So the nightmare began. Flames filled the Sari Club in seconds. Recalls Cabler, 42, a rock musician from Newport Beach, Calif.: "Steve and I had briefly chatted with some Australian girls. They looked like supermodels. I saw them now, and their hair was on fire. They were patting their heads, trying to put it out. I said, 'Run! Don't try to put it out! Run!' Next their clothes were on fire, their faces were burning." Webster had been trapped under a sheet of corrugated metal. "I tried to lift it up, but there was no way," says Cabler, who managed to pull himself up a red-hot sheet of metal leaning against a tall fence that surrounded the club. Bending a portion of the fence, he escaped into the mayhem on the street outside. "You are not supposed to see what I saw," says Cabler. "When you're a soldier, you're taught to see death. I was on a surf trip having a cocktail when this happened."
For Cabler and John Parodi, the third member of a trio of California buddies who had flown to the tropical Indonesian paradise for a few weeks of surfing and partying, those carefree first days of their vacation seem like ages ago. Caught up in the blast that ripped through two nightspots in the worst terrorist attack since Sept. 11, they lost one of their best friends, Webster, 41, a contractor and father of two from Huntington Beach. Investigators believe the bombings were carried out by Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaeda. "I got dropped into hell on a string and yanked back out like a yoyo," says Cabler, still recovering from burns and severe vertigo. "Every minute I ask myself, 'Why did I survive and Steve didn't?'"
Parodi, who had chosen to go back to his hotel after an ideal day of surfing rather than join his buddies for a drink, is equally devastated. "We were like brothers. I can't really believe he's gone," says Parodi, 41. When he heard the blast, he says, he ran toward the club against a sea of people trying to flee. "I saw bodies, heads, body parts," he recalls. "An older guy was walking along. He didn't look hurt, but suddenly he just fell over. I took his pulse and he was dead."
Separated from his friends, Parodi returned to his hotel, hoping they would call or return to their rooms. Cabler, in shock, suffering from serious burns, was picked up by two Strangers—an American and a Balinese—one of whom eventually brought him back to his hotel, where he was reunited with Parodi. "We hugged and cried," says Parodi.
Back home in California, however, Webster's wife, Mona, 38, a home-maker, and children Dylan, 6, and Samantha, 16, had heard about the bombing and were becoming frightened. "I left messages at the hotel," she says. "'Are you surfing? You're probably surfing somewhere else.' I was trying to be calm in front of the children but panicking inside." She finally reached Cabler just as he got back to the hotel. "She said, 'Oh my God, Crabby, what happened to Steve?'" Cabler recalls. "I said, 'Mona, I will not stop until I find him.'"
First Cabler, who had spent the night without painkillers, went to a clinic to get his burns dressed. Then two Balinese strangers ferried him and Parodi from hospital to hospital hoping to locate their friend. During one nightmare moment among many, Cabler was searching through a hospital morgue when he spotted the remains of one of the Australian girls. Later, too sick to continue, he boarded a 25-hour flight back to California on Oct. 14, while Parodi kept up the search for Webster. It ended at a Kuta hospital that afternoon; Parodi found Webster's name on a list of the dead.
Parodi placed a call to Webster's brother, who delivered the grim news to Mona. "Crabby told me Steve had a great day that day. He said, 'Web wouldn't want you to mourn, because he lived such a happy life,'" Mona says. "It's hard. I have to continue. I have no choice. But if I didn't have kids, I'd be under a rock right now."
On Saturday, Oct. 19, 350 of Steve Webster's friends and family members gathered outside his waterfront office in Newport Beach to remember a man who lived life to the fullest. Steve Cabler, his hands still in bandages, listened to a succession of speakers, then watched from a wheelchair as about 150 surfers, including John Parodi, paddled out into the sea, formed a circle and shouted Webster's name. "Every night I have the same dream of Steve coming up and saying, 'Hey Crab, I'm back!'" says Cabler. "We had unconditional love for one another. I'm not kidding you. He was one of the greatest people I've ever known."
Susan Christian Goulding in Newport Beach