Dirty Old Wedge: Review

The endeavor to create an objective documentary film about Wedge is an unenviable task. More than six decades of rivalries, machismo, localism and diverse waveriding make it a difficult subject to document without hard feelings. But Tim Burnham and Hunt House Films succeeded. It is now the highest grossing film in the history of the Newport Beach Film Festival.

Archival footage of Terry Wade is a highlight of the film
Archival footage of Terry Wade is a highlight of the film

Dirty Old Wedge is a 62 minute ode to that southern most corner of the Balboa Peninsula. The wave takes center stage with fantastic, historical footage. However, the characters, history and culture steal the show. The passion of those that have dedicated their summers to this south swell magnet leaves a strong impression on anyone that appreciates a unique waveriding subculture.

The spirit and star of Dirty Old Wedge, Ron Romanosky
The spirit and star of Dirty Old Wedge, Ron Romanosky

Wedge is not exclusively a bodysurf spot. But this is primarily the story of Wedge bodysurfing: the richest and most important story to be told at this famed surf spot. The filmmakers show respect for other forms of waveriding, including the ever present Ron Romanosky on his hand-shaped kneeboards and Newport surfing style-master Danny Kwock. Both of whom pay the utmost respect to their bodysurfing brethren. 

The story is told chronologically starting in the 1960s with Viper Surfing Fin inventor, Fred Simpson, innovating the prevailing bodysurf technique. Next, came a group of young bodysurfers led by Kevin “Mel” Thoman. A keen promoter and excellent bodysurfer, Mel organized the Wedge bodysurfers into The Crew.  The documentary utilizes an extensive archive of video shot by Thoman to depict not only the epic rides in the water but also the action on the beach and at the infamous house parties/slide shows.

Mel Thoman takes time to document Wedge riders too
Mel Thoman takes time to document Wedge riders too

The film then depicts The Crew starting families and spending less time in the water. John “Potato” Karam acts as a link between the old guard and the young Crew as they learn the ways of Wedge, culminating in the Hurricane Marie Swell of 2014. The young Crew charged along with their elders and took the torch of Wedge bodysurfing’s next generation.

The passion for Wedge runs deep and is obvious when Mel Thoman chokes up talking about the great Terry Wade’s inability to continue his Wedge preeminence because of numerous injuries suffered charging the biggest waves of the 80s. Knee-boarder and photographer Ron Romanosky’s entire voice over is a moving tribute to his decades long affinity for Wedge. The injury suffered by Gene Peterson, his recovery and subsequent passing make for a moving memorial to the camaraderie shared by the men who challenge Wedge at its biggest and meanest.
Dirty Old Wedge captures the history, characters, emotion and passion of The Wedge.
My rating: 4/5 surfing fins.

-KS

Gene's return to Wedge
Gene’s return to Wedge

Weird

Bodysurfers don’t always need ruler-edged perfection. We like it weird. We often seek the refracting, reflecting, diffracting, bending, warping, sucking-out, wedging, draining, backwash rodeo, double-triple up.  

Recently, the homebreak spent a consistent week getting weird. It wasn’t huge, about chest high on average. It certainly wasn’t perfect. But it was immense fun! Every wave was breaking in knee deep water and chucking open barrels. The crowd was light. Very few surfers gave it a go and most of those that did damaged a board. Each wave warped and sucked sand as it swallowed bodysurfers and unsuspecting inlanders whole. We were out before work and after work everyday for a couple weeks straight. Full of sand and hooting joy.

Bob King getting weird.
Bob King getting weird.

Wedge is one of the world’s ultimate weird waves. The first wave reflects off the jetty and Wedges the next wave into a monster. With any amount of swell in the water, there is an incredible mass of dynamic water moving around that jetty. Sidewaves, peaks, backwash and corner bowls all warping through the hectic impact zone.
-KS

Uncle Mel certainly knows his way around the Wedge Weirdness.
Uncle Mel certainly knows his way around the Wedge Weirdness.

Perspectives: Hurricane Marie at Wedge

Category 4 Hurricane Marie Photo: NASA
Category 4 Hurricane Marie           Photo: NASA

 

August 27, 2014.

IMG_0547Hurricane Marie.
Wedge.
These are perspectives from some of the bodysurfers
who swam out that day.

 

Matt Larson

IMG_0658Hurricane Marie is one of those rare occurrences where the hype, hope, expectation, and execution all came together. I watched the forecasts and was doubtful of the hype. The storm moved fast at 14-16kts and pretty westerly at that.  That being said, I still cleared my schedule from Tuesday on and hoped for the best. I got to the Wedge Tuesday around noon and saw fun 6-8′ surf, nothing epic but it was only Tuesday.

