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Black Ball returns

May 11, 2001

Deepa Bharath

THE WEDGE -- It's party time for bodysurfers once again at the Wedge.

The Black Ball flag went up on the lifeguard tower by the Wedge last

week, much to the delight of bodysurfers who live for the thrill of

riding the big waves at the popular spot. It prohibits the use of

flotation devices, such as surfboards and bodyboards, from 10 a.m. to 5

p.m. May 1 to Oct. 31.

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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

it offers.

"The Wedge is home to some of us. It's been special to us and will

always be a special place."

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