Surfer recalls jail time from blackball rebellion #OC



Published: Oct. 18, 2013 Updated: 5:30 p.m.

Photographer Tom Cozad’s early experience dealing with the water-clearing policy keeps him in line to this day, he says.


Newport Beach will discuss current rules and regulations regarding the process known as blackball at 6 p.m. on Monday at City Hall. Blackball limits surfboards and other floatation devices at certain stretches of beach along the Newport Beach coastline, mostly during summer months.

The issue is hotly debated among beachgoers who must exit the water, even when the waves are pumping.Tom Cozad, local surf photographer by Christopher Wagner

Surf photographer Tom Cozad shared an experience he had with blackball in the early ’70s that landed him behind bars.

During the summer of 1972, one of the best hurricane swells ever hit the Newport Point, and everyone was out. Lenny Foster, Jackie Dunn, Jack Briggs, Billy Pells, John Van Ornum. … These guys were barrel specialists and charged everything from Pipe to huge Mainland Mexico and they were all on it.

Back then the lifeguards used to throw up blackball at noon like clockwork. And if it was crowded with bodysurfers, sooner. On this particular day, they raised the dreaded blackball flag at 10 a.m. I was one of the groms in the water that day, and along with a few other older surfers, decided to ignore the police and lifeguards, stay in the water and keep surfing.

This did not sit well with the local authorities, and the lifeguards soon brought in the fire boat from the harbor, cranked up the high-pressure hose and fired it at us, hoping to force us out of the water. I have to admit that thing hurt. It wasn’t long before I, along with the few others still out, headed in. I paddled up to 19th Street and caught a left that took me around the Point and far down by the Newport Pier, hoping no one would see me coming in.

As I hit the sand, this big guy in wet shorts and a tank top grabbed me by the arm. I had no idea who he was and started swinging my board and swearing at him. Bad move; come to find out he was an off-duty Orange County sheriff’s deputy, and he easily overpowered me and dragged me to the police positioned at 19th Street.

By now people were beginning to throw sand at the authorities, and it appeared a full-scale riot would break out. They quickly tossed me and another guy in the back of a police jeep and whisked us away to the Blackie’s parking lot. Once in the lot they transferred us to a police car for the ride to the police station. In the car was this older surfer I’d never seen before. He was a complete wacko. He began trying to kick out the windows while yelling obscenities at the officers. This went on all the way to the police station, and I did all I could to let them know that I was in no way associated him.

Once at the police station…

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