The local news trucks have arrived. There are sharks everywhere. People are crashing Jet Skis into the rocks at the Wedge while on Tinder dates and all the signs of viral lunacy and chaos inspired by a California summer are here. And no wave finds itself more in the spotlight than the Wedge. It’s come back in fashion recently (it’s the perfect social media wave) and so have the dangers and misuses of it. We cracked open a few cans of Tecate with local standout Spencer Pirdy to get a little guidance in hopes of doing the place right. And on a gloomy day in June we got some insider info on one of Southern California’s most social wave spectacles. You may find a few clues on how to navigate the madness yourself. But we suggest you leave the GoPro at home.—Brady Field
Photo: Benjamin C Ginsberg
WHAT YOUTH: When did you start surfing the Wedge?
SPENCER PIRDY: My parents were in between owning homes, so we lived and rented a house at Peninsula Point right there. I remember I went out there one day and it was like 4-foot but it felt like 8-foot — and it probably was with the backwash on a couple — but I paddled out and there was this whole eggy crew in the morning. The sun was out, and it wasn’t good at all but I went for one and didn’t even come close to getting to my feet and got flung. I was probably like 12, and all these guys were just laughing at me on the beach. So I went in with my tail between my legs, cause I felt like such a pussy. Such a reject.
Photo: Benjamin C. Ginsberg
Then I kind of went away for a bit since I was just so flustered by that. But then I was swimming and playing water polo and stuff and knew I wanted to be a big wave surfer, and that place can get like 25-to 30-foot on the face.
I remember going with my dad when I was younger and standing on the other side of the bay and seeing a legit 30-foot face come in and I was like, “Big waves are in my backyard!” I want to surf that wave.
So I started going out more and more, using the side wave and started talking to the local guys like Chris “Bubby” Polovino and “Punker Pat” Towersey and they were like, “Don’t be a pussy, you have to take off from the peak. Don’t cheat.” And a bunch of more core guys out there who are just OG’s and did kind of pressure me to the peak. They put it in my head that I was cheating if I was taking the side wave. Plus I knew I wanted to surf Pipeline one day or Teahupoo or whatever, and there wasn’t going to be a side wave there so you’ve got to go for it.
Who was the core crew at that time?
There’s just a random guy from Fountain Valley over here who’s named Jeff and works at like the Circle K, comes down and he’s with a crew and they’re like hanging out. There is like a local hierarchy there but most days, more days than not, it’s kind of those random little faces and personalities that make it up. And with that last swell there was no like hierarchy in the line up. Guys were just going.
Do certain people get burned and certain people get priority?
Definitely, if there’s a good one coming certain guys are just going to go no matter what. Chad Barba, a bodyboarder, is gonna go, no matter what. Like Punker Pat or Chris Camacho from Huntington, those guys will fricken go. And it’s the same for me, if some random bodyboarder turned around on me on the inside and called me off, I’d go. I’d burn em. Not that it’s gonna get you the wave of your life, but it’s more than anything showing your localism. That you’ve got priority.
Which waves do you pick that you say are the “good ones” that you’d burn somebody for?
I mean everyone loves the classic wedge peak: a big triangle peak — the diamond in the rough. But I don’t think those are good ones because you drop in and it’s like a sick drop, but you drop in and there’s no barrel. You go right around the barrel most of the time. But there are ones that swing a little wider, that actually have a wall to them and sometimes have an exit. That to me is a better wave, with a little bit of west in it. Like southwest in it. You can just tell when you’re sitting with the crowd at the peak, and you see one swing wide, so you do a little sprint paddle to the north because you can tell it’s shifting that way, and those ones run longer. And in my opinion are better. The wedge peaks make a great shot, and you’ll do a big air drop, and I’ll probably eat shit, but they’re good.
Photo: Benjamin C. Ginsberg
So is taking off on the side wave cheating?
As much as I don’t want to take it, in some instances, if you want to get barreled you have to. You have to backdoor it. Otherwise you take off on the peak and go right around it and completely miss the barrel. You just have to put your ego aside and say no, I need the side wave for this. I want to get in the green room.
On the bigger days the place is pretty heavy and shallow. How do you walk away from a big day?
I’ve learned over the years that waves teaches you even on worldly level how to wipeout. You know when to pencil drop, hit eject or even when I’m committed on some and I’m glued to my board either I’ve gotten lucky or I’ve learned how to fall correctly I think. It’s probably a mixture of all that. If I know I’m just going for the glory, hell drop and 99 percent of the time I’m probably gonna eat shit on this, and just tell myself alright, stay glued to your board the last second, then kind of just fall to the side. Not try to commit too much forward, to where you’re gonna have the lip land on you. I would rather be hit and fall to the side, not fall forward. Best case scenario is to fall to my heel side and keep in the turbulence that keeps you off the ground, instead of having it pile drive you. Cause when that happens anything can happen. You have different ones where you hit eject and get spit right out the back. But the ones you’re committed to, you’ll connect, get slapped real hard, and see some stars a little bit. When you’re underwater you’re always hands out, my dad taught me that when I was two years old. Just kind of curl up and get real mellow, and get ready to get shaken. I’ve never really had a gnarly head wack. I feel like the guys that do have that happen are the bodyboarders, and I think bodyboarding is sketchy out there, cause when they do get flung they’re like head first. It’s hard for them to get their arms out there.
