The road falls into the ocean, and Tim Russo is home. We’ve driven from the bustling Bali city of Seminyak to his remote Uluwatu Surf Villas. We sit on a bench. Not just any bench. This one is a remnant of Tim’s boat, the one that sank. He was a Maryland music promoter and wound up part owner of a surf charter boat here in Indonesia. Tim and his friend Alan Cassell bought the boat in 1999. “We didn’t know what we were doing. We were both 22. But this was our dream.” Alan died in a diving accident three years later. Tim’s story carried on.
Q: After Alan died, were you tempted to give up the dream?
A: I was still working back in the States to support the charter business here in Bali. For a while I was undecided about what to do. Like, maybe that was the end of it. Then one night it just hit me: This boat was my responsibility. Once I decided that, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.
Q: What did you decide to do?
A: I quit my music job the very next day. Sold everything, paid my debts, and within two weeks landed in Bali with a grand total of $2,000 to my name.
Q: That was shortly after the Bali bombing in 2002, right?
A: Yeah, the whole place was really down when I arrived. There was just time enough in the surf season to send out one last surf trip. I got a crew together and put every last cent into getting my boat ready to go. We had an experienced captain. All I had to do was send the crew out with our surfing guests while I stayed back to run the office.
Q: How did the trip go?
A: Well ... crossing the Lombok Strait they came in contact with what my captain later called one of the worst storms he had seen in 20 years. Whiteout skies. Waves breaking over the deck of the boat. The bilge pumps went out, so they had to do a bucket brigade to empty the boat. One by one, all three outboard engines gave out until the boat was just adrift. The Balinese crew started doing these spiritual ceremonies, which really freaked out the surfers.
Q: So how did they get back to shore?
A: Right before dusk, the captain caught a glimpse of land. He got into the dinghy, tied a rope to the boat, and towed it and the guests all night. They ﬁnally reached land at dawn. It happened to be the same bay where Alan had drowned.
Q: Not exactly a triumphant expat story at that point.
A: No. Plus the surfers wanted to kill me because it was my boat that broke down. But they eventually calmed down and realized this was simply an act of God. We towed the boat to a nearby harbor and closed the books on the charter business.
Q: So why are you still here?
A: I had to make this move work. So I got busy doing other stuff with what I had left, like importing a clothing line. Bali was feeling like home by then. And the boat kept me around. It was always in the back of my mind. It felt like my last connection to Alan.
Q: But the boat wasn’t usable.
A: It couldn’t be used as a boat
Q: Meaning what exactly?
A: After the accident, it had been towed to the island of Nusa Lembongan. I decided to go over and check on it about a year after the storm. While I was there, I ﬁgured the boat was too important just to scrap. So I hired some guys to chain-saw it apart and sail the pieces back here to Bali.
Q: Pieces of the boat? For what?
A: We took the good wood and used it in building a house.
Q: How’d you do that?
A: We used the outriggers for the front columns. We had enough of the deck to make a kitchen bar and bookshelves. Eventually I picked through and came up with ideas. Like this bench: I thought it was perfect for watching the view over the ocean here at the villas.
Q: What about your new business?
A: Which one? I have a small surf brand and run a surf shop in the city (Seminyak). And then there are these villas. I initially bought them thinking it would be a good place for bands and clients to stay when they were here. And then I moved in here myself, with the bench right outside.
Q: It’s an amazing spot.
A: I wake up staring down at my favorite break. For a surfer, this has got to be one of the best setups on the island. This particular spot means a lot to me. And now it’s home.