For better or worse, motorcycles have been tied to images of rebellion in this country for over 100 years. Rock music has lived in largely the same space for over half a century. So it seems a no-brainer to combine motorcycles and music into as many things as you can. The Surf City Blitz did this by grabbing a largely punk rock line up of bands and some serious Hooligan racing, then putting it right on the beach in Southern California.
Roland Sands had already proven this formula with events like the Bay Moto Classic, held in San Francisco right on one of the piers in the Embarcadero. Along with racing at the Buffalo Chip Campground during the huge Sturgis rally and other American Flat Track events, the Super Hooligan National Championship (SHNC) has moved from sideshow to main stage.
Roland Sands has also figured out that flat track racing is popular in Orange county after having the invite-only Moto Beach Classic last year, not more than five miles from the location of this year’s event. And this year the event was something far bigger.
Called the Surf City Blitz, the event was moved from the Bolsa Chica beach area right onto the sand of Huntington Beach proper. The festival also grew to two days with a large area for food, vendor area, sprint racing, art show, and big-name bands. Center stage for us gearheads though was the final round of the Roland Sands Designs SHNC.
To explain Hooligan racing in short, you take a V-twin streetbike, 750cc or bigger, then set it up to go flat track racing. This means that instead of lightweight, purpose-built “framers” like you see in the American Flat Track series, you see heavy machines not originally designed for racing. Harley’s 883 Sportster is a popular starting point, though the front of the field is often filled with their Street 750, Indian’s Scout 60, or the occasional Ducati Scrambler.
And although the Hooligan class bars pro racers from entering, the Super Hooligan class allows pros from all disciplines, from flat track to freestyle motocross to road racing. Support classes ranged from pull-start minibikes to pre-war hand-shift motorcycles.
As a photographer I had a huge amount of work to do shooting in the tight oval track. The riders were constantly in contact with each other and shooting from the inside meant they were passing by only a few feet away. Occasionally they would get bumped to the inside of the track and physically pass under my camera as I held it out to get the right angle.
Shooting from the outside was also intense though. Since the barriers were not filled with water, a head-on hit would likely send bike and rider straight through to you. It was as close as you could get to the action without being on a bike, though I don’t think it was close enough: I found myself on Craigslist looking at used 883’s by the time I got home.
The crowd was a great mix of people and organizers were smart to time the bigger races between musical performances from the main stage. This meant the stands were a mix of motorcycle T-shirts and mohawks. It was a perfect way to introduce non-motorcyclists to the sport: right there on their home turf.
As a Huntington Beach native, I couldn’t walk twenty feet without running into someone I knew from my canyon riding days, from high school, or the singer of a band I’d been listening to since middle school. It was familiar ground despite the one-of-a-kind feeling the event had. The racing itself was one-of-a-kind as well.
The main event on Sunday was the season finale for the SHNC. Defending champ Andy DiBrino had things locked up and didn’t need to push, but he still got an early lead until a red flag stopped the action early on. DiBrino got a bad start on the second go but worked his was up to second quickly. He tangled with race leader Brad Spencer and came down hard, his right leg getting trapped between the rear wheel and shock absorber.
It took a mechanic with a socket wrench to partially remove the shock before Andy was freed from the bike. He managed to walk off the track but he was clutching his arm and shoulder as well. With DiBrino out Brad Spencer resumed his lead on the second restart and took a commanding win. This allowed Spencer to finish 3rd in the overall points while Jordan Barber held onto second in the championship.
DiBrino took a strange combination of prizes home, winning for getting the holeshot, best crash, and the overall championship win. He also got awarded a separated shoulder and broken humerus. He could have won the championship just sitting on the sidelines but nonetheless pushed hard to go for a win. That is tenacity if I’ve ever seen it.
Outside the race course there were short drag races happening on BMW motorcycles along with the Bell Helmets stunt show and vendor area. Hurley hosted a surf competition put on by WCBR (West Coast Board Riders). Husqvarna sponsored the Architects of Inspiration art show. Dunlop sponsored “Kidkana,” a mini-bike race for kids on small, electric powered push bikes. Oh, and there were just a few bands on hand.
Headlining Saturday was the Offspring while Sunday night ended with Social Distortion. I also got to see several bands I’d never seen live such as Pennywise, Bad Religion, Suicidal Tendencies, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
The Surf City Blitz felt memorable while it was happening: like you knew something special was happening in the moment, not after the fact. The biggest problem they’ll have for 2019 is to achieve the success of this year’s event without going over the top. Things were so perfect that growing it could turn it into an overblown version of itself, but if you’re going to have problems I reckon that’s a good problem to have.
The SHNC definitely has my attention more than ever. In a few short years they’ve gone from a funny sideshow at American Flat Track events to a crazy experiment in what it means to put on a motorcycle racing event. It reminds me of the early days in the AMA Supermoto series, when tracks were built in parking lots, constructions sites, and jumping over the railroad tracks in downtown Reno. Good times, a crazy mix of bikes, racers from many different disciplines, and no one exactly sure what the “hot set up” was for the fastest machine.
Here’s hoping Roland Sands and his team can keep putting on inviting, exciting events that attract race fans, street riders, and non-riders alike.