Salty Fins: Fred Simpson

Fred sat on the cozy, white couch wearing a subtle grin of someone who has the answers if you ask the right questions. A massive Wedge wave stretched across canvas hung over his left shoulder. Like a proud father, he informed me that the wave was at least 36ft. Fred whipped out a tape measure to show me how he deduced the wave height with a scale based on the known length of the Viper fin sticking out of the trough. The wave is massive, but the real horror for the uninitiated is the raw weight of that wave. Fred laughed about the 2007 swell, saying guys like Steve Kapela claimed 40 footers rolled through the break. Over the 50+ years Fred Simpson has been down at the end of the Newport Peninsula, he has seen and been a part of it all. These days he’s content to blend in amongst the gawkers watching the next generation of bodysurfers find their way.

Fred Simpson Wedge Bodysurfer

Fred has always been a swimmer. He swam competitively in high school and then played water polo as well for UCLA. In those early years he and his friends would practice the art of bodysurfing in Huntington Beach. During lulls the boys would climb the barnacled pilings to spot the incoming sets. They’d shoot the pier and enjoy the other aspects of young life at the beach. In 1962 he met the wave which he would eventually become inextricably linked: Wedge.

Fred remembers that first day. He noticed that the guys swimming here were the best swimmers around. He says it was the power that grabbed him. As Fred dove under a wave, like he had in H.B., the force nailed him to the sand and he thought, that’s got some juice. The hook was set. Through those early years, Fred was guided through the break by the old guard. Guys like Judge Gardner whom Fred describes as bigger than life or Don Redington known as “The White Whale.” These guys were there because they loved it. On big days, there’d rarely be five guys out and Fred says the big ones would go unridden. In those days, guys didn’t know if it’d crush your organs. They simply didn’t conceive of making waves that large.

Through the 1970’s Fred began to make a name for himself at Wedge. He had seen a path where others hadn’t looked. He thought those massive Wedge peaks were rideable and possibly even make-able. It was moments like this where Fred differs from many bodysurfers in that he is looking forward, seeing the wave for what it could be and not what it was. He developed a technique affectionately referred to as “The Fred.” When Fred started using his arm as a rudder and purposefully keeping his body on the slanted surface he showed the true potential for riding waves longer and better than ever before. Others saw the value in Fred’s innovation. Guys like Terry Wade saw the function of Fred’s form and tweaked it to ride some of the largest waves ever bodysurfed.

Fred Simpson Bodysurfing Wedge by Ron Romanosky

Fred would eventually move closer to Wedge. He worked locally as a Xerox agent, frequently calling the boys to see if Wedge was working. At that time, there were only a handful of fin choices Churchills, Duck Feet or UDT. Fred says that he couldn’t kick the UDT and the Churchills and Duck Feet didn’t offer enough power. He was duck-diving a peak one summer day in 78′ when he wasn’t able to get where he needed to and took a proper beating. As he was rolled and smashed about the bottom his Xerox training rattled through his mind; there’s always a better way. So once again he found another path.


Viper I-beam prototype
This is the actual Balsa Wood Prototype Fred Simpson created in 1978

Fred designed an efficient fin specifically for bodysurfing. The idea was to increase the channels and move the water in the most direct way off the end of the fins. Each aspect of the fin with the seven-inch blade had a purpose in efficiency. Fred constructed a balsa-wood prototype and walked surf shop to surf shop to see if they would be interested in stocking the unique design. Fred found interest and teamed up with Don Redington to get his new company, Pacific South Swell,  off the ground. He put Viper Surfing Fins on the sand in 1981 and had some of the best bodysurfers in the world representing the brand.

Terry Wade and Mel Thoman Viper Surfing Fins
Viper Surfing Fins advertisement in Surfer Magazine 1982

Recognizing the flaws in his first design, Fred went back into the shop and adjusted. The next generation of Viper Surfing Fins would add a drainage hole. Fred also removed the bottom rail from the original design so the fins would be practical to walk in. The design of Viper Surfing Fins would remain unchanged, although it was suggested to Fred to add some color to the fins so it could be seen when bodysurfers competed in the World Bodysurfing Championships. The yellow dot was added and the recognizable Viper fin was born. Fred would continue producing the fin for decades, eventually adding a model with a shorter blade to accommodate riders of alternative surf crafts who needed less drive. Fred’s passion for Wedge eventually became a part of his livelihood, but his obsession with Wedge would also have a cost.

