Dirty Old Wedge: Premiere

On April 22, 2016 the Wedge documentary, Dirty Old Wedge, premiered to a sold out theater in Costa Mesa, California. Director, Tim Burnham chose to premiere his debuting film effort within the Newport Beach Film Festival. The local surfing community embraced the move as the NBFF added several more showings, all of which were consequently sold out. After the movie ended to wild ovation the crew gathered outside before heading over to a local gallery for food, drinks and a rolling slideshow by Ron Romanosky.

Ron “Romo” Romanosky, Terry “Sac” Wade, Director Tim Burnham and Kevin “Mel” Thoman Between these four you can be sure you’ll feel the spirit of Wedge Crew.
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Mark Cunningham made the trip over to support the effort and talk with the boys. Here he is talking shop with “The Sherriff” himself, Lee Hernandez.
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Watching Bodysurfing on the big screen is a rare occasion.
Terry “Sac” Wade is easily categorized as one of the best Wedge riders in history. He no longer lives here, so talking with him about his progression was just one of the unique opportunities on offer premiere night. He’s still as stoked out as ever standing in front of a Ron Romanosky iconic slide.
Thoman and Karam putting together a token from the historic night

 

-EJ

2015 World Bodysurf Championship

Special thanks to Rod Hepburn for allowing us to share photos from his sharp eye.

2014 World Bodysurfing Championships

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Outside!

 

A dark bump beyond the Pier brings hoots and yews from the Pier spectators. Bodysurfers look to their friends on the Pier. Riders and coaches use hand signals to alert an approaching set. An attempt at stealth…every extra stroke an advantage when getting to the peak before a competitor. Hand up with digits raised show how many bumps are out the back. Competitors dive and swim hard for the outside. Pick the right one, find the sweet spot, take off and style for the judges.

 

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Oceanside Pier with judges and spectators.

Chest to head high waves rolled into the Oceanside Pier on the weekend of August 16th and 17th, providing excellent surf for the 38th Annual World Bodysurfing Championships. The Oceanside Buoy read 3.3ft. at 17 seconds from the SSW. The waves even exceeded most forecasts. With the tide rising through the morning, consistent sets provided ample scoring opportunities. The Southside was mysteriously better than the Northside.  The biggest sets never seemed to connect through the Pier. The northwest wind blew out the Northside while the Pier blocked some wind to keep the Southside clean. Rotating heat locations on Saturday gave everyone a chance on the Southside.

Mark Cunningham
Mark Cunningham

An air of healthy competition hung over the Pier. Competitors swam hard, teams cheered and judges did their best. Everyone discussed heat strategy. Sit inside and catch a bunch of small waves or wait for the sets outside? Can the judges see the lefts on the Northside? Is that little right still working next to the Pier? With swell in the water, swimming strength became vital in the drifting Oceanside lineup. According to Dr. Hal Handley, “It is very often a swimming endurance contest. The strongest AND most talented win.”

350 bodysurfers in 12 divisions (8 men’s and 4 women’s) began the competition with the first heats beginning at 6:30am. Competitors represented the whole of the California coast, Hawaii, Oregon and the East Coast.  International representation included Australia, Brazil and France. The youngest included 12 year olds while the 65+ age groups are always lively and respected.

Saturday’s competition ended with fatigued arms, sunburns and smiles. The usual Saturday night debauchery at the Doctor’s house was replaced this year with a true celebration. A celebration of the Ocean, of bodysurfing and it’s legendary characters.  The California Surf Museum in Oceanside hosted the Grand Opening Reception of an exhibit titled, “Bodysurfing…Pure, Simple and Fun!” Over the past year, Bill “Froggy” Schlidge and Dr. Hal Handly have collected and collaborated a wonderful history of bodysurfing. Stories, artifacts, images and passion: it is all there. Lively fin discussions, wild wave tales and pure, simple stoke highlighted the evening.

Mark Cunningham, Hal Handley, Fred Simpson and Bill Schlidge
Mark Cunningham, Hal Handley, Fred Simpson and Bill Schlidge
2014 Men's Grand Championship
2014 Men’s Grand Championship

Sunday morning dawned with continuing swell and clean conditions.  All age group finals ran in consistent surf on the Southside. The crowd filled in on the beach and stood two deep on the Pier.  With all the finals featuring previous Grand Champions, multiple-time age group winners and legends, a very high level of bodysurfing was on display. Upside down, underwater takeoffs, smooth spinners and long barrel rides kept the judges busy and the crowd cheering.

