June 16, 2016 was one of those magical summer days. After weeks of June gloom we awoke to sunny skies and a healthy south swell on tap. Confirming through Surfline that the Wedge was firing, I grabbed my camera and made the journey from Huntington Beach to the Newport Peninsula. While parking I noticed the usual mix of players: photographers, body surfers, body boarders, and even a couple of surfers. I mentally noted the happy look on the faces of the local homeowners and theorized they either welcomed the sunny weather or were simply reflecting on the fact they possess real estate worth seven figures.
A quick glance to the South jetty will generally indicate if the Wedge is working properly. Big south swells will always send waves breaking along this structure. In fact, it can be board surfed if big enough. While surfing inside the breakwater seems like a novelty, the wave itself tends to be a little mushy with a soft shoulder. Not to mention you might get booted away by the harbor master. But today there were definitely some waist high swells rolling through.
I continued my way up the beach and realized today would be a good session. There was a definitely a good vibe in the the air given the decent crowd and sound of the sets pounding away. You feel the mist here more so than other spots. Photographers were lined up both on the beach and along the the rock jetty. Given that I shoot “hand held” with lightweight equipment, I felt a mix of humor and some jealousy at what I saw… thousands of dollars worth of camera bodies, tripods, and monster lenses filled the beach. The Wedge breaks so close to shore you really don’t need anything more than a focal length of 50-300mm unless you want to zoom in on someones face, or set-up farther away. I was using an old 100-300mm film lens and found myself wishing I could pan out even more.
Our friend The Wedge is of course the by-product of a man made jetty. As swells roll through the waves double up and create the iconic peak. Consistent A-Frames rolled through this day with the occasional clean-up set. The late morning session was highlighted with a few air drops into oblivion, but mostly clean rides by all manner of rider. I found it odd that the three board surfers in the water elected not to wear leashes. And I witnessed said surfers chase boards into the rocks twice.
The body boarders were using the rebound wave to “backdoor” some of the peaks. And I saw a couple of successful surfers make the drop and kick out at the end of a section. But the Wedge is a body surfing wave after all. To the delight of the crowd some of the best waves of the session were picked off by body surfers.
An interesting side note… The extended jetty at the Wedge is blocked off for safety reasons by a sign at the surf line. Many photographers were politely asked to move back behind the sign by the lifeguard. One gentleman refused to move citing manifest destiny and his need to capture the appropriate angle. I found myself a bit surprised at his attitude but I couldn’t deny his logic. From that vantage point and a little timing one could definitely nail the money shot.
A middle-aged man in a yellow speedo arrived on the beach. Let me repeat that… a man in a yellow speedo arrived on the beach. Like the cool kid in class he strutted down the sand with his fins, barely acknowledged the surprised onlookers, swam out, and proceeded to level the place.
Later in the session I decided to move up the beach. Hoping to explore a different camera angle I set up at Cylinders. Cylinders is the baby sister of the Wedge but you can hardly call it a baby. Less wedge-like, but reasonably sized shore break detonates on a shallow ledge here. One might benefit from a pair of ear plugs. The upside is that from this location you can stare right into the main break barrel. At 11 in the morning you have to deal with strong sun light coming off the water. Glare wreaks havoc with auto-focus systems and one might consider a polarized filter. I found that I could sidestep the glare issue by stepping to the left or right by a few feet- the latter putting myself in knee deep water.
While down at Cylinders I stuck up conversation with another photographer. He had also picked out this ideal angle to shoot. Given his impressive Canon equipment I figured he must know a thing or two about photography. Indeed he turned out to be none other than famed surf photographer Dan Merkel. Dan gave little ‘ol me permission to take his picture.
All in all a good session.