Fred Simpson explains Bodysurfing Wedge

After years of putting his body “in the path of the bull,” the brutality would eventually wear him down. Wedge would fracture his vertebra, but it was the Sun that would provide Fred’s worst scares. He has been diagnosed and treated twice for melanoma. One time the doctor told him he should get his things “in order” because he was looking at six months to live. His dedication had threatened to take his life and in 2000 Fred Simpson walked away from bodysurfing Wedge. When pressed to explain what bodysurfing means to him, he admits to the inadequacy of words. Fred says, “If you can’t describe what it’s like, you know it lives inside of you.”


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.
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.
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



Dirty Old Wedge with Tim Burnham

Dirty Old Wedge is a 62 minute documentary about Southern California’s own bodysurfing magnet wave. We sat down with Director/Producer, Tim Burnham to learn more about his film and his process in making it.

Filmmakers by Ron Romanosky
Filmmakers and Fred Simpson by Ron Romanosky

How long have you been working on this project?

It has been about four years. After I saw Come Hell or High Water I knew I wanted to tell the Wedge story through film.  Then I contacted a couple of young and talented filmmakers (Jack Murgatroyd and Edwin Eversole, Ozzie Clarke, and Jeff McCoy) to get the project going.

What is the focus of the film?

Dirty Old Wedge is a film about the wave but more importantly about the culture behind the wave. 

How did you choose who to put in and who to leave out?

We covered Wedge waveriders spanning over 6 decades. It was extremely tough to decide who to interview. We conducted countless interviews and the ones that made it were the ones that helped tell the story the best. The film, more than anything, shows how the Wedge guys have always been about the wave and the group. It isn’t about the individual. They’re all addicted to the same “drug.”

Did you face push-back from anyone you contacted?

Nope. These guys want the story told and I think they trusted that I would do it the right way.

What was the most surprising thing you uncovered during your research?

The blackball history is so expansive. We didn’t have enough time to get into the details, but I learned how far back blackball has been a part of Wedge culture.

Does the film “take sides” in the blackball fight?

The film is primarily from the perspective of the bodysurfers and captures the sentiments and attitudes of the bodysurfers at the time when the most recent blackball regulations were put in place. 

Anything else surprise you?

I was extremely impressed with memory and depth of knowledge Ron (Romanosky) had about the Wedge. He has a relationship with that place like no other. He narrates the film and we couldn’t have picked a better person to represent the film’s voice. A true Wedge legend. 

Do you have a favorite part of the movie?

No, but the archival footage blew me away. The footage from the early days of Wedge bodysurfing is really unique.  I also really really enjoy the music that our composer Ben Messelbeck put together for the film. It’s absolutely amazing.

What will people learn from the archival footage?

These guys were riding massive waves and there was very few guys in the water. I know a lot of people will have a new found respect for these bodysurfers. They really pushed boundaries because they could. Terry Wade really stood out in the footage and I want people to see how unique he was at riding big Wedge.

Do you also show contemporary footage?

Yes. The infamous Hurricane Marie is part of the Wedge story and we were excited to get some of the young guys who are carrying on the tradition into the film.

When do we finally get to see it?

Dirty Old Wedge is premiering at the Newport Beach Film Festival in mid-April. If you can’t make that show, we are also showing at the San Diego Surf Film Festival in May.


DIRTY OLD WEDGE – TEASER from Something Kreative Studios on Vimeo.


The History of Blackball at Wedge

The following article is an historical account of the Blackball Flag and its significance to the bodysurfing culture at Wedge. The referenced Ordinance and Resolutions are attached to the bottom of the article for those who seek more information. Feel free to contact to provide more information or personal accounts referenced throughout the article.

The modern form of bodysurfing has been around since the early years of the 20th century. In those days, bodysurfing was the most popular water sport. Many of the top bodysurfers were also top athletes of their time. Olympians like Wally O’Connor raved about the “thrills, pleasure and exercise of body surfing.” It attracted many well-known football players of the mid-century too. With all these highly competitive people pushing each other to bodysurf bigger and better waves along the southern California coast, it is no surprise many found a sticking point at the end of the Balboa Peninsula.

