Kevin 'Mel' Thoman, THE NEWPORT WEDGE Warden
With the Australian winter incoming, the Southern Ocean has started to show signs of life. This change in seasons plays a key role in the awakening of California's bodysurfing Mecca, the mighty Newport Wedge. We caught up with Wedge Crew legend and Newport Wedge custodian Mel Thoman for a chat about where he calls home.
Q. Who are you? What is your real name? And, when did you start bodysurfing?
Mel Thoman aka Kevin Thoman from Culver City California about 3 miles from Toes Beach, Playa Del Rey. I was bodysurfing then at about 3 years old. Back in those days we all started out by bodysurfing. Then my imaginary ladder of surf progression was Body to Bellyboard to Kneeboarding then Stand up Surfing. But I got stuck on bodysurfing.
Q. When did you start bodysurfing the wedge?
My 1st Wedge trip was with my buddies from our Toes Orange Julius Bodysurfing Club in 1973 and it was fairly flat that day. But the one way trip was 60 miles & that’s a loooong way from the usual 3 mile bike ride to Toes Beach. Then twice in 1974 and scored 2’-4’ but still small. Then by 1975 it became my Mecca and by 1976 I was part of the 1st incarnation of what people call Wedge Crew.
Q. Who has been your favourite bodysurfer of the wedge to watch?
My favorite bodysurfers to watch over the years would be Terry "Sac" Wade & Greg "Beets" Deets for sure.
Q. Talk to me about your favourite wedge swell?
Best Wedge Swell... there are too many to count. But best Wedge year overall was 1978, then 2014 as each year had epic swells and conditions on many occasions. The sizes ranged from 8’-20’ or 15’-40’ faces surface glassy.
Q. What's your favourite thing about bodysurfing?
My biggest deal with just mainly bodysurfing is being IN the wave not just ON it as with any other form of wave riding... I’ve always been about shape not size...it doesn’t matter how big it is if there’s no shape in my book.
Q. What gear have you used over the years to bodysurf?
I’ve used everything, all types of craft to score waves from kickboards to pool toys/rafts/bellyboard/boogie/kneeboarding/longboard. You name it I’ve taken it out there but the best thing I’ve used is still Speedo Training Paddles & many other handplanes.
Q. What's your bucket list place to bodysurf?
I’ve bodysurfed my personal “bucket list” but I’d have to expand it now that I’ve been exposed to more spots through the worldwide web...but I’ve surfed all over California including Malibu/Luanda Bay/Blacks/Boomer/Mexico. All over the North Shore at Pipe/Panics/Ke Iki/Waimea Bay/Sandy’s/Rockpiles. Lots more on Oahu too but never anywhere in Brazil or Australia, New Zealand, Bali etc.
Q. When your not bodysurfing, people will find you.......?
I’m a very involved Dad with my daughter and her volleyball life.
Q. Having seen bodysurfing progress, gain and lose popularity over the years, where do you think the sport is headed?
Bodysurfing took a big leap with the help of Fred Simpson & his driving style at The Wedge. It was pushed very hard by our original 1970’s onward Crew and there’s new blood in Hawaii & elsewhere going for somersaults & belly spins that is pushing it even further along. Then you have the stylized handplanes help with lift & speed which allows for even more manoeuvring on the waves.
Q. Talk us through a wave at the Wedge.
Big waves at Wedge used to be easier to line up when the Jetty poles were still there as you could gauge the takeoff spot by using the pole numbers. If it was HUGE, it was about 10-12 poles out. But normally big days broke at 5-9 poles. Now, it’s much more difficult to sit out at the right spot. If you happen to be in the right place, at the right time, you use all your wave knowledge and arm/leg/fin strength to match the speed needed to get into the wave. Some waves, in particular the hurricane swells actually have an easier slope to glide into however the Southern Hemisphere swells can be over the ledge type takeoffs where you’re in serious danger of going over the falls, or stuck in the lip. It’s all timing and speed, but once you’re into the wave you set your line and aim yourself with eyes down the line and hopefully you score an epic tube & go all the way to Cylinders. Then you can roll up onto the sand, catch your breath and get back out for more.
Q. What would your advice be to a grom whos thinking about taking up bodysurfing?
Newbies/groms always need to do what I 1st did. When I got to Wedge on my 1st solid day, WATCH THE GUYS WHO ARE RIPPING & DOING IT THE RIGHT WAY. Watch & learn. If you can emulate certain styles then infuse that into what you like to do into that, you’re halfway there. The weirdest thing for me now is being as old or older than some of the new guys Dad’s. My brain still thinks I’m 24 but my body is 60 and doesn’t work as well as it used to. I like to say “The mind says GO & the body says NO”
On a side note when I was about 7-8 years old I was at Toes and saw a bodysurfer possibly a lifeguard go across a wave like a board & he did about 3 spinners and right then I told myself I would get better than that guy and I was going to become the best bodysurfer in the world. As I’ve come to realize with age/wisdom, there is no BEST because bodysurfing is an art and everyone has their own style. I never do contests because I say I’ll never need a trophy to validate my art.