The ultimate spectacle on a South Swell
by Corky Carroll
For those of you who are not familiar with the infamous “Wedge,” let me clue you in. This is a wave that forms next to the jetty at the south end of Balboa. The big south swells in summer come marching in out of deep water and bounce off the jetty, causing them to literally double in size and form a huge A-frame like wedge. The waves there can get 20 feet high or more when it’s working right.
When I was young this place was strictly a bodysurfing surf spot. The fact that the huge wedges of water break in extremely shallow water, very close to the beach and mostly close out relatively quickly made it what most considered either impossible or just too dangerous to try and ride on a surfboard.
In August of 1969, when the biggest south swell in decades hit Orange County beaches, Mickey Munoz and I got the bright idea to try and board surf it. There was a very low tide early in the morning which gave us the impression that, due to the size of the swell, it might break out just far enough to make it possible to take it on. We drove up there at first light to check it out. Turned out the swell was so big and so powerful that it was not bouncing off the jetty and there were just big surges of water going up the beach without breaking. No deal.
Not too long after that some local surfers from the Newport Beach area started figuring it out and surfing it on big swells. Danny Kwock stands out in my mind as a guy who was one of the first to really ride it successfully. When I first saw photos and video of him and a couple others doing it I said to myself, “YES, that’s exactly what I was thinking.”
The problem for board surfers is that most of the time the whole thing happens extremely fast and very seldom ends well. You must time the take off just right, made an extremely steep drop, turn hard and up into the massive curl and just hope you can find a way out without getting totally pitched into the sand very violently and then washed up the beach like a rag doll.
In recent years, with better equipment, guys are starting to really ride it well. It’s very thrilling to watch yet still super dangerous. The consequence is possible broken neck, back, every other bone in your body, or even death. Getting stuck with your board in a bad wipeout there is just NOT something you want to have happen. Kinda like getting hit by a bus.
Then there is the question on many people’s minds, should guys on surfboards even be out there? This is one of the premier bodysurfing spots on the planet. In fact, it is probably THE premier bodysurfing spot. Having surfboards in the lineup makes it even more dangerous than it already is. Many feel it should be bodysurfing only. I can see their point too, even though I wish I was still young enough to be one of the intruders.
I don’t know the answer to this other than maybe letting boards in the water only in the mornings before like 10 or 11, like some beaches do, and then leave it for the bodysurfers the rest of the day. That could work. Or just leave it open to whoever has the nerve to take it on, even though this is a bad mixture and almost stupidly dangerous for everybody.
A word of warning, DO NOT go there unless you are an expert surfer, bodysurfer or whatever. This is not a safe place for anybody, much less those not skilled enough to handle it. It is great to go and watch though. It breaks so close to the beach that you can see the terror in guys faces and hear the blood curdling death screams as they get rammed into the sand with pile driving force. Heck, who doesn’t enjoy a show like that?