He made note of the beautiful surf that built up on that sandbar
and when the Corona del Mar bath house was built in 1924, the Duke
and some of his more muscular friends -- they had to be muscular to
handle those 250-pound mahogany boards -- began surfing at Corona del
Mar and leaving their boards at the bath house.
I know all this because in 1927, when I worked at the bath house,
the Duke would take me for a ride on his shoulders as thanks for
taking care of his board. Soon, some of the local men joined the Duke
and by 1928 when the concrete jetty was completed, quite a few locals
were surfing the break at Corona del Mar.
And still, Surf City consisted of a few miles of oil wells and a
In 1935, they dredged out most of the mud flats in what is now
Newport Harbor. In doing so, a lot of sand was deposited at the end
of the Balboa Peninsula, which created a bodysurfing beach known all
over the world as the Wedge.
And what was Surf City doing all this time?
Well, it still had the oil wells but got rid of the saltwater
plunge. Rumor has it that when the plunge was drained, they found the
body of an oil field worker. He had been there quite a while, but the
water was so salty that he just cured instead of decaying. I don't
vouch for the truth of the yarn; I just repeat it.
Over the years, the Wedge has produced a group of superlative
bodysurfers. One time, the Newport Beach Bodysurfing Club put on a
bodysurfing contest with surfers from as far away as Santa Cruz and
San Diego. When the contest was over, Wedge regulars had taken first,
second, third and fourth in both the senior and junior divisions.
They never had the contest again.
Speaking of bodysurfing contests, a local woman, Sonja Betsch, is
a three-time women's champion in the granddaddy of all bodysurfing
We have a two-time men's champion on our lifeguard force, and any
day with decent surf you will find as good a group of surfers surfing
between the groins and RJs as you will find anywhere.
So, go ahead and call yourself Surf City because of that big
contest you hold each year. Just remember that we were here first --
and you don't have a corner on good surfers.
* ROBERT GARDNER was a Corona del Mar resident and former judge.