HUNTINGTON BEACH ( — Crowds were expected to get thick Friday ahead of the start of the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.

More than 300 surfers and other athletes will compete in a series of surfing, skating, and BMX events over nine days, wrapping up the first weekend in August.

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Staged at the famed Huntington Beach Pier, the U.S. Open of Surfing – which is considered to be the world’s biggest surf event – has been taking place in Huntington Beach since 1959, although earlier under a different name.

Expected to draw more than half a million spectators, the event’s popularity has caused some crowd control problems in recent years, including having to hand out 700 citations – mostly alcohol related – during last year’s Open.

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But Huntington Beach chief marketing officer Susan Thomas told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO that while they don’t anticipate any problems as in previous years, they will be prepared.

“There will be over a hundred folks from our local police force and security that are on the streets to make sure that people can get around safely and calmly, so we’re really not anticipating any problems,” said Thomas.

In order to avoid traffic congestion, officials urged visitors to take advantage of a free shuttle service provided by the city of Huntington Beach that runs to and from the downtown area on Saturday and Sunday July 25-26 and Aug. 1-2.

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