We all know the infamy of The Wedge. A hulking mass of water that can jack into the east end of California's Balboa peninsula in California – and it will sooner break than make you.
A few seasons ago, MSW teamed up with prolific Wedge videographer Brent Weldon, who has been stationing himself in the Wedge's heavy water for almost a decade. The ensuing footage was your typical Wedge affair – carnage. And that was all set against the barrels, the bodysurfers, bodyboarders and risk takers who make the Wedge so entertaining to watch.
As crazy as you may think it is to surf at The Wedge, imagine the mental strength it takes to paddle out there with nothing but a camera attached and a headful of good ideas. There's little water between you and sand and you and surfer. But that's Brent – he thrives on it.
So we decided to pick his brain about how to shoot at The Wedge and to unlock his hefty vault of horror stories.
Tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up?
My name is Brent Weldon. I live in Huntington Beach, California. My passion is water videography and you can usually find me at The Wedge. I grew up in Utah and moved to California 9-years-ago.
Throughout high school and college, I was a swimmer and played water polo. I spent my winters snowboarding and was able to catch a few surf trips to Orange county as often as I could. Once I finally moved to the West Coast, I began my addiction with surfing and water photography. Being able to surf and mess around in the waves year around and not having to wait for snow was also a huge game changer.
You’ve probably shot more vid at The Wedge than anyone else these last few years and seen more carnage too. What is it about Wedge that is so special?
The Wedge is an incredible place. The first day I ever swam out at Wedge it was actually pretty small. I was with a few of my friends who were bodyboarding and completely out of nowhere a 6-7 ft set came in.
Swimming through this type of wave in the shorebreak and the feeling of how much power the wave had instantly made me hooked. This was like nothing I had ever experienced. A couple weeks later at Wedge a huge swell came in with 25ft waves. I decided to go check it out. I had to park two miles down the beach because it was so crowded with people watching the waves. When I saw the energy and power this day I knew I wanted to be out there the next time a swell like this came along.
How did you learn where to sit to capture footage?
I would not say I have the best footage! There are many guys who I look up to who have been shooting at Wedge for a lot longer than I have. Most of the guys at Wedge are shooting photos and this location is an incredible place for still photography.
When shooting video, I have learned that I like to capture the entire ride. Being at the exit of a big barrel, for me, is the "perfect positioning". I have had many shots where the surfer passes by in the barrel and as I pull through the wave, I have no idea if the surfer or bodyboarder made it out.
If I can capture them coming out of the wave and or getting closed out, I feel like I am capturing their true ride.
And being amongst it, you must have seen some straight up savagery – what’s some of the more messed up scenarios you’ve witnessed?
If you are shooting at The Wedge you never know what to expect. I have seen surfers land on top of bodyboarders, bodyboarders land on surfers bodysurfers snaking all of the above.
I have seen some of the craziest backwash launching anyone trying to ride the wave. Unfortunately with this, I have seen a good amount of injuries. I also have a lot of friends who have been injured there. Just this year I have one friend who dislocated his hip. My good friend, Mike Harris, is one of the most experienced Wedge surfers and water photographers.
I have seen some of the craziest backwash launching anyone trying to ride the wave. Unfortunately with this, I have seen a good amount of injuries
He took his camera housing to his head and hit the rocks with his back. He suffered a concussion, whip lash and a fractured back. To this day he is in a lot of pain and suffering from really bad dizziness and headaches. Just a week or two ago at cylinders, I was filming with my other friends, Teddy Navarro. He took the nose of his surfboard to his eye. Currently, he is recovering from this injury as well. Thankfully he still has vision in this eye.
This was one of the most bloody injuries I have seen. Teddy has taken off on waves three or four times this big with no problem. This just happened to be a freak accident and could happen to anyone. Last year one of my water photography friends, Jason Yokobosky, broke his neck at Cylinders while I was 100 yards over at Wedge. He is lucky to be alive and just had his first day back shooting at Wedge a couple weeks ago.
