Surfers Fight Rules That Could Limit Their Time at Big Wave Surf Spot

Newport Beach is mulling rules that could limit surfers' water time at popular spot, The Wedge

By Jason Kandel and Vikki Vargas
|  Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013  |  Updated 8:39 AM PDT
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The city of Newport Beach held a public meeting Monday night to discuss possible rule changes for the popular Wedge surfing spot. The rules haven’t changed in over 18 years, but will now be open for discussion. Vikki Vargas reports from Newport Beach for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 21, 2013.

Vikki Vargas

The city of Newport Beach held a public meeting Monday night to discuss possible rule changes for the popular Wedge surfing spot. The rules haven’t changed in over 18 years, but will now be open for discussion. Vikki Vargas reports from Newport Beach for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 21, 2013.

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Surfers gathered at Newport Beach City Hall Monday night to challenge proposed city rules that could limit their time in the water at one of Southern California's most dangerous and challenging beachbreaks -- the Wedge.

About 150 surfers, bodysurfers, skimboarders, bodyboarders and others showed up for a discussion with the beach community's so-called Blackball Working Group, according to the Orange County Register. The group met to talk about beach rules -- rules that haven’t changed in over 18 years and where lifeguards have the authority to ban surfers at any time if conditions are too dangerous.

The working group -- "blackball" is term referring to a rule that bans boards at certain times and locations -- will eventually make recommendations about the ban to the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission. The meeting was conducted to get input from the community on the current blackball surfing regulations or the times when yellow flags with black balls are put up on lifeguard towers signaling surfers to get out of the water.

"You have to have some sensibility about you," said Frederick Rothberg, a body surfer. "If you’re a body surfer and you get hit by a board, it could do serious trouble."

But what frustrates surfers like Michael Gillmore is the belief that body surfers have more options.

"They have their own spot," Gillmore said. "The jetty should be for everybody."

The Wedge  -- the most talked about spot at Monday's meeting, according to the Register -- has been a popular spot for years for skimboarding, surfing, bodyboarding and bodysurfing. During a south swell of the right size and direction, the Wedge can produce huge waves up to 30 feet high, a high-risk, high-reward for water thrill seekers.

Safety is at issue.

"We have consistent injuries based on the high surf," said Robert Williams of the Newport Beach Fire Department. "It’s the conflict we’re trying to eliminate."

A plan is subject to a city council vote.

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