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A real 'Wedge' issue: Is it time for Newport Beach’s 'blackball' flag to come down for good?

A city panel will meet tonight to review the surfing regulations of Newport Beach.
A city panel will meet tonight to review the surfing regulations of Newport Beach.
Ken Lund/ Flickr

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For years, Newport Beach surfers and skimboarders have dreaded a small yellow flag with a black spot in the middle. It’s known in the stretch of coast from Big Corona to River Jetties as the “blackball” and when lifeguards raise it every summer, it means no hard floatation devices are allowed in the lineup.

The blackball flies all summer citywide between the hours of noon and 4:00 p.m.

The idea is that less surfboards in the lineup make them safer and more inviting to those visiting for a day at the beach, though surfers and skimboarders bemoan the loss of their lineup during the peak surfing season when Southern Hemisphere south swells give Newport its best waves.

At the Wedge, Newport’s iconic mutant wave located just north of the entrance to the Newport harbor, blackball has become a contentious issue.

Currently, the city bans all flotation devices at the Wedge every day from May 1st to October 31st from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but surfers and skimboarders have launched a campaign to eliminate blackball at the Wedge, calling it discrimination. Newport Beach is looking into the matter, hosting a meeting at City Hall this past Monday to take the temperature of the community.

Should surfers be allowed in the lineup all day throughout the summer? Or does blackball work to protect bodysurfers and others from dangerous objects in the surf?

Tim Burnham, bodysurfer and member of the Wedge Preservation Society

Paulo Prietto, skimboarder and supporter of the petition to end blackball at the Wedge

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