15-foot waves at the Wedge: ‘You have to leave your brains on the beach to surf there’

Dorothee Kretly’s eyes were glued to the ocean, watching as wave after wave bounced off the Newport Beach rock jetty and formed building-sized surf that slammed onto the shore.

The French native, who has lived in Huntington Beach for four years, has heard about the world famous wave, but Wednesday was the first time she saw the watery beast firsthand.

“I only saw it on videos; now I had the opportunity to come and see it with my own eyes,” she said, sitting on the sand near a line of photographers capturing the wild rides. “These guys are crazy; I would never go out there.”

“You have to leave your brains on the beach to surf there.”

Surfers, bodyboarders, skimboarders, and bodysurfers were pumped for the first sizable south swell of the summer, which at the Wedge meant bombing waves 15-foot and larger on some sets. The south swell is expected to hold through Thursday, with waves in the 5-to-7-foot range along other parts of the coast, before fading over the weekend.

Costa Mesa surfer Miles Smith showed up early morning to take on some waves, and he wasn’t the only one. Among the crowd of a few dozen wave riders bobbing in the water waiting for sets was surf icon Rob Machado.

“He got one of the best (waves),” Smith said. “He got a side wave, cruised in easily, got barreled for a bit and it just spit.”

While most waves were in the 6-to-10-foot range, there were a couple of bomb sets, he said.

“As the morning went on, a few of those popped up and caught everyone by surprise,” he said. “It was pretty fun.”

Photographer John Salanoa, who recently contracted a rare spinal condition that rendered him paralyzed a few months ago, was able to walk on the sand with the help of his daughter to shoot images at Orange County’s famous wave.

“A lot of guys risk their limbs because of the novelty of it. I love seeing the guys come out here and going for it because it’s breaking pretty close on the shore,” he said. “Machado was all style, like he always is.”

Bill Kimball and son-in-law Seth Robinson rode their bikes down to check out the big surf. They pointed out a fisherman walking on the rock jetty, which is a danger when big waves show up.

“They see the first wave, and they think it’s the big one, but the big one is three back,” said Robinson.

Kimball, a bodysurfer for the past 60 years, always avoided the Wedge because he’s seen too many of his friends break their necks at the spot. He prefers to watch from shore.

“It’s the most interesting wave break I’ve ever seen, anywhere,” he said. “It has the most talented skimboarders, bodysurfer and Boogieboarders. Every once in a while, you see a surfer out there, and you wait for them to break their surfboard. It’s bound to happen.”

Contact the writer: lconnelly@ocregister.com

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