Wolfpack
Wolfpack                           Photo: Curtis Marker

Positivity surrounded the entire weekend. Many of the competitors have been competing here for 20+ years. Old friends talked story and new friends made introductions. The team competition adds an interesting dynamic. The Wolfpack is always up for a good time especially this year in their flesh-tone speedos that caused many spectator double-takes. The Del Mar Bodysurfing Club “Good Vibes” are exactly that. Chubascos was well represented from Huntington Beach and the young guns from the WOD Crew showed encouraging skill.

Grand Champions: Calla Allison and Brett Templeman Photo: Rod Hepburn
Grand Champions: Calla Allison and Brett Templeman       Photo: Rod Hepburn

When the salt spray finally settled, Calla Allison of Team Pine St. Carlsbad won her 5th Women’s Grand Championship and Brett Templeman of the South City Swells in Ventura took the Men’s Grand Championship. Both exhibited expert wave knowledge, stamina and style throughout the weekend. Congrats to them both! The highly coveted and hotly contested Team Trophy went to Pine St. They are the only name on the trophy, having won it each of the 5 years that it’s been awarded. Hal Handley and Bill Schlidge were awarded the Jack Thill Perpetual Bodysurfing Trophy for service to our beloved lifestyle. Obviously, well deserved!

Jack Thill Perpetual Bodysurfing Trophy: Bill Schlidge and Dr. Hal Handley Photo: Rod Hepburn
Jack Thill Perpetual Bodysurfing Trophy: Bill Schlidge and Dr. Hal Handley Photo: Rod Hepburn
Team Trophy winners: Pine St. from Carlsbad Photo: Rod Hepburn
Team Trophy winners: Pine St. from Carlsbad                      Photo: Rod Hepburn

-KS 

Buffalo: by Dr. Hal Handley

Sometime in the early 1960’s, TV’s Jim McKay’s narrative on ABC’s Wide World of Sports highlighted the pageantry and excitement of many unusual and lesser-known sports.  His voice rose, crested and fell with stories portraying athletes pushing their limits for the “thrill of victory or the agony of defeat”.

Buffalo at Makaha Photo: Encyclopedia of Surfing- Don James
Buffalo at Makaha. Photo: Encyclopedia of Surfing- Don James

From 1962 to 1965, Wide World of Sports aired the annual Makaha International Surfing Championships.  During one show, the long time patriarch of the Makaha Beach environs, Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana was featured bodysurfing along the sandy shore with the incredible grace and the ease of a marine mammal at play with the waves.  Perhaps the image of his joy, play and practice of an ancient Polynesian sport crystallized somewhere in my brain.  The interview of Buffalo covered his (still) legendary stature as a waterman and I, just a 13-year-old Junior Lifeguard, was hooked.  Buffalo stored his swim fins in his refrigerator to prevent their corrosion.  Why THAT hooked me? I have no idea, an indelible image seared in my young brain.  For many years thereafter, I treasured my fins and fought with my mother’s macaroni and cheese casserole for the prime cold storage location.

At that point, a seed of passion grew in my life.  A passion born of being knocked down wave after wave, each time jumping up and running back into the shorebreak for one more.  A passion maintained by deep pockets of sand in every ear, nose, eye and shorts carried with me nearly everywhere I went.  Before I ever entered high school, I had dismissed my father’s passion for baseball and found my own in the water.
I wanted to ride like Buffalo across the waves.  I was only subliminally aware of his exceptional talent.  “California big-wave pioneer Greg Noll once watched Keaulana bodysurf six-foot waves at Yokohama, near Makaha. ‘He looked so natural,’ Noll later recalled, ‘streaking across the waves like a seal. I actually expected him to turn and swim out to sea when he was done” [1].  So by the time I was 16, I was determined to study and bodysurf the most famous bodysurfing wave I knew: The Wedge.

By 1969, I was comfortable at Wedge.  Two large swells late that summer pushed Wedge passed the 9th pole! After innumerable attempts, poundings and some success in large surf that summer, my high school friend, Bob Gove and I endeavored to visit the legendary islands and waves of Hawaii in December of 1969.

We arrived just after one of the largest swells in surf history. Fresh fables circled the island: Greg Noll at 30ft. Makaha and journalist/bodysurfer Bruce Jenkins riding a wave through his wall and across Kam Highway- on his mattress. Five days into our trip, we witnessed Makaha rise from 2-4 feet to 15-18 feet within about 6 hours.

Here we camped, concealed in the bushes. One day, a jacket I kept for evening warmth was stolen, but when word reached the local Kahuna, the jacket was returned the following day with a verbal apology.  Buffalo had heard of the transgression and corrected it without even having met us.  Aloha.

