THE GOLDEN AGE OF PHILIPPINE SURFING
MANILA, OCTOBER 16, 2006 (STAR) By Dr. Mark Dimalanta - ('I can tell you are lame by the way you wear your shorts'. – Turtle, from the movie North Shore )
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the proliferation of "surf craziness" that is occurring right here, right now, in the Philippines. Although it may not be your cup of tea, you may admire it from afar, check it out on the Net, read about it in a foreign surf publication, or catch the latest from a slew of local publications attempting to cover it while it’s hot. All in all, curiosity about the sport has peaked and a new recreational revolution is upon us. More and more these days, Filipinos are diving headfirst and partaking of this venerable gift from the ancient Polynesians.
Surfing is not a trend, but a lifestyle. It encompasses the entire spectrum of careers, from doctors, models, lawyers, housewives, and professional surfers themselves. You typically begin to surf in your youth and continue ‘till the end. I know many who have shaped their entire career choice and livelihood simply around the opportunities it affords them to enjoy surfing, lifelong. Surfing has many stages, from the "Grommet" (a vibrant youth) and the "Ripper" (highly skilled) to the "Old Man" – usually the heavyweight in the lineup that you don’t mess with.
Veteran surfers can always spot the novice, in or even out of the water. Many cues indicate your skill level, from the way you paddle your board, ability to duck-dive, even down to the way you wear your boardshorts. Surfing relies heavily on functionality of equipment, and yes, boardshort are a key element. They must be flexible, comfortable and of quick-dry material. Above all – and this is not a macho thing – you are not supposed to wear anything under them. Where I’m from, briefs under your boardshorts on the beach will brand you as a kook and might get you beat up.
A little over nine years ago, Neil G. Dumaran from Kaneohe, Hawaii, and me, hailing from Huntington Beach, California, both veteran surfers, began surfing here in the Philippines. We both attended Medical School at UERMMMC and coincidentally our names followed one another on the registrar’s roster. What were the odds that two guys, from two separate surf meccas, would end up sitting next to each other in a hot and sweaty lecture hall, let alone surf?
Back in those days, surfboards were a hard commodity to find here. Local surfers had to rely on boards left by traveling surfers. I remember walking into the Quiksilver store at Megamall and boardshorts sold for P2,500 and surfboards were a whopping P30,000 and up – all at a time when the peso to dollar conversion averaged 26 to 1. We began exploring the islands and surfed numerous secret spots. We wore our boardshorts, aloha (Hawaiian printed) shirts and flip-flops before they became widely accepted as fashionable. We befriended Manila-based surfers Roel Tan-Torres and Bjorn Pabon (Fluid Industries) and together we all traveled, surfed and built a friendship that endured many years. All the while taking pride in knowing that aside from visiting tourists, a handful of Manila surfers, and the local talent at spots such as La Union, Daet, Siargao and Baler, we pretty much had most spots to ourselves. It was a time when secret spots remained a secret, the lineup was uncrowded, you could pass on a wave to a buddy and realize, hey, I’ll catch the next one. Slowly but surely, we all realized the inevitability of the surfing boom that would eventually happen.
I was talking to a friend of mine, Corey Wills (surfer/yoga instructor/model), and we both agreed these days are the dawning of a golden age of surfing here in the Philippines. The surfing subculture is more evident these days; from the increasing number of surf-related stores sprouting up in the malls, cars racked with surfboards zipping along the north expressway, and most importantly the readily visible two-piece bikini. Back in my early days here, girls would wear a one piece and a big T-shirt extending to the knees – boy, times have changed! Jokes aside, the single most important event is the availability of surfboards here in the country. 540 Surf Co., owned by Lui Tortuya of Long Beach, California, offers custom-made surfboards of all types from Longboard, Fish, to high-performance Shortboard. Freddy Gonzalez, of Terry S.A., Inc and Havaianas fame, is the exclusive importer of surf brands such as Global Surf Industries, Ana Capa, Southpoint, NSP, 7S, Sticky Bumps, and Da Kine, just to mention a few. Aloha Boardsports, a surf team presently being developed by Freddy Gonzalez, is aimed at creating greater exposure and making surfing more accessible.
With the readily available surfboard, surf-related gear (leashes, rashguards, wax), and yet-to-be-discovered secret spots (we have over 7,000 islands) this seems to be truly a golden age, and perhaps the best time ever, to be a surfer here in the Philippines.
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