Chaos and The Wedge go together like America and Apple Pie…like Macaroni and Cheese…like Laird Hamilton and Big Waves. It’s a break that get’s so crazy on a south swell people line up on the beach to watch surfers, bodyboarders and bodysurfers sacrifice their bodies for the hoots and hollers from the crowd and for the ultimate ride on one of the most dangerous waves in Southern California.
Besides the pounding waves, which can sound like an earthquake or a sonic boom at times, the sound effects from the crowd can be incredibly entertaining. The oohs and the aaahhs and of course the ever present OH MY GOD can all be heard as the sets roll in. When the waves refract back off the Newport Beach Jetty and collide with incoming waves the meeting of these two water masses can jack up the size of the wave to gargantuan status.
I grew up in San Diego so I had heard about The Wedge for a long time but it wasn’t until I was a beach lifeguard attending a lecture on spinal injuries sponsored by Project Wipe-Out when I learned just how intense the wave can be and just how many people had been injured and even killed at this spot.
In 1926, George Rogers Jr., a 15-year-old polio victim who wore heavy iron leg braces, drowned in Newport Harbor when his boat capsized in heavy surf. To prevent such tragedies from happening again George Rogers Sr. sold his business (he was a very successful Southern California Road Builder) and focused his remaining years seeking local and federal funding to alter the Newport Harbor. From 1926-1936 he raised about $2 million dollars in federal aid and local bonds funds.
With these funds, the newly renovated Newport Harbor was completed and re-dedicated on May 23, 1936. Only a month after the project was complete George Rogers Sr. had a heart attack while on his boat as he entered the harbor entrance. He died at almost the exact spot where his son had died ten years earlier. There is a great 2014 documentary which tells the story called “The Wedge: Dynasty, Tragedy, Legacy” which aired on PBS SoCal.
It’s not just how large the wave is but it’s also the fact it breaks in mere inches of water so if you are thrown by the wave or go over the falls it’s very likely you will hit the bottom which is why the break is known for head, neck, and spinal injuries. Just about any local worth their salt has taken a beating but that’s kind of expected…a badge of honor…or in the case of the wedge a bruise or scrape of honor.
Newport Beach City Lifeguards only put their most experienced lifeguards on this beach when there’s a solid swell. Accidents happen very quickly at the Wedge and you have to have a true waterman in the tower who can jump into action as quick as possible. From clearing the jetty to making rescues and dealing with the onlookers…a big day at the Wedge is NOT boring.