What about yourself? Any injuries?
My worst injury is from another water photographer who went over the falls and I took his knee to the top of my head. I felt my back and neck crack and immediately was in a good amount of pain. I came up to the surface and the first thing he said to me is “I know that hurt… that hurt my knee.”
The next morning, I felt like my back was completely thrown out and I could barely move. Thankfully it did get better after a few days. I’m lucky because it could have been a lot worse. I started wearing a helmet later that week. Now I am one of the only guys out with a helmet no matter if it is big or small. I do try and tell everyone to get a helmet. It is worth it to protect your brain.
But the chaotic stuff aside, Wedge is a marvel – what do you hope people take away when they see your vids?
When I make my videos, I want people to feel like they have spent the day with me at The Wedge. I want to show the Wedge from an angle not many people have seen. I want to show how special it is as well as its positives and negatives. I want people to know if they are going to come out and try to surf, bodyboard or bodysurf Wedge, there is a lot of risk. I love trying to show that there is a great community of people at The Wedge who are now my really close friends.
This year The Wedge has had more people then I have ever seen. I don’t know if it’s because the kids are out of school and a lot of people are not working, but it has made it crazy.
I am trying to show this in my videos. If the day is filled with people yelling and screaming at each other, then that’s what I want to show. I know that people think this gives The Wedge a bad reputation but unfortunately this is what has been happening recently. People who have never been to Wedge are showing up like they own the place.
This year The Wedge has had more people then I have ever seen. I don’t know if it’s because the kids are out of school and a lot of people are not working, but it has made it crazy
Snaking everyone by taking wave after wave not waiting their turn. This does ruin the vibe in the water, and I want my videos to reflect this. All the crowd and craziness aside this is my favourite wave to film being out there and feeling the power of ocean makes it well worth. Combine this with spending the morning with some of your good friends makes it easily my favourite place to go and shoot.
Any stand outs who know that wave like the back of their hand?
There are a lot of amazing surfers and bodyboarders who know this wave better than anyone. As far as surfers go, whenever there is a big swell Tommy Cantrell, Mike Harris and Mitchell Grant, Blair Conklin, Dawson Tylers and Tyler Thornsley will always be some of the first guys on it.
Blair Conklin and Brad Domke who skimboard and surf this wave make it look way too easy. Some of the younger guys like Parker Cohn and Sage Burke always happen to be out there on the best days getting after it. If you move over to the right at Cylinders, you have Teddy Navarro who is always getting some insane waves out there.
Domke doing board transfers with his skimboard into some huge cylinders barrels still blows my mind every time we go out and shoot. There are a lot more guys who are incredible surfers out there, but these guys are the ones I see most frequently getting a lot of the best waves.
There are some amazing bodyboarders as well that I have to mention. Tanner McDaniel is one of the world’s best bodyboarders and usually the first one in the water along with Craig Whetter. You also have J.J. Ayala and Cory Bolter who are always on that early morning grind.
These guys are pulling into massive waves so early I can’t even get my focus on my camera to work cause it’s so dark. A few more other guys who are always getting some of the best waves when it starts to get bigger include. Chad Barba, Mike Lucas, Kris Espinoza, Hideto Shibata, Jake Caliger and Parker Mendenhall.
What would be your tips for anyone wanting to shoot there?
For anyone looking to shoot or film at Wedge, I would say start on the smaller days. First get used to how the sand works. Second, understand that you may have smaller waves for 45 minutes and then a giant set will come in that’s three times bigger than anything you have seen that morning.
You have to be careful and know that a big set could come at any time. If you are coming out for your first time, I would not recommend shooting a very wide lens like a fisheye. If you try and go right in front of the other photogs to get up close and personal, you will be in everyone’s shots and that will make some of the other water photographers upset.
A good lens to start with would be a 50mm or a 85mm. You have to be respectful of the other water photographers. There are ways to have multiple photographers out in the water without getting in each other’s way.
Cover shot of The Wedge uploaded to MSW by Chris Pizzitola