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Surfing rules make waves

Blackball Working Group gathers input from body boarders and bodysurfers over rights to the water.

October 22, 2013|By Emily Foxhall
  • A bodysurfer drops into a wave at the Wedge in Newport Beach.
A bodysurfer drops into a wave at the Wedge in Newport Beach. (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

For surfers, everything hinges on balance — even when it comes to local politics.

A forum Monday night kicked off the public's involvement in a review of local surfing rules in Newport Beach. About 200 surfers of all ages, mostly male, filled the Community Room at the city's Civic Center, eager to offer city representatives their opinions about the fairest and safest way to share the waves.

All hoped to set straight the rules, which have remained untouched for nearly 20 years. They exchanged their boards and fins for notes, replaced their wetsuits with jackets or Hawaiian shirts and traveled from homes not only in Newport Beach but also neighboring Costa Mesa and Fountain Valley.

"I would just like to see some equity," said T. K. Brimer, who owns the Frog House surf shop in Newport Beach and is a surfer himself.

The problem can be boiled down to just that: defining equity among surfers, body boarders, skim boarders and bodysurfers. During the 90 minutes of public comment, contention particularly arose around one notorious spot, The Wedge.

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Newport Beach currently regulates the time and type of surfing that can occur at The Wedge, a particularly popular place for surfers at the end of the Balboa Peninsula.

From May through October, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., all flotation and surfing devices are banned at The Wedge. Anyone with a board must exit the water even when large swells create the much-awaited 20- or 30-foot monster waves for which the area is known.

When the board users leave, the bodysurfers can have their time in the water. Because they move more slowly, bodysurfers say they need the blocked time to surf safely, without fear of being hit by a board.

"The bodysurfers don't feel like we own the wave; we share it," said Tim Burnham, a bodysurfer well known in the surfing community.

Not everyone sees it that way.

Suggested changes to the current policy include alternating entire days between bodysurfers and others, shortening the time that bodysurfers are allowed in the water and restricting bodysurfers to mornings and evenings rather than the other way around.

Diane Edmonds, a surfing photographer, likened the bodysurfers' claim to seven hours a day to children who steal every piece of candy from a piñata.

Another photographer, Bob Cook, likewise compared the bodysurfers to thieves — of the daylight hours.

"Bodysurfers do not deserve it for six months," he said. "No one deserves it for six months."

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