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Bodysurfer killed at the Wedge in Newport Beach

The unidentified man is flung onto a rock jetty at the renowned surfing spot. Waves at the site Friday exceeded 20 feet.

July 25, 2009|Mike Anton and Gerrick D. Kennedy

The explosive Wedge surf break in Newport Beach has left generations of daredevils with broken bones and concussions.

On Friday, with waves topping 20 feet, it killed a man -- a rare death at a place that would seem to invite it.

The Orange County coroner's office has identified the man as 50-year-old Monte Kevin Valantin of Lawndale. He was thrown against the rock jetty that produces the Wedge's outsized waves about 12:30 p.m.

Newport Beach lifeguards pulled him aboard their boat and he later died at nearby Hoag Memorial Hospital, authorities said.

"There was a relatively small group of bodysurfers and boarders in the water," said Jim Turner, a Newport Beach lifeguard battalion chief. "On the shore, there were in excess of a thousand spectators."

A high-surf warning has been in effect for Southern California. Lifeguards along the coast reported a higher than average number of rescues Friday and were bracing for more of the same today and Sunday.

"We're advising all beachgoers to talk to lifeguards to find out where that safe place is to swim," said Orange County lifeguard Capt. Terry Harvey. "We are prepared for a busy weekend."

Despite its fierce reputation, the Wedge's lifeguard tower is generally shuttered. But on Friday, Turner said, lifeguards were on duty there and a patrol boat was stationed offshore.

"We knew it was going to be big all day," he said.

The physics of the Wedge have earned it an international cult following. Incoming waves carom off the rock jetty that protects Newport Harbor and slam into following swells. The result is giant tubes that thunder to shore at speeds reaching 30 mph.

The inexperienced get tossed around like rag dolls trapped in a commercial washing machine. Even experts who get sucked into the Wedge's steep break can be flung into the air or slammed into the shallow, sandy bottom.

"They have an exciting time and entertain thousands of people," Turner said.

Yet the Wedge, he said, is far from the most perilous beach in town.

The beach at Newport Pier, with throngs of children and inexperienced swimmers, keeps lifeguards running from rescue to rescue during the summer.

Deaths at the Wedge are rare.

"I can't recall the last one," said Turner, who has spent a career protecting people from the ocean. "The last fatality there was maybe 20 years ago."

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mike.anton@latimes.com

gerrick.kennedy @latimes.com

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