Most carnivores are lithe, fast, and aggressive…at least compared to their prey. But there are some carnivores who eschew all that hard work for a more passive mode. In the plant world, we’ve got the insect-eating Pitcher Plant, Sun Dew, or the Venus Fly Trap. They give off a nice, seductive smell and just wait for their lunch. Then there are fishes like the Anglerfish who lie quietly and wiggle a nice wormy looking bit of their own flesh to attract other fish…and eat them.
Then there’s the Moron Trap.
Never heard of them? Well there’s an example you can go see anytime you want. Newport Harbor has a breakwater on each side of its entrance. On the north side, the Pacific waves come sweeping in, hitting the breakwater at a slight angle. The result is that the incoming waves find themselves squeezed in as they get closer to the beach. The result is they get higher. This formation is known as the Wedge.
Sitting on the beach, looking at the Wedge, you’re immediately impressed with the waves. Not merely how big they are, but how abruptly they curl over. And when the timing is perfect and an outgoing wave hits an incoming wave just right, the effect amplifies both the height and the power of the incoming one.
This is the Moron Trap.
Any surfer, body or board, looks at those waves with a certain awe. Not only are the waves clearly big and dangerous, but they are biggest and most powerful right up against the huge boulders of the breakwater. If you were crazy enough to try and ride one of those things, it would take only a small error to put you on the rocks.
But for that very reason, the Wedge has a special appeal for teenaged boys. You know, morons.
Whether it’s testosterone poisoning or some evolutionary urge to thin the herd, the Wedge calls out to the young and stupid with a song the Sirens would envy. You can see it on their faces: I’ll bet I could do that…and then just wait till everyone hears I surfed the Wedge.
Pretty soon, the morons start to succumb.
When I body-surfed the Wedge, I honestly tried to be careful. I started out a ways away from the breakwater, where the waves were less obviously homicidal.
Usually, when you’re surfing, you have to time it just right. Waiting at exactly the correct position, when the wave looms above you you strike out swimming madly to match your speed to the incoming wave. If you do it right, you can feel the wave catch you and propel you towards the beach. Timing is everything.
But not at the Wedge. Even some distance away from the breakwater, a wave’s pull is so strong that it will almost automatically grab you, lift you up, and pull you shoreward. Of course, it will also break so quickly that the ride will be short, but fast.
But, as I said, the Wedge sings a Siren song. You can hear it calling you from off to your right, tempting you to get just a little closer to the breakwater, where the waves are bigger. After all, you’ve survived so far, haven’t you?
But moving just a few feet closer to the rocks changed everything.
I managed not only to catch a wave, but I caught one of those giant, extra-special waves when the outgoing and the incoming synergize. Anywhere else, when you catch a wave, you feel a fairly gentle, generalized force pushing you along.
Not this time.
Instead, it felt as if a giant, watery hand had grabbed my ankles (my ankles!?) and was pushing me with quite startling force. I opened my eyes to discover that my head and shoulders were projecting completely out of the front of the wave which curled below me.
But that wasn’t all.
Looking down, I saw, far below me, not the trough of a wave I was about to roll into, but instead maybe one half inch of water over wet, gravelly sand. That perfectly timed outgoing wave had sucked all the water into building this mountain I was on top of.
Now normally, if you go over the falls of a breaking wave, you simply roll over into the trough. Clearly, if I tried it this time, this homicidal wave was going to plant me headfirst right into the gravel. Time to pull out.
Here’s how pulling out works. Since you are riding the wave with your arms back along your sides, the way you pull out is to sweep them forward as fast as you can, applying the brakes. The wave keeps going and you find yourself in the calm water behind it.
Not this time.
I did my best arm sweep, applying the brakes for all I was worth, but I felt that mighty hand around my ankles saying, No, you won’t. I might have slowed myself down a trifle, but the power of that wave was just stunning. Clearly, I was doomed. At this point I did the only thing possible: I curled myself into the fetal position and gave myself up to the wave.
As it happened, this particular wave had ambitions of being a basketball player. As it broke it dribbled me onto the sand and kept bouncing me along while tons of water crashed over me. Completely disoriented, I tried to figure out which way was up. Then I felt the outgoing surge trying to suck me back out and under. Panic at that thought gave me a burst of energy. Badly scraped and bruised, I somehow managed to claw myself up and onto the sand.
It should be needless to say I was done for the day…and I haven’t been back since. I’m not quite that much of a moron.
Still and all, I have to confess there have been a few times since when I have puffed up and claimed a few macho points by saying that I had once surfed the Wedge. Oddly enough, among males not having quite killed yourself is considered admirable.
They say there is a special Providence that looks after lunatics and drunks. Looking back, I’d add teenage boys to the list.