Stab Magazine | Taj Burrow's Love Letter (And Instructional) To The Wedge

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Taj Burrow’s Love Letter (And Instructional) To The Wedge

How to find, read, and best ride surfing’s most extraordinary accidents.

style // Jun 23, 2018
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Surfing’s Great White Whale, its rarest of Unicorns, is the white sand beach with Wedges pinballing across.

Wedges are my favourite thing in all of surfing.

Recently, I found a beach in Western Australia with a perfect Wedge at either end. Yup—two unicorns, one beach. (Joe G actually filmed it for his latest film, Cult of Freedom.)

It’s an extraordinary setup. It almost feels man-made: at one end is a right and at the other is a shorter, thicker left. The beach is bookended by prehistoric rocks with the perfect gentle slope, that allows a wave to perfectly wash up its face, then the backwash refracts back out into the ocean in just the right way.

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Keep yourself close to the sidewinder, try to stay under the peak and prepare for the ultimate speed generator, says Taj.

We surfed it for three days, straight—a few hours surfing the right, then head to the other end and ride the left. They were some of the most glorious days of surfing I’d ever had.

If you’ve ever scratched into a sidewinder and set up for a pit riding the refraction mini-winder, straight toward that teepee’s apex—you know the thrill I’m talking about.

That anticipation, knowing you’re about to get very barreled is just about the best thing in the world.

With wedges, you have more power, more options. And they’re rare which makes it even more desirable.

 

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“The highlight of surfing a wedge is when you get to see the wave begin to form. The more time you have leading up to seeing the tube come right at you is the best. If you can see the thing growing and joining and you have all that time to duck and weave and stall and put yourself in the perfect position. To just thread the thing. Take HTs for example. I surfed it last year in June and it was insane: huge whitewater roll-ins and it would double up and wedge into huge eight-foot pits. Seeing that wedge doubling up from down the line as you’re bottom turning, I don’t think there’s a better feeling in surfing.”

And, yes this is the South Coast of NSW and not the Mentawais.

But, before we get too granular, let me explain a few things: this is a love letter to the Wedge because it’s our natural born right to enjoy.

Did you know when you’re riding a bonafide Wedge, you’re actually riding two waves at once? That if you catch the second wave in a set, you’re actually being propelled forward by the residual energy refracting from the wave before? That the first wave hit the rock wall or sloping cliff in just the right way and sent a smaller swell back toward the lineup, where the next wave greeted it warmly, bent it back towards the beach, and created a powerful and far more memorable wave than it was in its own right? A two-wave Wedge greater than the sum of its parts.

As you can probably tell, I’ve been thinking about Wedges a lot. I even had a dream about it last night, which is why I’m doing this interview (which is now a story).

 

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As seen on Instagram! Sometimes you don’t need anything physical to refract swells, two different swell directions works just fine, too.

Photography

Jereme Aubertin

There’s a photo making the rounds right now on Instagram, of crazy crossed up Wedges shot from above with a drone. It looks fake, it’s so perfectly criss-crossed.

I’ve been hunting wedges around home in Western Oz, at this area with good sand build up.

It was wedging almost too aggressively and they must have inspired my thoughts. I can’t get it out of my head.

 

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Aggressively wedged waves provide short but thrilling rides. Once you join the apex of power at this wave, the ride is virtually over. Here we see Craig Anderson maximise every last thread of power of this wave, riding from well behind the wedge.

Let me explain: I’ve been thinking about is how to make the perfect wedge.

What angle would I make the man-made structure?

What swell would be the best angle to hit it?

These thoughts have begun to keep me up at night.

While the recipe might seem simple, the world’s best wedges comprise a remarkable number of variables. Which, again, is what makes them so special.

Even at the best wedging waves in the world, not every wave wedges. If the wave in front doesn’t have enough power, the wave behind won’t enjoy its residual thrust.

 

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No matter how good the wave, wedges will never be the same. This one is special to look at but too crossed up provide a thrilling ride.

And, the backwash’s angle can’t be overstated, the approach it takes once refracted from the blunt force trauma. If a breaking wave hits an object or rock that sits too square to the break—at, say, 90 degrees—then the backwash will create a short and unfulfilling wedge, with a tiny almost impossible to take off spot.

From what I’ve seen, the perfect angle is likely 45%, enough for the wave to refract and swoop in at an angle so it keeps pace with the second wave, but doesn’t overrun it.   

(And, while we’ve all got a soft, safe space in our hearts for sand-bottom, there are waves whereby the contour of a reef will create a wedge. Not a two-wave joiner but, a power pocket. The reef at Cloudbreak does it on occasion on mid-size waves.)

 

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A scene from the Joe G film, Cult of Freedom. Need to know where it is? Head in the direction of Western Australia.

How to take off on a wedge?

It’s highly unlikely that a Wedge will result in a long wave, though there are exceptions to the rule. Usually, they’re short, sharp, and way too much fun toying with the power pocket. Which means you don’t want to waste any of it. You need a long section of backwash slope and a swell that travels at the same speed. Typically, you only have one wave to read, but with a wedge you have to read two waves at once. It’s not easy. And, when you do find yourself in the spot, a wedge will propel you faster than a straight-faced wave, with one wave’s force pushing towards the beach and the other matching the speed pushing you down the line.

The takeoffs are more critical because of how steep they become, fact. There’s a real art to it.

The best way is to focus on the wave spitting out from the beach. Stay on the deep side of the peak about to break. You’re going to need to be just behind the peak to actually get tubed.

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The sublime moment when you’ve spotted your wedge, zeroed in on the apex and have all the speed in the world to lay it on rail…

Like most tubes, it’s easier to be deeper, and under it. If you’re on top of the peak it’s more difficult to get under the lip and over the ledge—being under a wave’s lip, even taking off impossibly late, is so much easier than trying to handle a peak’s apex).

If you aren’t deep, you might as well be on the shoulder—the best part of the wave is done by the time you stand up. You’ve outrun it.

Go watch Joe G’s Australia Part in Cult of Freedom. The Wedge we found was so perfect that it almost looked man-made. You can see swells rolling up the rock shelf and then backwashing back down to make the most thrilling wave.

The goal of surfing is to generate speed and then harness that speed for whatever you want to do. Wedges do the work for you: they are always strong at the peak and taper down on the shoulder.

 

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Doesn’t this photograph of Taj make you want to get up in the dark, hit the road, explore and be surfed out by lunchtime?

If it’s not tubing, it’s phenomenal for banking carves; if it’s closing out, the section you’re on is always bigger than the section you’re about to hit. The slingshot power makes them so good for airs.

And, to wrangle a Wedge properly, might I encourage you to put all of your weight on that front foot. Lean into it with your shoulder. You’re going to need as much forward momentum as you can to get down the face.

Now, what does it take to make a Wedge? Something to bounce off, really. Places like California and New Jersey are full of rock groins and jetties, but most are too short to allow the wave to refract. Except for Kelly Slater’s old stomping ground, Sebastian Inlet, or Newport Harbor’s dirty old Wedge, pretty much the world’s most famous, um, wedge.

Now, a good set-up will handle proper groundswell, but a great one will turn windswell into a playground. The biggest downside of true groundswell for a lot of surfers is that when it finally arrives, it’s straight and hits the bulk of beaches in a straight line, closing out.

Trying to get councils and cities to build rock walls that jut into the ocean just so we can get fun surf spots is a stretch but if anyone wants my advice, I’m available to talk physics with the best of them!

 

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When a wedge closes out, it almost always collides with a smaller oncoming section. Trying to regulate your speed is the toughest problem.

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