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The Wedge is a spot located at the extreme east end of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, California known for its large wedge shaped waves that makes it a popular spot for skimboarding, surfing, bodyboarding and bodysurfing. During a south or south/southwest swell of the right size and aligned in the swell window, the Wedge can produce huge waves up to 30 feet (9.1 m) high.
The waves are a by-product of improvements to the rock jetty on the west side of the Newport Harbor entrance undertaken during the 1930s. When conditions are right, and a wave approaches the shore at the proper angle (most generally a south swell), an approaching wave will reflect off the jetty creating a second wave. The reflected wave meets up with the following wave of the set and forms a peak, and this pattern can repeat for several following waves as well. The combined effect of the reflected wave and the incoming wave creates a combined wave much larger than either of the two separate waves and occurs very rapidly and forms waves in a very unpredictable and "unstable" pattern, so that no two waves are alike and the exact breaking point is difficult to predict even for an experienced surfer.
Although this condition primarily occurs with large, south swells, it can also occur, with considerably lesser frequency, during "normal" conditions.
In addition, the beach at The Wedge is very steeply shaped sand, resulting in what is known as shore break (see below) and a very strong backwash which often drags people back into the surf. The backwash itself frequently creates another, outgoing wave, which can hit an incoming wave or surfer with enormous force. With the combined effect of the unpredictability of where the incoming waves will break, and the strength of the backwash, the resulting wave action can be highly unpredictable and therefore both exciting as well as very dangerous. The combination of danger, along with the chance to get pitted, draws many to surf The Wedge.
The Wedge breaks largest when intense Southern Hemisphere storms or large tropical depressions, and hurricanes send their long period energy from the SSW direction, primarily during the summer & fall months.
The formation of the surfing spot known as the Wedge was a by-product of alterations to the Newport Harbor, which were completed and re-dedicated on May 23, 1936. Before those renovations and extensions of the West Jetty wall, the Newport Harbor was the premiere surfing spot on the entire west coast of North America. However, while the Newport Harbor was popular with surfers, it was also, at time, a tragic place to be for boaters and swimmers, alike, especially during big swells.
In 1926, the death of George Rogers Jr., a young 15-year old polio victim, drowned in the Newport Harbor, as his boat capsized amidst the heavy waves. As a result of polio, George Rogers Jr. was confined to wearing leg braces, and due to the weight of his heavy iron leg braces, his body sank to the bottom of the harbor and was never found. To prevent such a tragedy from happening again to boaters or swimmers, the boy's father, George Rogers Sr., a successful southern California road builder, was motivated to sell his business and focus his remaining years of life on seeking local and federal funding to alter the Newport Harbor. From 1926 to 1936 George Rogers Sr. campaigned to raise funds. Despite the scarcity of money during the Depression, Rogers Sr., helped raise approximately $2 million in federal aid and local bond funds.
A month following the re-dedication of the improved Newport Harbor entrance, George Rogers Sr. suffered a heart attack while on his boat as he entered the harbor entrance. He died at approximately the same location his son died, ten years earlier. In 2014, the documentary, The Wedge: Dynasty, Tragedy, Legacy, aired on PBS SoCaL, recounting these events.
In the early to mid-1950s The Wedge was known locally as "102 Beach," where teens held frequent evening beach parties at which Brew 102, a popular (and inexpensive)Southern California beer from the Meier Brewing Co. was liberally consumed. Legendary surf music guitarist Dick Dale memorialized the Wedge in an eponymous 1963 instrumental piece, which is included in his Greatest Hits. The Wedge also makes an appearance in Bruce Brown's The Endless Summer.