What’s the vibe like out there for a newcomer?
Oh man, I’ve seen guys get in fights all the time out there for not knowing what they’re doing. A lot of them are just verbal, and they don’t end up with anything, but I’ve seen some gnarly fist fights. Bodysurfers and bodyboarders, bodyboarders and surfers, it goes all ways. I think it’s more like there’s so many people watching, and a guy gets ticked off, and he knows everyone saw him get burned, he feels the need to not let it go. He’s got to show he’s kind of the guy out there. That he’s a local and he’s not gonna stand for somebody dropping in on him. Or disrespecting him at his spot.
Do you have a worst wipeout?
I fell on this one wave and the board shot out and hit me in the leg and hurt, but I kept surfing. I took my wetsuit off after like two hours, cause it was good, and there was like blood dripping down my leg and the skin had split and I had fatty tissue sticking out of my leg. I still have the scar. I pulled into a closeout and you jump off and some point or you just get launched off, and you hope you go one way and the board goes the other but the board shot with me when I was flying forward. Right into my leg. As whole the bigger days don’t really feel that bad in my opinion, it’s the medium-sized ones where it’s maybe 15-ft, and maybe higher tide, where there’s that backwash warble, and it just gets tricky, where it’s borderline not surfable.
On the bigger days when you fall you just get washed in and worked and pushed up on the sand, but when the rip is bad enough it pulls you out and doesn’t let you in. And when it’s big and consistent, there’s a wave that creates the side waves and that little nook in between that part coming off the jetty and the next wave coming in: that’s the danger zone. And if you get put in there, it’s bad.
Like where the body surfer ended up dying where he got thrown up on the rocks or you have get yourself completely out of there. Swim all the way out the back, and all the way around to Cylinders to come in. That little area though, isn’t a good place to be. That’s where you see a lot guys fall on the take offs and don’t get pushed in, and they’re kind of stuck in that little triangle of death.
For someone coming down on a weekend, for their first time, would you tell them just to watch from shore?
I would say if you really wanted to surf it, don’t have high expectations. Go out there with a respectful but aggressive attitude at the same time. Just be respectful and go for it when one comes to you, cause if you don’t go people are going to give you flak. Just like anywhere else, you know? If you think you’re going to go out there and think you’re going to get an amazing wave, you should probably go surf somewhere else. You’re going out there and you’re joining the circus. You’re going to have a different type of surf, and you’re going to get pounded. And if you’re surfing, get ready to break your board. I think I’ve broken probably a hundred boards there over the years. Literally had boards made specifically for there with heavy glass jobs, but those are sketchy boards because when those boards hit you. But then you want like a lighter one and that one may not work because the lighter board wont get you down the face of it. You’ll drop like a rock with a heavier board where as a lighter board there’s a lot of chatter and backwash out there so you’ll probably not negotiate those warbles well and your board will probably break on the second wave.
An you don’t wear a leash, right?
No. That’s another thing. No leash.
The only guy who does wear a leash is Christian Fletcher. And he’s OG and you’d never say anything to him because he always kills it out there.
I think I’ve seen Nathan Fletcher wear a leash once. They do. Anyone else that comes out though with one, that’s a red flag. You see somebody coming out with a leash on their board, a surfer, everyone’s just like “Oh, you’re new.” And they won’t get any waves. And local guys, even bodyboarders, even call them out “Hey man, maybe you should take your leash off!” cause you just don’t want it anywhere near you. It’s like Puerto Escondido or somewhere, just get that thing away from me once I fall. But Christain is an exception. He fucking rips. No matter what. When those guys come down there I’d rather just sit on the beach and watch them.
The Wedge has been getting a lot of attention as of late, is this just the regularly scheduled programming for this time of year?
I feel like every start to a summer is like that. Everyones like “Oh, wow! The Wedge lit up this last week.” Every summer this happens, cause people forget about it since it’s in hibernation during the winter. So every summer when there’s the first few south swells, there’s going to be five hundred people down there. It’ll be on the news and the circus is in full swing. And you’ve just gotta embrace it, if you do want to surf out there. Even though I’m kinda getting over it these days. It’s still fun to watch. I can’t wait to have kids and take them down there someday and just laugh at people and myself and say, “I can’t believe I used to do that shit!” What an idiot.
Watch a Tinder date gone wrong this past weekend at The Wedge: