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Surfers Say Waves Trump Bali Risks

In search of perfect breaks, few are rethinking Indonesia trips. An O.C. man is reported dead in blast; his friend was injured.

October 15, 2002|Dan Weikel and Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writers

Though a car bomb killed scores of people in Bali, many Southern California surfers who travel to the Indonesian island in search of perfect waves say they have no plans to stay away.

"I'm not going to say it doesn't scare me," said Nick Galvean, 19, of Huntington Beach, who has saved $1,500 for a surf trip to Indonesia in January. "But I would not let it hold me back. Bali is amazing. There are great waves. There is great culture."

For years, surfers from Australia, New Zealand and the United States have traveled to Indonesia. The tropical island nation is known among surfers for its generous people and dozens of good breaks -- including Uluwatu, famous for its fast, curling waves that crash over a coral reef.

Shattering that image of exotic calm, a car bomb exploded Saturday night in a popular nightclub district in Kuta, leaving at least 188 people dead, including an Orange County man, and nearly 500 injured. Dozens are still missing, and the death toll is expected to rise as authorities excavate the rubble.

The Sari Club, which was destroyed, is frequented by surfers from all over the world. Among the dead is Steven Brooks Webster, 41, of Huntington Beach. Webster's best friend, Trent Walker of Newport Beach, said family and friends "received confirmation of Steve's death from the morgue in Bali" late Monday. He leaves behind his wife, Mona, a 5-year-old son and a 15-year-old stepdaughter.

Webster's friend William Steven Cabler, 42, of Newport Beach was injured; he returned home Monday with third-degree burns and a dislocated shoulder. Traveling with them was John Frederick Parodi Jr. 42, of Huntington Beach, who had left the bar and was not hurt.

Companies that arrange and book surf trips report that travel to Indonesia has dropped off substantially since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Nevertheless, though Islamic radicals are active in Indonesia, many surfers are sticking to their plans to visit Bali.

"Some people want to reschedule trips or book other destinations," said Sean Murphy, the owner of Waterways Surf Adventures in Malibu, which handles trips worldwide. "But there are still plenty of people planning trips there."

Murphy said a group of 12 clients now traveling in Indonesia had been at the Sari Club shortly before the bombing. They are older men, he said, who have made no plans to cut their stay.

Matt Bonaponi, an Orange County college student who manages a surf team sponsored by Katin surf wear, said he hopes to go to Bali soon, although recent events have frightened him. "The quality of the waves is what makes you want to go," said Bonaponi, who looks forward to surfing in Bali. "The surf is hollow, and there is always size."

For many the lure is understandable. Steve Pezman, editor and publisher of the Surfer's Journal in San Clemente, says a trip to Indonesia is still attractive. The odds of getting hurt or killed in a violent incident are slim to none, he figures, and well worth braving for the possibility of riding large, perfect waves in uncrowded conditions.

"The people who travel will still travel," said Pezman, who has chronicled surfing for decades. "They might change their destinations, but a bunch of younger, rowdy guys might be impervious to what's going on."

One surfer posted an anonymous e-mail on Surfer Magazine's Web site proclaiming it more attractive than ever. "I'm booking my tickets now for Bali. You might get it uncrowded. After 9/11 things were super empty. Maybe this time it will be totally empty.... I'm just not going to let Osama take my waves away."

Other surfers, however, are more cautious. A trip to Bali can wait, they say, particularly given the increasing chance of war in the Middle East.

"I would not go there today. It's not worth giving up your life for," said Chris Evans, a veteran surfer and executive director of the Surfrider Foundation in San Clemente. "There are plenty of good waves elsewhere in the world."

Tahiti, Fiji, Costa Rica, Mexico, Hawaii, Australia and islands in the Indian Ocean remain options for surfers from the United States.

Erik Nelsen, 30, of Laguna Beach said he regularly traveled to Indonesia before the Sept. 11 attacks and routinely went to the Sari Club and Patty's, another surfer hangout. Now he goes to Fiji and Costa Rica.

"The waves are world-class. There is warm water. The Indonesian people are amazing. The Sari Club was a fun place to go. There was good music, and it had a huge dance floor," Nelsen said.

"I don't think I would go back. I just don't know what is going to happen."

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Times staff writer Stanley Allison contributed to this report.

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