Evan Geisleman in the US Open of Surfing 2012 usopenofsurfing.com

Winning in small waves may be harder than in big waves. At least when they're pumping there are options. When they're small, it's all about creating something out of nothing. Case in point: On day one of the US Open of Surfing, event favorites Mick Fanning, Owen Wright and Taj Burrow succumbed to tricky conditions.

“Yeah, just couldn't find them out there this morning," said Fanning. “Always hurts to lose in the first round, but there wasn’t a lot on offer out there.”

So the question is, how do you win in Huntington when there's not much on offer? The current Surfline.com forecast says, “We will see a better southwest swell for the end of the event. This swell will be strongest on Friday and Saturday the 3rd-4th, with a slow building trend on Thursday and an easing trend on Sunday the 5th. For Friday/Saturday we’ll see inconsistent waist-shoulder high waves (3-4’) with some larger sets.”
 
But to get to the end-of-the-week swell means strategy, not bravado, becomes the issue, and the key to it all is knowing the playing field. Here's how it breaks down:

Into the Pier

There's a left-hander that breaks into the pier; it's a shorter wave, usually good for two quick turns, with the second turn usually offering more opportunity for radical, high-scoring maneuvers. But it's the most dangerous peak in the competition area, as the mussel-encrusted pier pilings come up quick. If you're going to see surfers "shoot the pier," this is the spot. Keep in mind that more than one surfer has become entangled with the pier.

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Middle Peak

Located directly in front of the main scaffolding, the middle peak is the premier "pier bowl" wave. The left is racier and requires speed lines and quick hits to tally points with the judges. Meanwhile, the right is extremely rippable and is where you're most apt to see big, progressive aerial maneuvers. From tail-blows to air reverses, many a highlight clip has emerged from this sandbar, including Kelly Slater's perfect 10 in 2009 when a hurricane swell had the surf maxing at eight to 10 feet, and he pulled into a massive barrel.

“There were some big lumps out there,” explained Slater, “and I could tell if you could get in behind the section there was a pretty good barrel. It all came together on that wave. That might have been the best wave I’ve ever had in Huntington Beach.”

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The Inside

When the wave is small, it's all about connecting the outside peak to the inside sandbar, where it gets shallow and the wave has more energy for powerful turns or well-timed airs. With a couple of turns out the back, the inside wedge has a chance to put an exclamation point on the ride, and like Jordy Smith on day one, it can take a score from a six to a nine and give you a heat win.

“You have to put a lot of energy into connecting that inside section,” said Smith. “You really have to work your way into the inside, then try to find a section to do something really explosive. That’s what the judges are looking for.”

Machado's Left

At the far south end of the competition area is a left-hander that, while inconsistent and harder to see from the judging scaffolding, can reveal a high-scoring wave. Made popular by 2006 US Open Champion Rob Machado, it's a preferred area to sit for goofy-footers who may be behind in the heat, don't have the time to haggle with a fellow competitor and need a long ride to link up. Machado's been known to get six or seven turns in on one wave, traveling all the way from the outside lineup and kicking out on the sand.

“It’s sneaky down there,” explained Machado. “You can usually find a wave down there without having to hassle and mix it up with the other guys. Sometimes there are some that really connect.”

These are the options all of the competitors will have at their disposal. Factors like wind, tide and swell direction will all play a role, and all drastically influence who will utilize each section of the south side of the Huntington Pier break, but as they say, "we all have to surf in the same ocean."

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