Surf festival remembers slain Hurley intern

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The Dane Williams Surf Festival brings family, friends and supporters together each year to remember a surfer who was killed in 2008. The event - this year held on Oct. 20 - is always put on at Goldenwest Street in Huntington Beach.
PHOTO BY LAYLAN CONNELLY
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Surf festival remembers slain Hurley intern

Surf festival remembers slain Hurley intern

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

If you don't go forward – you'll end up going backwards.

That's the mentality  the Williams family had to have in order to cope with the loss of their son Dane after he was drugged, sexually assaulted and killed in 2008 after attending a surf trade show in San Diego.

Dane's family, friends and surfers who simply want to support got together Saturday at Goldenwest Street in Huntington Beach for the Dane Williams Surf Festival – a day of beach activities, connecting with friends, and taking a day to remember Williams, an outgoing surfer who was – and still is – the glue that held everyone together.

"We just have to take this terrible negative and turn it into a positive, that's what we do," said his father Jim. "It's a journey and you just take it a day at a time."

The event is now in its fifth year, and while the reason it is held is tragic, it's a way for surfers to show their support.

"It was really sad what happened to Dane, I just want to support his family," said Austin Case, 17, who surfed in the event.

The fun vibe of the event helps make it different from other surf contests. There were about 70 surfers who entered to surf in the wind-chopped waters.

"I like the people, everyone is nice and it's for a good cause," Case said. "It's a lot better than a lot of events because you're not stressed, it's all about having fun."

The surf community comes out to help each year, with donations from companies like Hurley, Volcom, Analog, and grub from Nalus.  World Tour surfer Brett Simpson – who was a friend of Williams – stopped by and donated a surf board, as did Brazilian surfer and Hurley team rider Miguel Pupo.

"It's a very tight-nit, loving community. We're very fortunate to have them in our lives, they've really gone the extra mile for us," said Jim. "We appreciate everything they do."

Long-time friend  Brandon Guilmette has helped put on the event each year, and said it's held at Dane's favorite spot where they'd spend surf sessions in the water.

"It's a good day for all our friends to get together – some have moved to Hawaii and all over the place and they come back for this," Guilmette said.

Williams was the catalyst who kept all the friends together, the one who would arrange gatherings with friends.

"It's tough, but time has gone by and we've all accepted what happened. It's unfortunate – but now we're just trying to educated people with the foundation the family has set up."

The family has created the Dane Williams Memorial Foundation, which is currently in the process of becoming a non-profit. The goal is to prevent sexual abuse through education, and helping victims of sexual abuse and their families in the healing process.

The 23-year-old attended a surf conference in 2008 while interning for Hurley, and went missing late at night. Weeks later, he was found dead in an alley, wrapped in a blanket, and for more than a year there were no answers to his killing.

Philong Huynh, 40, was arrested and charged with killing and sexually assaulting Williams, and in 2011 was found guilty in the killing and sentenced to life in prison. With the publicity surrounding the Williams' case, more victims have stepped forward accusing Huynh of sexually assaulting them.

Dane's mother Valen said her hope is that parents will educate their sons about the risks of sexual assault. Most parents warn their daughters, but it's just as important to tell the young boys in the family to make sure they always have a ride home, use the buddy system, and to make sure friends are watching their drinks at all times.

After immersed in the trail for nearly five years, it was difficult when it came to an end – but the foundation and the surf contest help them keep their son's legacy alive. This year, proceeds from the event go to 1736, a family crisis center in Hermosa Beach that helps victims of sexual abuse.

"I'm still doing something for Dane, I'm still his mom," Valen said. "I feel like he's here with us when we does this. I feel his spirit here."

More information about the foundation: danewilliams.org.

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