I swam out a little past noon on Tuesday hoping to get a few waves and loosen up in the water…after doing my own physical preparation regimen at home before hand.  The swell was clearly pleased with my arrival and immediately threw out a solid 10-12′ set and followed it with one in the 12-15′ range. Then another even bigger set broke as a “hurricane style freight train”. By 2pm Tuesday it was on and any doubts had been squashed! I rode solid hurricane Wedge with my oldest son, his buddy Jordon, and one other bodysurfer for 3 hours!

Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning became an exercise in–stay calm–conserve energy(after already surfing my ass off all day)–and be ready!  This became more challenging as my phone began to blow up with calls and texts from 10 different buddies and my brother, who would soon be boarding an airplane for Oregon for the week.  With my wife out of town for a couple days to attend a funeral the responsibility to care for our four children was my last “real life” hurdle to attend to before heading to the W for the day.  So armed with an entire loaf of pb & js, snacks, and gallons of water, we hit the road to Wedge…and so did the rest of Southern California!!

I used all the back alley tricks I know to reach 12th street by 9:30 but that’s where we came to a roaring halt! 11th St. 9:45, 10th 10:05… 9th at 10:30 and I was losing my mind! Calm was dead and gone! We need to be at Wedge now!  Finally we made it where a back alley opens up, the location of which I will keep a secret, and hauled ass all the way to C street through the back door, and re-entered the mayhem without delay with the help of crossing pedestrian. We scored a parking spot on Miramar directly in front of the Piani residence and were back on track and back in my realm.

The surf met a very lofty expectation. Wedge that day was one of the best solid size days in recent memory.  What really made it special was witnessing an entire generation of upcoming Wedge Crew riders earn their stripes. Also, its always great to ride solid, clean, and consistent Wedge with a core group of riders with which I have had the privilege to do so for the last 3+decades.  It was a rare day where everyone’s stoke tank was overflowing and the day passed without any significant conflict or injury–a rarity at Wedge unfortunately.

Hurricane Marie was definitely one for the ages and I look forward to meeting her sister 🙂

 

Chuck Olson

Chuck
Photo: Hank Haldeman

My first thought on big Wedge swells is… will it be clean? I don’t care how big it is, if it’s not rideable, I’m going back to bed! The crowd always brings another level of energy…something you feel immediately. Parting the crowd to get to the berm’s edge is always a trip…people’s first reaction seems to be one of annoyance when you ask them to get through. They think you’re going to cut in front of them for a front row seat to the mayhem. When they see you are about to enter the water you can almost feel the attitude change to, “Oh, it’s one of those crazy fools about to die.”

On days like the one we just went through, one of your first “warm-up” waves may be a 15’+ closeout peak…so warming up comes quickly so you have to be focused from the start. On these days, the real warming up takes place on the beach.

It was a great showing by all of the Crew! Nice to see the youngest guys maintaining the Wedge Crew bravado. I won’t rate this swell compared to others, you can’t. Too many factors which dictate a good vs. great swell to consider…but it was big and clean! A little bigger is always better! 😉

Sean Starky
For big Wedge swells, I usually sike myself out and tell myself it’s going to be a lot smaller than forecasted. On Aug. 27th, I watched the first set roll in and it was a hell of a lot bigger then I thought it was going to be. I tried to stay focused and study the conditions. I watched each set looking for the cleanest waves and the ones that were best shaped for bodysurfing.

When I finally swam out, I felt amazing. That’s the only thing that calms me on a big day. It forces me to slow everything down and focus on the surf. One of the reasons I love bodysurfing Wedge and other heavy spots is it forces me to block out all the bullshit of life and just focus on my surroundings.

After I took the first set on the head, I realized how much more playful big hurricanes swells are compared to big southern hemi swells like the one in 2009. I knew it was going to be a fun day for all the boys. I was really impressed with all the young Wedge riders, they all stepped up to the occasion and rode amazing…and Chris Kalima is a BEAST.

Teddy Bandaruk

Photo: Hank Haldeman
Photo: Hank Haldeman

When I first arrived at Wedge I was blown away by the amount of drones in the air. I was impressed by the size of the waves, but I was more impressed by how good the in-between ones were.  Some of the peaks were moving pretty fast so it took getting out in the water to feel out what was going on. When I hopped down the sand berm I was stoked to see all my boys swimming out with me at the same time.

The first wave I caught, I didn’t make because it broke on top of my head. The hold down wasn’t bad but on the inside there was a lot of water moving almost pulling you back to where the biggest part of the wave broke. That happened to me a few times which wasn’t a good time. I will remember all the boys charging and leaving the beach stoked on great, big Wedge. Great day for everyone.

