“The Dirty Old Wedge.”
— Bruce Brown, “The Endless Summer”
The Newport Wedge is more like a dump truck of wet concrete than a wave.
What begins as a disorganized mess of wind and water hundreds of miles to our south cleans up and picks up steam before skirting the northern end of Newport Harbor and colliding like a locomotive with a side wave that sends the wave skyward.
The Wedge is unlike every other wave in many ways, the biggest difference being that it rarely lets you go without punishment and you are nearly guaranteed to end each ride in a head-on collision with the mighty Pacific.
I first became aware of the Wedge in the early ’60s when my friends spoke about it reverently, like they did the Banzai Pipeline. One friend broke his hip there, and another dislocated his knee.
I was a kook, and the worst type of a kook — one who didn’t realize he was a kook.
Add to that a touch for the dramatic and a flare for exaggeration and you get a 13-year-old boy walking up the beach board under arm, asking a stranger, “Which way’s the Wedge?” Of course I had no thought of actually surfing there.
Others talked less and performed more, as decades later Newport’s Danny Kwock and the legendary Christian Fletcher paddled their boards into those throaty barrels.
It had been years since I had witnessed the Wedge, hard thumping in all its glory, when my neighbor, Newport transplant Steve Gibbs asked me to check it out.
It was a bright, sunny July 4 morning and we were greeted with signs saying that the beach was closed in response to the omnipresent C-19. We went anyway, being sure to safely distance ourselves from others gathered on shore.
You could hear it before you saw it, the sound of heavy water collapsing with the dull thud of a thousand newspapers hitting the front porch at the same time.
The lifeguards and police who patrolled the sand on quads were polite and gave us fair warning that we would be ticketed if we did not soon move.
They allowed us to push it for just one more set as columns of water collapsed like a brick building being demolished, and the mist from breaking waves fell over us like summer rain.
From the beach it was easy to see that you needed to be careful out there and choose the right wave, one with a proper shoulder on it. If not, you would be in the midst of a closeout that would send you rag-dolling into the sand bottom.
Even those of us safely on shore could feel the sharp pain of mistakes made and the ensuing blackness while rolling home.
I’m glad I never made it to the Wedge when I was a foolish kid, all those years ago. I am equally glad I was able to witness this display and see that it is no less impressive than it was six decades ago.
Fireworks may have been banned, but waterworks were not.
In fact, they had been turned up all the way.