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Holiday crowds watch bodysurfers tackle huge surf at the Wedge

Holiday crowds watched bodysurfers take on the famed Wedge in Newport Beach on Sunday, gawking and snapping photos as waves up to 10 feet high crashed onto shore.

No injuries were reported, but there were plenty of wipeouts to keep Fourth of July beachgoers entertained.

“Whoa! That was a big one,” said Ron Gerhardt, 77, as he and a friend watched turquoise pyramids rise high and collapse in a churning heap. Gerhardt, who lives in La Cañada Flintridge, reminisced about his own bodysurfing feats at the Wedge in the 1950s.

“You get pounded and your face gets all bloody,” he said. “And then you go back for more.”

Large surf arrived at south-facing beaches across Southern California in time for the July 4 holiday. Forecasters say that a strong storm out of New Zealand will continue delivering 8-foot-high breakers through Tuesday. The swells have prompted authorities to issue public safety warnings to beachgoers, particularly those unfamiliar with powerful surf.

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One person’s warning, however, is another person’s siren call. The Wedge is known worldwide for swells that bounce off a rock jetty and form tubes that bodysurfers ride to shore at speeds reaching 30 mph. More than a dozen daredevils entered the water around noon to accept the challenge.

Lifeguards made sure bodysurfers were experienced and wearing fins, before allowing them into the water. Lifeguard Rush Stevens, 20, said many of the surfers looked familiar.

One was 15-year-old Lucky Callender, who grew up nearby. Lucky kayaked across Newport Bay before donning his fins and jumping into the water.

“It’s one of the better days I’ve seen,” the dripping teen said as he emerged after a 30-minute session. “It was just really explosive and fun.”

Plenty of people have broken bones and scraped skin at the Wedge over the years. Deaths are rare, but a year ago a 50-year-old Lawndale man was killed when waves up to 20 feet high slammed him against the jetty.

Reed Hummel, 52, of Corona del Mar came to look at the swells but didn’t venture in himself.

“I don’t do that anymore,” he said. “Only when I was young and stupid.”

catherine.saillant@latimes.com


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