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Surfing rules now a Wedge issue

Upcoming meeting to review restrictions has awakened an old battle between bodysurfers and board users over who can lay claim to the waves.

October 18, 2013|By Emily Foxhall | This post has been corrected, as noted below.
  • Newport's Bobby Okvist charges a set wave at the Wedge recently. Bodysurfers want their time in the water too.
Newport's Bobby Okvist charges a set wave at the… (DON LEACH / Daily…)

An old surfing battle may be resurfacing in Newport Beach.

A city panel, the Blackball Working Group, will take the first step toward a possible review of surfing regulations at a public meeting Monday night. This has set off murmurings among surfers over one particular place: the Wedge.

A storied spot at the end of the Balboa Peninsula, where the west harbor jetty extends from shore, the Wedge has set the stage for world-famous waves that have brought thrills to generations of surfers and spectators.

Here, on occasion, large swells send surf crashing into the jetty. These waves bounce back toward the ocean, where they may meet, in a wedge shape, another oncoming swell. This creates massive walls of water reaching 20 to 30 feet — a dream for surfers — that break close to the shore.

The question is: Who gets claim to the Wedge?

For roughly two decades, bodysurfers have held claim to set times during summer months when only they can ride the break. They say they need the part-time ban because it is unsafe for them to try to compete with other surfers.

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On a popular morning at the Wedge, people might be spotted on surfboards, bodyboards and skim boards or even clinging to a plastic fast-food tray. But current regulations require that they get out of the water by 10 a.m.

For a bodysurfer to ride among them would be like asking a bicyclist to assume position in a lane on a highway, they say.

Bodysurfers shirk any flotation device, wearing only wetsuits and flippers. This makes them slower and the last to catch waves. Those with boards pose a threat because they may collide with bodysurfers or lose their boards, which may then go flying.

The City Council recognized these safety concerns in 1985, allowing bodysurfers some peace of mind by banning boards when the blackball flag, a yellow flag with a black dot, was displayed from June 15 through Sept. 10.

In 1993, the council extended the ban to May 1 through Oct. 31. At that time, a hardened group of bodysurfers called the Wedge Crew, or Wedge Preservation Society, collected 80 signatures calling for a full ban on boards. A counter group called Save the Wedge collected 700 names in opposition.

Now a new petition is circulating. Nearly 1,500 people this week signed an online petition that calls for an end to time restraints at the Wedge.

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