“Here, Nate, this one yours. Go now. Go.”
Betet is dictating the session. Handing out waves. Blocking others. And even in this hectic lineup of local pros, womens WCTers and aggro groms, everyone seems to respect his authority. After all: it’s Betet here.
Betet’s kind of a star in Bali. Highest profile. Biggest sponsors. Traveling the world. He’s the guy top pros like Koby, Bruce and Andy would call right when they get to town. But he’s as famous for shredding up the clubs as he is the waves. Wild and crazy Betet. Good times Betet. Where’s the party “5-Cent” Betet?
Nothing wrong with that, I guess. This is a lifestyle sport. We’re all here for a good time. Pro surfing was invented to keep us all from having to get real jobs. And when pros come to Bali, they want be instantly dialed into the good life here. Wild nights, secret breaks and one big happy ending. That’s Betet’s specialty. And the guy still rips. A two-time finalist in the Rip Curl Cup. A regular threat on the local tour. Just look at him out here today: ripping big turns and spinny new airs. He’s running the show.
But then take another look. No logos on his board. No brands on his T-shirt. Betet’s not a pro surfer. He’s just a surfer.
At first I was shocked. Earlier this year Betet’s son tragically died. Then his close friend Andy Irons passed away. And now he’s dropped by his sponsors. Worst. Year. Ever.
You’d think all this like this would drive someone off the edge — maybe it almost did. But in classic Balinese form, Betet is all smiles today. “You should have burned me on that last wave, Nate,” he tells me. “You would have rode it better.”
Now he’s really being funny.
We sat down after waves and Betet told me how his last air landed on top of WCT surfer Silvana Lima (who we both agreed was ripping out there). “I think she need stitches,” he says. “Hold on, I have to post that on my Facebook. I almost kill Silvana Lima.”
SURFING: Who are the worst surf tourists to Bali these days?
Betet: The Russians. For sure. I don’t know who told them about surfing but there are about ten Russian surf schools in Kuta right now, and even the instructors don’t know how to surf.
How did losing your sponsors affect how you feel about surfing?
Changed everything for me. I haven’t drank a beer in over a month. I’m training every day, playing soccer on the beach. And I’m surfing more than ever. I have something to prove now. To others and to myself.
Are you not drinking to train or because you can’t afford to?
Both. I was just in California and bourbon Cokes cost, like, $4. Here, same drink cost $8. It’s out of control. You go to the club and spend $100 a night. I can’t do that anymore. I’m not a kid anymore. I’ve been spending more time with my religion now. Every ceremony I’m always there. It’s important.
Was Andy’s death part of the decision to not party as much?
2010 was very bad year for me. My son died. My friend died. Then I lost my job. But it made me realize what I have. My family. My health. I want to respect that. I still have a good life. Still surfing every day.
We spend a few minutes talking about the crisis in Japan and it’s clear Betet is genuinely upset by the situation. Despite his jokes and his wild nature, he’s an amazingly gentle soul. A true people person. “My heart just hurts for them,” he says. “I hope things get better there soon.”
He leaves to deliver some visiting Japanese surfers to an evening glass-off somewhere not in the guidebooks. “Japanese surfer hate crowds,” he says. “If crowd, no get waves.” That’s his new job these days: tour guide to his own charmed life. Book now…the season is filling up. —Nathan Myers
If you don’t know Betet, check him out with Paul Fisher last year. Such a character.