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Thursday, March 27, 2008
Surf Break Maps: Wedge, Newport Beach, Orange County, California
The Wedge is probably the most famous wave in Newport Beach…it is definitely the most dynamic and dangerous wave. It is located at the very end of the Balboa Peninsula snuggled right up next to the beach side of the northern jetty of the Newport Harbor entrance.
The wave itself is a freak of human engineering…the Army Corp of Engineer designed and built the harbor jetty, which makes the wave what it is…defining everything from its shape to its power.
Way back in antiquity…there was supposedly an outstanding surfable wave along the entrance to Newport Bay, with rideable sections on both on the Newport and Corona Del Mar sides. Unfortunately WWII changed the needs of the West Coast’s harbors and bays and they had to put in the entrance jetties to prevent silting of the entrance…likely destroying what was a good Newport wave. In its place we got a mutant of wave that can put on such a show that hundreds of people will jam the beach just to watch it crush people. Personally I am not sure if it was that great of a trade-off but there are plenty of near-rabid bodysurfers, skimboarders, and bodyboarders that would disagree with me.
Here is some footage of the wedge
There are actually two waves in the Wedge area...one is the Wedge proper right next to the jetty and the second wave is called another nasty shorebreak of a wave called Cylinders, which is up the beach a short ways.
The Wedge is a product of the jetty and the steep drop-off of the sea-floor as you move away from the beach. The Wedge works almost exclusively on S swells, and the longer the period and the larger the swell the better the wave starts to work. What happens it the S swell travels almost directly down the length of the jetty…the part of the wave that intersects the jetty rocks starts to pile up on top of itself and will even spill over the top of the jetty into the harbor entrance on bigger swells. This mix of the normal wave and the bulge will eventually reach the beach and the energy that has piled up on the rocks finds itself shoaling and reflecting back away from the jetty at the same time…this folds the energy back into the more normal wave and suddenly you get the massive wedge peak forming with all of this doubled-up energy that is forced to break in a very shallow water depth…sometimes even on completely dry sand.
One of the byproducts of the double-up and the shallow water is that it throws some incredibly hollow sections and you can get super deep in the barrel before the wave tries to sand off your face. You can get seriously messed up at this place…on big swells it is common to see guys carted away with broken collarbones and sometimes broken vertebrae from hitting the sand at full speed.
There is also weird subwave that a lot of the wedge riders try to capitalize on…you get this bounceback from the jetty that is moving almost completely perpendicular to the bigger wedge peak…they call this the “side wave”. You can actually use the side wave to boost your speed into the approaching wedge, helping you backdoor the section. I would say even if you have a lot of practice with the side wave you still have about a 40% chance of this leading to disaster…but it is a lot of fun to watch so keep trying.
The wedge can be a legitimate big-wave…on the right swell it can break the 18-20’ range…maybe even bigger. As the wave gets bigger it starts to break further off the beach…it is still a heavy section but it starts to get slightly more surfable. On every big swell there will be at least a few guys that paddle out on surfboards once the blackball drops. There isn’t really a good way to exit the wave once you have caught it so these surfers sort of go for style points pulling in deep and hoping that they don’t get wrapped up with the board when the wedge finally punches their ticket.
There used to be a series of power poles running along the jetty so occasionally you may hear one of the older wedge guys talking about a swell in terms of “power poles”. This is actually referring to the number of poles away from the beach the wave was breaking even with. The bigger the swell the higher the number of poles…a 6 or 7 power pole swell would have most people pooping kittens.
In short the wedge at any size is a pretty formidable wave…and you should be very comfortable swimming, bodysurfing, and getting pounded by the surf before heading out even on moderate S swells…as it gets bigger it is better left to the experts and the crazies. (Which really are one and the same.)
Cylinders is also a by-product of the jetty but it isn’t quite as dramatic as the wedge…it definitely doesn’t get as big…but it can be just as heavy. The wave at Cylinders is formed by reflection from the jetty…some of the energy that piles up along the jetty as the swell heads toward the wedge sets to bounce off before it actually lands in the pocket. This excess energy skips over the wedge area and hits at Cylinders…as the swells get a little more S-SW Cylinders will start to get more defined as a hollow right section that breaks back toward the Wedge’s left. Again this isn’t a “surfable” wave but it can be a decent bodyboard, skim, bodysurf spot.
Cylinders seems to break almost exclusively on the beach…it never really sets up further off in deeper water…which is why it can beat you up just as fast as the wedge and sometimes faster on the medium sized swells.
The Wedge has a very unique blackball rule that was helped into place by the longstanding crew of bodysurfers that have called the wedge home for nearly ever. From 10am through 5pm during the months of May through October there are no floatation devices allowed in the water. Period. No bodyboards, no skimboards, no floaty inflatable circles with sea-horses on them, nothing. From 10 to 5 it is body surfing only.
Why can’t we all just get along
It is easy to see why the wedge crew wanted a little alone time in the lineup…outside of the backball hours during a decent swell it can be a mad house of skimboards, bodyboards, and bodysurfers flying everywhere, calling each other off, and occasionally fighting it out on the sand. The problem arises mostly because the three different disciplines require different take-off spots but all eventually overlap once the wave starts breaking…this means that it is hard to know whose turn it is. So what happens is that everyone goes at once, get into each others way, get mad and start punching people much like myself after a bottle or two (too much) of whiskey. There isn’t really a solution to the issue short of taking numbers…so the best we can do is be down there with our video cameras to make sure the fisticuffs get posted on YouTube.
To Sum Up
I spent a lot of freaking time on the wedge in this map series…so I will hurry here to get to the point. S swell, the longer the swell period the better, makes the wedge work. The bigger the swell the better the shape. Oh yeah expect an ass kicking from something…either human or mother nature…and if you don’t get one from either then you will be pleasantly surprised. (it isn’t really that bad…but I like to expect the worst).
Best swell direction: S swell, big freaking S swells with looooong periods
Best Wind: Offshore (duh...) actually light winds are fine and it can handle some onshore bump as it gets bigger.
Sea Floor: Coarse Sand, shells, and pieces of teeth from the guy that just took off before you.
Best Season: Spring, Summer and Early fall.
Crowds: Lots of crowds…a crew of guys on it every time it breaks. The crowd gets bigger as the swell gets bigger. It pays off to pay attention to the blackball rules.