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REPUBLIC OF BOATING: THE COLLECTOR'S EDITION | SCENE

The capital of cutting loose

No wallflowers allowed at the floating mosh pit on Lake Havasu, where both the underage and overage leave their inhibitions on shore.

August 24, 2004|Bonnie Obremski | Times Staff Writer

Lake Havasu City, Ariz. — Steve "Stevo" Behney dumps a bag of ice over a cooler of cold ones, hops behind the wheel and opens the throttle. The boat thrusts to lip-curling speed, but Stevo puts a foot up on the dash and cracks open a Coors.

As the proprietor of Stevo's Beach, Boat and Party Wear here for 18 years, he supplies thongs and beverage bongs to mostly underage revelers who hang out on their daddies' powerboats along the shoreline. On this mid-July weekend, he decides to play hooky and give two newcomers a tour of the party scene.

Boaters swarm the man-made bulge in the dammed Colorado River that divides California and Arizona. Captains and crew on floats next to their boats marinate in a swill of river water, sweat and motor oil. Their chins and beer cans hover above the surface, baking in triple-digit heat.

"That's what you call getting a Havasu tan," says Stevo as he reaches to pump up a Nelly CD on the 23-foot Nordic's surround sound. "These people are even more into it than I am."

In the last 30 years, Lake Havasu City has shot from population 1 to population 47,000. Robert McCulloch founded the town in '63 and moved London Bridge from the Thames to the Colorado as a tourist attraction. Oglers came and then stayed, not for the bridge but for the boating.

Now, Stevo, 41, flips real estate when he's not minding the store or joining the party.

Stevo maneuvers over to a sandbar a few miles upriver from the bridge and circles the shifting maze of speedboats, pontoons and party barges looking for a spot to lower the trim and sit. He finds one on a satellite mound where fewer boats are anchored.

Here, the underage and overage get boozed up before floating to bars such as Kokomos. One San Bernardino teenager, who's here with a friend's father, whoops in the passenger seat, spills his beer and leans over to lap it off the stern.

"These girls don't even look at you if you don't have money on you," the teen says, attempting to focus. "So I just go up and grab 'em."

Stevo shoots across the channel and wedges onto the main sandbar. On a patch of murky sand poking above the water's surface, 60 people surround a confetti-coated phallus-shaped pinata and hit it with a stick. A young woman shimmies next to it, earning Mardi Gras beads from the folks cranking up the sound systems on their boats.

"Show us your boobs!" shout the sunburned masses.

The man swaying behind the dancing woman begins to lift her top. She looks confused, then alarmed and races into the arms of a friend. Males half and twice her age drop upheld bottles in disappointment and boo.

"What happens in Havasu, stays in Havasu," blazons one of the muscle tanks hanging in Stevo's store near London Bridge. The hijacked cliche seems to be the rallying cry for people flocking to this Neverland, famed for thong bikinis and pasty, thrill-seeking desk jockeys who bring their kids.

People on the outskirts of the sandbar mob attempt a broader perspective.

"You see all this beautiful desert?" asks Nigal Blith, a 39-year-old Long Beach police officer who's vacationing on his party barge Crime Pays. "A lot of people take that for granted. Not me."

Stevo is also appreciative -- of the human scenery. "I love silicone," he says back on the boat, trolling past a vessel teeming with women. "I wish they had it for men."

He sweeps into open water, cutting wakes that launch the bow in a jerking motion.

Later today, a wake boarder will separate his lips from his gums after flying face first into the drink. Another will sever his pinkie toe on a propeller and be aided by friends who sanitize the wound with Budweiser. More than one teenager will have too much to drink.

Even Stevo has had more than one. Despite the tempting party scene, he hurtles back to London Bridge in the Nordic and decides to call it a night.

It's been a long day, and he has work in the morning.

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