My favorite joke about The Wizard of Oz goes like this:
At the end of the movie, the Wicked Witch of the West — how does she die?
She melts when Dorothy hits her with a bucket of water.
Where does Dorothy find the bucket of water?
It’s sitting in the corner of a room in the Witch’s castle.
OK, if there were a substance that could melt you in a matter of seconds … what are the odds you’d keep an open bucket of it in your house?
I mean, it’s not like it’s a surprise to the Witch. She says, “Don’t touch that water” right before Dorothy flings it at the Scarecrow. Presumably, the Witch knows to stay inside when it rains.
Which brings me to the Wedge.
The Wedge is a stretch of beach in Newport Beach, Calif., lying right at the tip of Balboa Peninsula, just northeast of the mouth of Newport Harbor. Geologically, the Balboa Peninsula is just an overgrown sandbar created by a combination of sand deposits at the pre-historic terminus of the Santa Ana River, and sand dredged up out of the estuary during the early 1900s when plans were made to turn the estuary into a commercial shipyard.
The city fathers realized all of this sand would just erode away into the ocean and block the harbor mouth again, so they wisely scrapped their plans and turned their attention to a better locale.
Just kidding, they just stupidly pointed a rock jetty straight out into the ocean. Problem solved, right?
While they correctly factored in the south swell of the ocean, they didn’t predict what this man would do to the psyche of the Southern California teenager.
You see, the rock jetty angles out against the prevailing south swells. Waves that hit the jetty are reflected right toward the beach, wedging (see what I just did there?) into giant mega-waves. Moreover, the steep underwater geography increases the size of the waves as they approach the beach and creates a steep shore break.
They invented surfing in Hawaii, but the Wedge is like Hawaii’s messed up little cousin that likes to get ripped on meth and throw rocks at police cars. You go to Hawaii for soul-surfing and becoming one with Mother Ocean. You go to the Wedge to try and kick Aquaman in the balls.
Let’s just admit it — the Wedge is dangerous and should be dismantled. Here, I’ll let Wikipedia explain it for you:
Between the Balboa Pier and the Wedge, waves are referred to as a shore or beach break. When the crest of the wave comes crashing down, regardless of its size, it lands in water no more than 1 to 2 feet deep, and it will sometimes land directly on to the sand. This condition causes uninformed and inexperienced swimmers to be at extreme risk of a spinal cord injury. If a person is to "go over the falls," (fall with the water in the crest of the wave), he will commonly strike his head on the sand below the shallow water. Shore break waves are much thicker and stronger for their size than waves that break farther out. Their thickness increases the force in which they strike the ground. Lower Newport sees many spinal cord injury victims every summer who often end up as quadriplegics.
The Wedge is so famous, that on particularly big days, crowds show up just to watch the mayhem.
Naturally, the Wedge was my favorite spot.
More than anything else, the Wedge is perfect for body-surfing. Lots of waves in short succession in a small space with wide, shallow bowls. Plus, body-surfing is easy. It’s casual. Body-surfing is like hunting pheasant — something gentlemen do when they’re not hunting lions and tigers and bears.
The Wedge is anything but casual.
One thing you have to understand is that, because the best waves are found closest to the jetty, an informal hierarchy develops among the surfers. Essentially, the better you are at this, the closer you want to get to the jetty. I was never very good at this, but I liked to think I was better than the non-Wedge surfers.
The very worst thing that happened to me was going over the falls. I was a little slow getting to the next set, and instead of diving through it, the wave stood me up vertically. As I was about to go over, I looked left, and spotted a guy in similar circumstances. In my last split second, I was contemplating my place in the universe, my hopes, my dreams. The other guy was screaming like he had just won the Atlantis lottery.
The wave flipped me over, tumbled me around like a sock in the washing machine, and I hit the sand, shoulder-first. I actually felt the bones in my neck C R A C K.
But believe it not, it was the good kind of crack, like cracking your knuckles. No damage at all. I actually felt better. Again, the Grim Reaper let me go. “Not now, dude.”
Of course, this brush with a watery grave didn’t exactly stop me. I kept going back to the Wedge, but I never forgot my visit to Poseidon’s chiropractor, and in the hierarchy, I’m definitely over with the cowards.
Eventually, I took up another ocean sport.
Something safer. Something gentlemanly.
Something with less of a chance of random, violent death.