Somewhat intimidated and anxious to explore the North Shore, we began “camping” in the yards of unoccupied beachfront homes. After two nights, we were rousted from our sleepy hideouts by radio reports of another impending monster swell.  Evacuation orders were again issued for the second time that month.  We found shelter in a chance and perfectly timed encounter with one of my Newport bodysurfing friends staying at a ramshackle mountainside bungalow.

We awoke from our high perch around 2:00am to the deep rumble of big surf.  As the sun rose, we saw mountains of water, waves the size of high-rise buildings, towering and tumbling to the shore.  My only estimation of size came by counting a full, one thousand one, one thousand two…five seconds from the pitch of the lip to its impact.  No waves since have matched that view. Those last few days on the North Shore molded confidence into a cautious understanding of bigger surf.

As we prepared for home on our last evening, we were invited by surfer Mike Purpus and friends for a beach cookout of fresh parrot fish stuffed with corned beef hash.  Bob and I had lived on shave ice, almond cookies and the odd can of Spaghetti-O’s, so this was our departure luau. We settled around a small fire when a burly local swam to shore with his days catch.

Buffalo Photo: Encyclopedia of Surfing, Greg Noll video
Buffalo. Photo: Encyclopedia of Surfing, Greg Noll video

The diver was clearly a local waterman and touted “beachboy” from Waikiki.  He welcomed us to share in his catch and we talked story around the fire.  When I learned that this man was the Hawaiian surfing legend, Buffalo Keaulana, my adventure was complete.  To Buffalo, we were two forgettable grommets among many.  Upon us, he bestowed a spirit of aloha which instilled a lifelong memory whose spirit remains the same even while time erases the details.  I have not spoken with Buffalo since that day, but I do owe him a debt of gratitude.  His aloha launched me into many years of joy and sporting passion.
– Hal Handley, Jr..  PhD

[1] Encyclopedia of Surfing.   Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana.

 

Salty Fins: Hal Handley

Some people stumble to their place in this world, riding the wave with no consideration of the reef beneath them, nor their position on the face. Hal is not that guy.  He attacks bodysurfing with vigor and inquiry, unwrapping the most subtle movements with focused thought and repetition. Hal is described by life-long bodysurfer and all around purveyor of stoke, Mike Sullivan as, “the ultimate student of bodysurfing, if you ever wonder how to do a maneuver, Hal’s your guy.”

Hal Handley was born the son of a baseball player. His father started at UCLA and had begun his professional career with stints in the minors. Neptune had another plan for the senior Handley and he was given the gift of a baby boy. As a young teen, Hal watched his television in awe as Buffalo Keaulana bodysurfed Makaha’s waves with grace and expertise. He was hooked. Buffalo stored his fins in the fridge to preserve the rubber, so Hal did the same.

Through his teenage years Hal would hitch rides and eventually get wheels to bodysurf Wedge. His friends would go for the novelty, laughing nervously and staring wide-eyed, but he was taking mental notes and making plans for the future. The Wedge, taught Hal to value commitment. His dedication to “the Newport wonder” ended when he was 23. For ten full years, Hal would explore the wave riding world before coming full circle to his pair of Voit Duck Feet in 1982.

Hals Highline   Hals Stroke

One day that summer, Hal sat watching the Oceanside World Championship of Bodysurfing and he set two goals for himself: 1) to win that contest and 2) earn a PhD. Over the following decade he had accomplished both, becoming a Grand Champion in 1990 and earning his doctorate in immunology. Hal continued his passion for science through a distinguished career in research. His work on the molecular level has paved the way for many advancements in cancer treatments today. On the competition front, Hal has continued to pile up achievements with six age-group victories and a showing in the final of the Pipeline bodysurfing contest.

Hal has been a fixture in the La Jolla waters for over 30 years. A cerebral waterman, he has traveled the world studying diverse wave riding forms. At each new wave, the analytical gears turn and Hal picks up novel techniques. He firmly believes in the power of competition. His face turns an excited red as he describes throwing out all the stops in order to make the next heat. Hal has found himself doing things he’d never consider doing on a wave, when in the throes of competitive discourse.

Hal Somewhere in Southern California Photo: Bill Schildge
Hal Somewhere in Southern California
Photo: Bill Schildge

Despite Hal’s cerebral tendencies, he is well aware of his connection to the spiritual resonance of the Ocean. Instead of describing his connection, he painted a familiar picture. We’ve all watched a young child throw themselves into two-foot shore break. They’re tossed by the powers of the sea back to the sand, limbs tangled, laughing and gasping for air, before hopping to their feet and rushing back to do it again. With each new swell, Hal practices with tactical precision, but he also finds himself rolling helpless in whitewater, sometimes gasping for air through the laughter.

-EJ