Christopher Kalima

IMG_0754I arrived at 6:30am and couldn’t believe how clean it was. I wasn’t living in California when Linda hit in 1997, so I can’t compare the two swells, but it was easily the biggest surf at the Wedge I’ve ever witnessed. I was pumped. There were so many waves rolling through, I knew everyone would score. The outside was super crowded, so my plan was to sit inside and pick off the medium ones until the crowd thinned a bit. I ended up wearing most of the bigger sets, but found a lot of funs ones in between. Honestly, we so rarely see any waves of consequence in Southern California that getting caught inside actually got me really excited. I love that shit.

The Marie swell is the standard that all future hurricane swells will now be measured against in my book. Big, consistent, and the winds actually cooperated the entire day. I was psyched to see everyone charging, some in their 20s, others in their 50s, it was awesome to watch. Plus I found some new lineup markers that I filed away for future reference, I might have to write them down so I remember 20 years from now.

Thomas Van Melum

IMG_0634When I arrived, my first thought was, “What a circus!”  — if you’re going you may as well be dressed as a clown. I love the circus down there. I was happy to see A BUNCH of randys and news trucks around — to hear the grumpy old men talk about how it was in ’88, uncrowded — nervous because my feet were cut to shit from too much bodysurfing the week before on that TS Lowell swell. Hurricane stuff isn’t scary (Southern Hemis are a different story). But even then, I grew up here. I’ve spent a lot of time here. I don’t feel nervous or scared or anything when it gets big. As big spots go, this place is honestly pretty tame. Shit, there’s a fucking harbor on the other side, it can’t be that gnarly.

Preparing to swim out, you want to stay calm — so I walked right over to Sexy Jeff and jokingly said “I’m going to do a flip off this berm, then if I hurt my foot, I have an excuse to not go out.” I want to put on a good show — I want the crowd to get their monies worth. Once I saw the sets, I knew how epic the day was going to be. I decided right then and there I was going to stay out as long as I could, I may not get another chance at swell like this at The Wedge Street.

I took a mini freight on the head less than 10 minutes into my session…we all did. I dove 10+ feet down, and felt NOTHING. Could have been in a swimming pool for all I knew. Easy peazy japensezy. I always take the first wave that comes to me in the beginning of a session — helps get a feel for the day and set the tone. The first wave I caught was small and rippable — it solidified my feelings that today was THE DAY. This day has been a dream of mine.

The sequence that sticks out most in my mind was this: I took the first wave of a set. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arch nemesis, SHREDDER. I popped up all smiles. Then I saw Matty Larson taking off on the next wave. BALLS, that wave was epic. He was getting tossed around like a rag doll on this wave but still bodysurfing it. I could really see him doing everything in his power to ride, but I could also see that there was very little within his power he could do to ride. He made it to the end of that wave and got a GIANT barrel riding the foamball. That was a good 30 seconds.

Overall, I’ll remember how much fun it is to bodysurf with your friends — after all I’m in a different spot in my life, my daughter took her first steps the night before. While most people were watching videos of Wedge getting bigger and bigger, I was watching the video of my daughter’s first steps over and over again. Timing is a funny thing.

Tim Burnham
I had to ride my bike down from my house for this swell because the traffic was so bad from all the hype. I didn’t get down until 2 because it took me an extra 40 minutes to ride down after I got off work. When I first pulled up most the other Crew guys were done with what I hear was an epic session.

The waves were pretty damn big so I rushed to get my gear on. I talked Matt Larson into going out with me for another session and right when we were about to jump in a set of about 10 waves piled through. I’m in pretty bad shape from all the desk work I’ve been doing lately so at that point I was questioning my intelligence of going out haha. We ended up paddling out right after the set and got out in the lineup pretty quickly.

Once I got out there the current started going mad. It was a constant battle to stay in position for at least 45 minutes. I got one “ok” wave and then had to pull some kid onto the lifeguard boat that panicked. I ended up getting out pretty soon after that once I realized it wasn’t getting any better.

The thing I’ll remember most about this swell is Matt Larson going on a bomb freight train set that I thought there was no way he’d make down. He did. And he did it with a smile on his face. That guy is a beast. I was also pretty stoked on all the younger crew guys like Teddy Bandaruk that stepped it up this swell too. The future of the Crew is looking stronger than ever thanks to guys like him.

 

Special thanks to Hank Haldeman for the use of his epic photos from that day.
He can be found at:
Hank’s Bodysurfing Blog
Hank Haldeman on 500px