Photo: Bodysurfer in wave
A bodysurfer catches a big wave at the Wedge as a winter storm with 50-knot winds off Tahiti generates high surf off Newport Beach, California.

Photograph by David McNew, Getty Images

By Kate Siber

Most of the time, when humans mess with nature, they lose. But at the Wedge, a monstrously big and powerful break off Newport Beach, California, they hit the jackpot—for bodysurfers, that is. There, an Army Corps of Engineers jetty relays big swells, forming slow-moving, pyramid-shaped waves that, during South Pacific storm cycles, can top 30 feet (9 meters). They’re too steep for surfers but perfect for the ultimate man-versus-nature contest: bodysurfing.

When the surf goes off, as many as 15 locals brave the indiscriminate spin cycle in hopes of catching a wave’s sweet spot. “The absolute most difficult part of it all is the moment you decide to go,” says Fred Simpson, owner of Viper Surfing Fins and a Wedge veteran. After that, there’s a purgatory of about five seconds, when even the best bodysurfers won’t know whether the wave, like an unbroken mustang, will let them mount or pitch them forward with the force of the South Pacific hurricane that birthed it. If they succeed, the reward is the ultimate rush: a perfect 50-yard (45-meter) glide through water moving as fast as that from a fire hose.

On high-surf days, only the bravest—and most practiced—take to the water, but as many as a thousand spectators come to watch and feel the reverberating rumble of the waves from a 15-foot (5-meter) sand berm that makes a natural stadium. The waves break so close to shore, they offer an opportunity rare in the world of bodysurfing: An onlooker can see the open-mouth, wide-eyed, absolutely-in-the-moment expression on a bodysurfer’s face as he or she takes on Mother Nature.

Need to Know: Locals say that if someone has to explain how to bodysurf the Wedge, you shouldn’t be there. Thus, there are no lessons available, and newcomers must bring fins and demonstrate their skills for the beach’s gantlet of lifeguards. Practice on nearby beaches and low-surf days.


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