The Newport Surf Council (NSC) may be trying to do away with the notorious blackball flags that have plagued the city’s beaches, particularly the Wedge, since 1966. While this would give surfers fresh new shred territory, the loss of the blackball could also make the lineup a little less safe for bodyboarders, surfers, skimboarders and bodysurfers alike.
From May 1st to October 31st between 10:00am and 5:00pm, no hard flotation devices are allowed out in the waves at the Wedge. The same goes for the rest of Newport’s beaches from 12:00pm to 4:00pm. Check out the full set of rules on surfing here. Watermen and waterwomen must stand by and watch empty barrels crash during Southern California’s prime surf season. Only the bodysurfers are allowed to get pitted when the blackball flags are up. This has caused surfers, skimboarders and handboarders to cry discrimination, and surfers even formed the Newport Surf Council in 1995 because of it. The council was able to push to allow for lifeguards at Newport beaches to use their judgment as to whether or not to raise the blackball flag. This way, board riders of all shapes and sizes can partake in the waves if the conditions are favorable and there are no swimmers in the water.
Aside from that, there has been no real movement to permanently remove the infamous blackball flags until now. The city of Newport Beach has put together a new panel called the Blackball Working Group, which is made up of people devoted exclusively to changing the blackball flag rules in place. Just last month, the Blackball Working Group held a meeting where they welcomed the local public’s opinion on the matter. The meeting was ultimately deemed unsuccessful, as it became an argument as to which group should have access to Newport’s beaches, especially the Wedge. “The various forms [bodysurfing, bodyboarding, surfing and skimboarding] are like wave riding religions,” Newport local Bill Sharp said in an interview with Surfline.com. “It’s the Holy Lands, and the Wedge is Jerusalem.”
While the NSC wants to eventually rid all beaches of the blackball flags, the group still wants the city’s current blackball flag rules to remain in effect, particularly at the Wedge, for at least one more year. However, they will work to open up other beaches, (like between the jetties and 56th Street), so that surfers can ride the waves earlier than the usual 4:00pm. “This is going to be a LONG process that must pass through the BWG, then the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission and finally the City Council before it’s in the books,” Sharp told Surfline. “But we are prepared for the long path ahead.”