Bodysurfers are reported to have found Wedge sometime near the 1930’s. They called it “The Hook.” These early pioneers hurled themselves over the falls with rudimentary tools and no social media. Wedge stayed that way for many years. By the 1960’s, there was a dedicated contingent of bodysurfers and as the number of beach goers throughout Newport continued to grow the City Council was forced to shape new policies.

In April of 1966 the Newport City Council issued Ordinance 1162. They designated surfing areas to protect surf bathers from “hazardous surfing.” The council decided the best way to communicate these established areas was through the use of signal flags. “The authority to prohibit surfing set forth in subsection (b) may be exercised by displaying signal flags consisting of a solid black circle on a yellow background. When such flags are displayed on the beach they shall signify that surfing is prohibited.” Newport City Council had officially adopted the Blackball Flag as a tool to protect the public. They had no idea how iconic this symbol would become.

W TowerWedge was not included in the early Blackball adoption. It wasn’t until 1978 that Wedge would be added to the protected beaches 12-4 p.m. during the summer months. The dedicated local crew of bodysurfers continued to grow and evolve through these ancestral generations. Alternative craft riders like kneeboarders were also present. Tom Morey’s 1971 invention, the bodyboard, sent another flood of riders into the impressive wedging shore break. According to the 1978 resolution these riders were allowed to ride waves even when the Blackball Flag was flying because Blackball only prohibited stand-up surfing.

The Wedge landscape went through another transformation in 1985. According to hazy memories a bodysurfer was run over by a kneeboarder. The vocal bodysurfer urged the council to strengthen the blackball. The council agreed and in November of that same year Section 6 was added. Section 6 stated “All flotation devices such as boogie boards, surf mats, etc. are prohibited at the area commonly known as The “Wedge” when the Blackblall Flag is displayed.” This was the first direct reference to Wedge in official Newport Code. Wedge bodysurfers now had exclusive rights to the wave in the afternoon hours.

11086694_973397486011317_2003887813_nWhile the bodysurfers had fought to gain this time to safely practice their art, they were only scrapping for the wave during the worst hours of the day. In southern California surfers are lucky to have favorable winds as late as 10 a.m. much less 12 p.m. So, in 1993 the dedicated bodysurfers set up for another run at City Council. This time, the boys put on their Sunday’s best to ask for a chance to preserve bodysurfing’s roots and future at Wedge. This group of bodysurfers called themselves the Wedge Preservation Society and they are still around to this day.

Both sides of the issue brought their case before the Newport City Council. On the 10th of May 1993 Resolution NO. 93-33 was passed and the Blackball as we now know it was born. Three key changes were enacted. The Wedge area was clearly defined as the West Jetty to tower “P”. The blackballed hours were extended to include the hours between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. And the last major change was to extend the blackball period from May 1st through the end of October encompassing the bulk of southern California’s south swell window. The bodysurfing community, which first pioneered Wedge, now had means to safely carry on their craft for the years to come.

Fast-forward to 2014, under the guise of “fairness,” a group of photographers and board riders attempted to rally support against the current Blackball regulations at Wedge. Thanks to W.P.S. and the watchful eye of the other passionate bodysurfers, letters poured in from around the world to the Newport City Council expressing the importance in maintaining Wedge’s bodysurfing heritage. They decided to create a working group to gather data and put forward proposals the following year. On April 7, 2015 the Blackball Working Group recommended putting forward a resolution to both reduce the number of months Wedge Blackball should be enforced and to reduce the physical area defined as Wedge. They provided little relevant data to support the changes and in the end the resolution was not adopted. Modern Blackball policy may seem safe, but it is very clear that we cannot rest on our laurels. There are many parties of surf enthusiasts working hard to get a bigger share of Wedge waves. Whether their motives be to make money from selling photographs to the surf industry or simple greediness in hopes to surf Wedge beyond the prime morning/evening hours which they already control, we need to remain vigilant. Maintaining vocal support for the preservation of bodysurfing’s rightful place in the Wedge lineup is up to the cultural descendents of those first adventurous riders.


1966 Ordinance 1162

1978 Resolution 9451

1985 Resolution 85-94

1993 Resolution 93-33