What's the Toughest Wave to Ride?

The toughest kind of wave to ride is the one you don’t know you’re riding… until you’re in it. Once you’re in it, you’re in. You’re going to get roughed up.  You’re going to be initiated.

Growing up in Southern California, my friends and I were always on the lookout for the next big thing.  One summer, we discovered The Wedge.  We thought it was our own secret spot, but it is in fact world-famous.

It became the focus of our lives. We would work whatever summer job we had, attempt to get finished early, with just enough money in our pockets for gas and some grub. From there, we would head down to The Wedge – especially when storms were coming in and the waves were huge.

The Wedge is a unique configuration just south of Newport Beach.  A pair of jetties form a channel that flows into a harbor.  The beach coastline pushes the waves into a wedge between the beach and the north jetty, which creates unusually large swells.

The Wedge isn’t ideal for surfing, although there are some people who can do it. However, it really lends itself to body surfing and boogie boarding.

The waves at the Wedge come in as a shore break: the waves tend to break shallow.  If you don’t know what you’re doing – and we certainly didn’t – body surfing a big shore break can be brutal.

Waves come in sets. Typically, there will be a lull in the action, with not much happening. Then, a set of waves begins. The first one or two are usually not the biggest in the set, but the ones that follow are often the best.

If you catch a wave at the Wedge on a big day, you go on a ride that propels you upward, sometimes 15 to 20 feet. If you’re good enough, you can get inside the wave – but we never were. At the crest of the wave, at the very highest peak, the shore break falls away from you.

You are looking down from the top of the wave … and you see sand.

In an instant, the wave drops away from you, and you basically free fall and hit the sand. Then, the back of the wave comes down on top of you. As young guys, we loved the harshness of it.  We invented a technique for riding and surviving.  Once mastered, we’d easily end up on the shore, hand out high fives and head back out to get ready for the next set.

As word got around to our friends, the uninitiated would want to come along and check it out.

We would typically wait for a big day to take the new recruit out. Once there, we’d all head into the surf and tread water, waiting for a set to start up.  We would tell the newbie exactly what they needed to do, and how to do it... kind of.  They would be entirely unaware of how the wave moved, and how it was about to move them.

As the set began, we would advise our friend/victim to wait out the first one or two swells.

As the third wave began to form, we’d all start to go for it. We would all paddle, as though we were going to catch it together. But the crew would pull back and let only the inexperienced newcomer take the ride.  As he was propelled to the top, 15 to 20 feet in the air, he’d look down at the sand, with the water slipping away. Right at that moment... the wave would fall out. He would crash to the shore, and the back of the wave would come down on top of him.

Sometimes the crew would have to stay out and tread water for a while, just to give the guy that got roughed up a chance to cool off.  Eventually, he would realize that it was all in fun. Fortunately, no one ever really got injured. Except for one jellyfish incident... but that’s another story.

From that point forward, the newbie was now one of the initiated.  He would know the system, and be able to ride, and he would join us in introducing others to The Wedge.

Fast forward, away from the water, what’s my point?  Well, there is definitely plenty of undercurrent in the economy right now that investors may or may not see.  A global marketplace that has survived on engineered low interest rates; frustration over stagnation of real wages; and dissatisfaction with the overall direction of the economy might headline a general list… with no accounting for shocks of the unforeseen variety.

The toughest kind of wave to ride? It’s the one you don’t know you’re riding.

- Dan Darchuck, CEO