The flag, with its black ball on a yellow background, also is
fluttering along the stretch of the beach between 40th and 44th streets.
"The Black Ball basically protects bodysurfers and gives us the
opportunity to be there," said Kevin "Mel" Thoman, who will be going into
his 27th bodysurfing season at the Wedge.
Thoman is a member of The Wedge Preservation Society and went to
several City Council meetings to lobby for the Black Ball flags to go up
during the summer months. Council members approved it three years ago.
The Wedge has long been a big-wave haven for bodysurfers.
"It's the ultimate challenge," Thoman said. "If you've got to prove
yourself as a bodysurfer, this is the place to do it."
While the flag symbolizes fun-filled days for bodysurfers, it is a
challenge for lifeguards, said Newport Beach Fire Capt. John Blauer.
"We have to find a balance on summer days when the beaches are really
crowded," he said. "Our concern is what is the [best] way to let the most
people enjoy our ocean."
There are cloudy days, such as Thursday, when there may be only a few
people on the beach, but the Wedge would still have to be "Black Balled."
The other challenge is that there are no lifeguards generally on duty
at the Wedge until June 23. The Black Ball flag goes up May 1.
"We're flexible," Blauer said. "Last weekend we had a nice day and
good surf. So we had a lifeguard on duty."
The Wedge can be fun for eager bodysurfers, but it is also rough on
them, Thoman said.
"It takes its toll every year," he said.
Last year, there were no fatalities from injuries, but a 17-year-old
collapsed and died on the sand after he had bodysurfed at the Wedge.
Officials said he died because of a heart condition.
"We did have people with broken bones and concussions," Thoman said.
"But it is considered an extreme sport, and we love it, and we love what
"The Wedge is home to some of us. It's been special to us and will
always be a special place."