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Rules for surfers are unchanged

Decision by Newport's beaches commission comes after much emotional public comment and ongoing tensions between board users and other wave chasers.

February 04, 2014|By Emily Foxhall
  • A bodyboarder catches a wave at The Wedge in Newport Beach in March.
A bodyboarder catches a wave at The Wedge in Newport Beach… (KEVIN CHANG / Daily…)

When 66-year-old Lance Jencks first began bodysurfing at the Wedge in Newport Beach, he would often arrive at 7 a.m. and stay until 11 a.m.

Jencks wanted to get out there early because he loved the morning's glassy waves, he explained to the city's Parks Beaches and Recreation Commission during its meeting Tuesday night.

But so did everybody else, be they equipped with a surfboard, bodyboard, skimboard or, like Jencks and his bodysurfing peers, a pair of flippers — at most.

Following two hours of emotional public comment about who should be allowed to surf where and when, commissioners decided to leave current surfing rules in Newport Beach just as they are, including those that govern the Wedge.

Potential changes ranged from the shortening of exclusive swim time between 40th and 44th streets to the establishment of a small skimboard zone near Balboa pier. But the Wedge bore the brunt of the passionate remarks.

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The vote was unanimous, with commissioners Kathy Hamilton and newly appointed Laird Hayes absent, and seemed just another step in a decades-long fight over the same issue.

Located at the end of the Balboa Peninsula, where the west harbor jetty extends from the shore, the Wedge is cherished by surfers of all kinds for infamous monster waves that some claim to be unique to the world.

"I used to be there in the morning," Jencks continued, his voice shaky. "And then at some point you kicked me out."

Bodysurfers have always been allowed in the water, but they say they need time to themselves because surfers pose a safety hazard and often beat them to the waves.

The Wedge is of particular importance to members of the bodysurfing community because they say it offers a chance for promotion of a sport that otherwise receives little attention.

A 1985 ordinance banned flotation devices from the Wedge at all times. Current rules prohibit flotation devices — surfboards, bodyboards, skimboards — to be used at the Wedge from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 1 through Oct. 31.

Up for debate Tuesday night was whether to change the ban to 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Memorial Day weekend (the last Monday of May) through Labor Day (the first Monday in September), a suggestion put forth by a Blackball Working Group, which had been charged with reviewing surfing rules throughout the city.

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