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Commentary: Give Newport surfers a place of their own

November 15, 2013|By Michael Glenn

Just before Halloween, I met with TK Brimer, owner of the Newport Beach surf shop the Frog House, on a truly spooky subject: the surfing blackball.

My goal was to get a better perspective on the issues facing water lovers: surfers, body boarders, skim boarders, swimmers, body surfers and people who, like me, just want to flop around in the shallows.

The blackball is a flag flown by lifeguards to show surfers that it is not OK to surf in a particular spot. It is a means of letting body surfers and others have their time in the water without having to dodge surfboards. Needless to say, there are few things that irritate surfers more than a blackball.

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As all surfers know, even if the Wedge wasn't blackballed, the vast majority of them would be surfing elsewhere. That is not to say that the Wedge, the site of massive walls of water reaching 20 to 30 feet, isn't a valuable issue to discuss, but we need to look at places where we can maximize the benefit for everyone in the community.

It seems that any time there is an issue with something, the surfers are the ones told to leave. It's just the way it works, but it shouldn't be.

As U.S. House Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told the Newport Surf Council in 1995: Newport Beach is the only city in California not to have an area set aside for all-day surfing.

The body surfers have a total lockdown on the Wedge for what is arguably the best part of the year. Why not create a dedicated surfing area for these guys and give them a home?

It won't be easy.

In 1995, this same Newport Surf Council commission — set up much like the Blackball Working Group — proposed to the City Council that we create a whopping three dedicated surf spots, but the city voted down that idea.

The city had a right to be concerned at the time because lifeguards can't be everywhere. For those who have seen lifeguards try to enforce a border, you know how resource-intensive that can be.

So how do we stop this inequity? Let's give them their own surf space — and let's make it easy to enforce. The burning questions are: How much space and where?

First, it needs to be somewhat large because "good surf" changes all the time. A large south swell or a few changing currents can turn a hit surf spot into a dead zone in just a couple of days, and vice versa. Second, it also needs to have clear demarcation to ease enforcement.

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