NEWPORT BEACH — Striking a compromise between bodysurfers and those who ride waves on knee boards, skim boards or surfboards of any kind, the City Council voted Monday night to restrict but not ban boards at the Wedge, a world-renowned surfing spot.
Saying the ocean belongs to everybody, the council rejected a request by a group of bodysurfers to ban boards from the Wedge 24 hours a day, year-round. Instead, the council voted 4 to 2 to reserve the Wedge for bodysurfers from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. between May 1 and Oct. 31.
Since 1985, boards have been banned from the site during those hours from June 15 to Sept. 10.
The Wedge, at the end of the Balboa Peninsula, is famous because of the steep drop of the waves and the speed of the ride. When the Wedge first became popular for bodysurfing in the 1960s, the long boards then in style could not handle the waves. But with shorter boards and the growing popularity of bodyboards, bodysurfers now face flying Styrofoam.
If the council had banned boards, the Wedge would have been Orange County's first bodysurfing-only beach. A similar ban has existed at Boomer's Beach in La Jolla for a quarter-century.
This spring, the Wedge Preservation Society collected 80 signatures urging the council to extend the ban on boards, calling the Wedge "a bodysurfing Mecca (which) is being overrun by bodyboarders, skim boarders and even stand-up surfers." But a rival group, Save the Wedge, countered by getting 700 signatures over the weekend to protest the ban extension.
The debate Monday night packed the council chambers with about 100 surfers--some long-haired blonds in thongs, others in suits and ties and toting briefcases. Both sides invoked the basic American principles of freedom, democracy and equal rights.
"The Wedge has been known, and is in fact, the best wave in the world for bodysurfing," said Terry Wade, head of the Preservation Society. "Our problem here really is one of fairness, when a bodysurfer is out in the surf line with any kind of surf board . . . we just can't compete."
Bill Sharp, leader of the opposition, agreed that the Wedge offers a unique wave.
"That's what the problem is: There's only one wave like it, so everyone wants to have a chance at it," he said. "Everyone should have their opportunity to have a go at the Wedge."
Bodysurfers begged the council to protect their rights as a minority, while those who use boards urged them to keep the beach free of restrictions.
"Everyone should have their choice of what they want to do," said Matt Allen. "Freedom is what makes this country great. My freedom to ride a wave at the Wedge is the most important thing in my life."
Dozens sent impassioned memoranda to council members in anticipation of Monday night's discussion. State Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach); the Balboa Peninsula Point Assn., a neighborhood group; and a Los Angeles biologist supported the complete ban, along with local lifeguards. Magazine editors and store owners from the surfing industry opposed the ban.
Councilwoman Evelyn R. Hart, whose husband is a bodysurfer but whose son favors boards, said the May-to-October, 10 a.m.-to-5 p.m. compromise was fair.
But Councilman John C. Cox Jr. refused to go along, saying--to massive applause--that he compromised in 1985 with the first ban. Councilman Phil Sansone also voted against the measure.