The endeavor to create an objective documentary film about Wedge is an unenviable task. More than six decades of rivalries, machismo, localism and diverse waveriding make it a difficult subject to document without hard feelings. But Tim Burnham and Hunt House Films succeeded. It is now the highest grossing film in the history of the Newport Beach Film Festival.
Dirty Old Wedge is a 62 minute ode to that southern most corner of the Balboa Peninsula. The wave takes center stage with fantastic, historical footage. However, the characters, history and culture steal the show. The passion of those that have dedicated their summers to this south swell magnet leaves a strong impression on anyone that appreciates a unique waveriding subculture.
Wedge is not exclusively a bodysurf spot. But this is primarily the story of Wedge bodysurfing: the richest and most important story to be told at this famed surf spot. The filmmakers show respect for other forms of waveriding, including the ever present Ron Romanosky on his hand-shaped kneeboards and Newport surfing style-master Danny Kwock. Both of whom pay the utmost respect to their bodysurfing brethren.
The story is told chronologically starting in the 1960s with Viper Surfing Fin inventor, Fred Simpson, innovating the prevailing bodysurf technique. Next, came a group of young bodysurfers led by Kevin “Mel” Thoman. A keen promoter and excellent bodysurfer, Mel organized the Wedge bodysurfers into The Crew. The documentary utilizes an extensive archive of video shot by Thoman to depict not only the epic rides in the water but also the action on the beach and at the infamous house parties/slide shows.
The film then depicts The Crew starting families and spending less time in the water. John “Potato” Karam acts as a link between the old guard and the young Crew as they learn the ways of Wedge, culminating in the Hurricane Marie Swell of 2014. The young Crew charged along with their elders and took the torch of Wedge bodysurfing’s next generation.
The passion for Wedge runs deep and is obvious when Mel Thoman chokes up talking about the great Terry Wade’s inability to continue his Wedge preeminence because of numerous injuries suffered charging the biggest waves of the 80s. Knee-boarder and photographer Ron Romanosky’s entire voice over is a moving tribute to his decades long affinity for Wedge. The injury suffered by Gene Peterson, his recovery and subsequent passing make for a moving memorial to the camaraderie shared by the men who challenge Wedge at its biggest and meanest.
Dirty Old Wedge captures the history, characters, emotion and passion of The Wedge.
My rating: 4/5 surfing fins.