Thursday, February 2, 2012

The New Wave in Baler

When you walk outside the humid, tranquil streets of Baler in Aurora province, you’ll notice that there aren’t any lampposts. Instead there are only buzzing bees by day, fluttering fireflies by night. But go farther along, past the village verandas and humble tourist inns, to the shores of the nearby sea – then prepare your senses to a whole new world pulsating with life.

Waves crashing against the rocky reefs; multi-coloured surfboards resting on brown muscular shoulders; children paddling the waters with their Styro boards; locals, several of them in dreadlocks, dressed in authentic Billabong shirts, Quicksilver board shorts, and Sanuk sandals; the long-legged beat of reggae and ska and Red Hot Chili Peppers beating harmoniously with the sound of the waves.

Welcome to one of the best surfing sites and most popular attractions in the Philippines. Sabang Beach.

This was the site of the Longboard Summer Jam, a surfing competition organized by the Aurora Surf Riders Association, Inc. (ASRAI), co-presented by Aloha Board Sports, and co-sponsored by Sanuk Sandals. The three-day event gathered over 200 local surfers – from Baler, La Union, Zambales, and Manila – as well as foreign professionals from Japan and Australia. It was also supported by a formidable network of sponsors that included major industry players like Southpoint Epoxy Surboards, Sticky Bumps, Dakine, Tribu Outdoors, Sector 9, Badfish and Billabong. Throughout the competition, all kinds of vacationing families, sightseers, media, and tourists were there to beat the heat.

Longboards are substantially more buoyant and easier to balance and propel than the traditional surfboard, enabling riders to increase their chances of catching the waves. “Basically the longboard is a type of surfboard ranging from 8 to 14 feet long,” said event director Tsuyoshi Takahashi. “So we judge the surfers based on their control, their techniques, their speed, positioning, balancing, and of course, their ability to execute maneuvers such as turning and carving.”

There were four divisions of heat in the Summer Jam: Grommets (for younger boys), Wahine / Women’s, Men’s Open, and the Invitational Men’s Open. The last division was well-represented by the country’s top talents, and they performed in front of international competitors like Luke Landrigan of the Billabong San Juan Surf School; Cory Wills, a professional Australian surfer and commercial model; and Marco Villareal, who himself gives surf tours and lessons all over the country. Here, I noticed, the big names were never hesitant to give the young guns some shine.

“Surfing is fast becoming a lifestyle in this country,” said Villareal. “You see a lot of kids eager to learn the sport at such a young age. The Aurora Province LGU has been very supportive, the market is increasing, and global trends are pointing towards greater interest in the sport.”

By global trends, we mean global warming . Climatologists and weather forecasters are saying that ocean levels will continue to rise – and that the waves will only get bigger.

Aside from the competition proper, the Summer Jam side activities highlighted the essence of the surfing culture and lifestyle. Yes, there were mandatory beach volleyball games and night parties. But don’t say “Boo, how Boracay!” just yet. There were also the enlivening celebratory bonfire, palo sebo (greased bamboo climbing), games that raffled off skateboards, and free surfing clinics, all of which serve to show that surfing is –by all means and to each rider, his own– the definition of fun.

“This is why we support regional activities like this,” explained Vangie Chua, Marketing Communications Officer for Sanuk Sandals. “Sanuk, after all, is the Thai word for ‘pursuit of happiness’. We want to embody a lifestyle that is at once outdoor, adventurous and laid-back.”

According to Mooney Castillo, Executive Vice President of Aloha Board Sports, Inc., “There is a culture that follows in surfing, and the Philippine community is very passionate about it. Because our surfers are very talented, we want to fine-tune their skills and support their climb to the international level; this, through our grassroots programs. And the Summer Jam is one of our efforts to do just that.”

Besides the fun to be had, the games to be played, and the trophies to be won is a camaraderie shared by beginners and veterans alike. And it’s as authentic as their Sidewalk Surfers, as passionate as the cheering volume of the Baler crowd.

Throughout the event, I saw that the surfers exchanged glances at their un-tanned ankles – “our trademark,” as they say. And those who own surfboards –be it top-of-the-line or second-hand– care for their possessions like jewelry: cleaning it, washing it, eyeing it meticulously for inspection after a ride. Surfers in their late teens are veterans and those a little younger are considered prodigies. Whatever their ages are, don’t be surprised if upon winning a Sector 9 skateboard or a Southpoint surfboard, one chokes through uncontrollable tears at his thank-you speech. These people know their stuff; more importantly, they value it like a most memorable wave.

Fifteen-year old Wilson Faraon, Aurora’s Grommet defending champion, is one of those who embraces the thrills of a surfer’s life. And he hasn’t forgotten who has helped him along the way. “I’ve only been surfing for a year and a half,” he said. “The local lifeguards were the ones who taught me. And then I was given free surfboards by an Australian named Bruce and a Japanese guy named Kazu. I’ll always remember these people who have helped me.” This just goes to show that in surfing, no player is bigger than the game. (Or is it that no rider is stronger than the wave? But you get my point.)

In a circle with the surfing community, on a stretch of sand, by the crashing waves of the sea and around a heap of woods constantly stoked by glowing embers of fire…I immediately felt I was part of something special. I felt I was part of The New Wave.


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Zumi said...

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