La Bomba, the first official south swell, according to The Inertia, on the West Coast, hit the Wedge in Newport Beach extra hard over the last weekend. On April 24, with overhead barreling waves, spectators, photographers and lifeguards lined up along the shore spanning the beach. All to watch surfers, bodyboarders and bodysurfers tackle the Wedge’s heaviest waves seen this year.
It takes a specific type of south swell for the conditions at the Wedge to be perfect. Not only does the swell have to be right, but the tide has to be moderately low and the wind has to be calm. Since it is not a sheltered area, any wind will mess up the water and the waves. Without perfect conditions, the wave won’t barrel, and it becomes messy.
The conditions on Saturday morning were ideal, but the wind started to pick up in the afternoon, pushing through into the evening. This caused almost everyone in the water to clear out by 4 p.m. Many sponsored surfers, including Jamie O’Brien and BEEFSTV, packed the water, so by 6.30 a.m., it was crowded.
“I was sitting looking for a mid-sized wave when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, this massive 25-foot set out back pushed up,” said Ryan Smith, a surfer who was out in the water with the professional surfers. “It was probably super entertaining for everyone watching on the sand, but I was terrified. When you are out there, no lifeguard can come to save you.”
The Wedge breaks on the right side of the jetty, a structure that projects from the land out into the water, making it easy to be swept into the rocks if one isn’t careful or doesn’t know what they are doing. Additionally, the waves are heavy and break straight on the sand, unlike many surrounding beaches. This makes a lifeguard’s job much more complicated and active.
“The lifeguards were more concerned with keeping people away from the water than they were about saving us from the giant waves,” Smith said. “It’s like once you enter the water, they check you off the list and leave you for a goner.”
That Saturday morning, there were a total of six lifeguards patrolling the beach and keeping young children back from the waterline.
“Growing up in Hawaii, we would consider this an average day,” said Aidan Alcos, a big wave bodyboarder from Hawaii, who spent the morning out in the high surf. “Since I was like 9-years-old I’ve been out in 20 to 30-foot waves. What makes this scary is all the noobs that have absolutely no idea what they are doing; they are gonna kill someone and themselves while they are at it.”
At times, three or four people paddled and fought for the same wave. Spectators and lifeguards looked on, shaking their heads and making comments about those in the water.
“It’s unbelievable to me that people just rush in with absolutely no idea how big the waves are,” Alcos said. “They steal waves, and they’re probably going to drown.”
One local had a different perspective and laughed when observing people wipe out and fall over 10 feet from the top of the wave to the bottom.
“I know that people willingly swim out into the massive waves,” said Micah Kunkle, a 19-year-old local photographer taking pictures that morning. “So when they get absolutely obliterated, I can’t help but laugh. They have no one to blame for their problems but themselves; if they aren’t ready to deal with being thrown around, then they shouldn’t go out in the first place.”
The Wedge is a hot spot for powerful surf and big waves, making it a breeding ground for aspiring big-wave barrel riders. Just as the big waves attract surfers, this sport also attracts spectators of all ages and walks of life.