The Wedge in Newport, California has always held a special place in surfing folklore. It is that scary cocktail at a party – the absinthe of the surfing world. Part awe-inspiring splendour, part jaw dropping horror show.
The saying goes, ''small days break necks and the big days will drown you,” so the crew that has grown up around this wave have bonded into a combat-hardened family that revel in this unique niche and the challenges it poses.
Here Tim Burnham talks about his movie Dirty Old Wedge ahead of its European premier at Approaching Lines festival this weekend. From bodysurfing spectacle to when the bodyboarders and stand-ups rolled in, emotions run high at one of CA's most notorious waves.
Where did the idea for the film come from?
Tim Burnham: In 2011 I helped do some coordination on the Wedge section of the Keith Malloy's film Come Hell or High Water. After he had met all the guys and seen some of the old footage the guys had provided him, he mentioned that there could be a whole film made on the bodysurfing culture at Wedge.
I knew Mel Thoman and a few other older Wedge crew guys had some pretty incredible footage and decided to make it happen. I teamed up with an amazing production team, Jack Murgatroyd and Edwin Eversole from Hunt House Pictures, and the rest is history.
What is it about the Wedge that made you decide it warranted a film of it’s own?
The Wedge is so unique. The wave itself is a man-made mistake and the different groups of people riding down there are all so different. I felt the story of the bodysurfing culture/Wedge crew was different than anything I had seen anywhere in the world and felt that it would make for a great film.
While most breaks are ruled by board riders, Wedge is known for its bodysurfers. We initially set out to create a story about the wave and ended up with a coming-of-age story about people and their relationship with the wave and each other.
When did you start surfing the Wedge and why?
I remember going down to Wedge to watch the big swells with my parents when I was a young kid but I first went in the water when I was 12-years-old.
I had always been so intrigued by the guys that could ride that wave without boards and got addicted to the challenge. My mom didn't want me surfing down there so she would drop us off at a beach that's about three miles north of Wedge. A couple buddies and I would make the hike down with our bodyboards and ride it no matter what the conditions were. I didn't actually start bodysurfing consistently down there until I was around 18-years-old. I had always been so intrigued by the guys that could ride that wave without boards and got addicted to the challenge.
What’s the reality of surfing this potentially dangerous wave?
When you combine big waves and shallow water, injuries are bound to happen. The older guys have a saying at Wedge... "small days break necks. Big days will drown you." I have personally seen many of my friends get injured at Wedge and have also been hurt myself quite a few times. It's a scary part of the game that we all accept but the reward definitely outweighs the risk. We're all addicted.
The crew here are so tight with such a deep history, what was it like for you integrating into the scene?
Being a part of the bodysurfing community at Wedge is really special. It took some time for me to be 'accepted' by the older guys but after a few years of me showing them that I was dedicated, they took me under their wing and I now consider them family. Bodysurfing in general has grown tremendously down at Wedge over the last decade.
The spirit of the Wedge crew is definitely alive and well and it's really great to see such a passionate group of guys bonding over that unique wave and sport.
How was the film received by the Wedge crew?
In the beginning it was a little tough. A lot of the bodysurfers down there are skeptical when it comes to any type of media attention at the Wedge. We had guys question us and our intentions quite a bit initially but after some time they realised that we were in it to tell their story the right way.
Overall, the whole experience was extremely positive and now that people have seen the film, we've had nothing but support from everyone.
The third annual Approaching Lines festival will be hosting two nights of the very best surf films from around the globe in Cornwall, UK starting May 12. Click the link above for tickets and more info.