’re constantly playing off the wave. As it changes, you’re working with it, and it’s never the same, and that’s really cool.”
Although Conner Coffin will not compete in this year’s U.S. Open, his brother Parker will. Currently ranked 168th in the Qualifying Series after coming off a hot 2017 season, Parker needs a handful of key victories, including U.S. Open wins, if he wants to join his brother in the WSL. The Coffin family will be watching Parker compete off the south side of the Huntington Beach pier, glad to return to Surf City.