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Surfer Queens Over and Under

A Parallel Planets piece by Jofer Serapio
Growing up just a few hours from Boracay makes you no stranger to expensive boards and year-round tan lines. I was nine when I first got a taste, and I spent every day of every summer of my grade school days at the beach, lugging around that expensive surfboard (a gift from a relative), pursuing titanic waves, giving my poor mother minute heart attacks. There was just something about the sea, all that salt and coolness, under the heat of that summer sun that drew me in despite logistics. I wasn't the best at it, but I enjoyed it nonethelesspaddling towards potential death, conquering that peak on two flimsy legs, surviving the inevitable crash with limbs intact, and drowning from all that adrenaline flowing everywhere. Everywhere.

Photo by Banawe Corvera

What did I learn from wiping out every single time I tried to brave the waves (if I even learned anything at all)? I learned that surfing is an art form. It's not just you standing on a board, trying hard not to fall off into the water… No, no, no! It's so much more than that.

To fully understand the surfer's creed, we sat down with four habitual surfers from the Philippines, debatably (I'm not biased, nope) the best place in the world to catch the best waves there are. You can't find enthusiasts more connected to the waves than these queens of the sea.


MAYA FERNANDEZ

Photo from Maya Fernandez


What do you love about the sea?

Hmm… I guess everything! <laughs>

Half of my childhood is like an adventure in the sea. Yearly, I’d spend my 1–2 months staying in Batangas or Pangasinan, and the house where we’d stay is like 10–20 steps, and poof! You’re stepping on a shell already!

I love playing with the locals. When I was young, I used to play with my nanny's cousins in the beach and try to find some scary or cute sea creatures.

Maybe that's why, until now, I'm still in love with it. It's a peaceful place where you can be alone and meditate and think of nothing else!

Where has been your favorite place to surf? If not in the Philippines, how does it compare to our local beaches?

We have a lot of surf spots in the Philippines, but my favorite place to surf is at Eastern Samar! Baler, Aurora; Zambales; and La Union are the closest to Manila, so they’re really good places to surf, too.

I guess the other island that I can call my home break is in Bali, Indonesia. I love the peaceful vibe in Bali, especially in Canggu. It's a place where you can stay in a cheap room, rent a motor bike, and go to many surf spots. There's not much traffic and it's surrounded by skate parks, so it's really awesome!

Do you play music before you go surfing? What songs get you in the mood?

Yeah, but I don't have any specific song… As long as it's groovy or it can get me to have a hyper vibe, that's enough. <laughs> But sometimes I play the ukulele!

How would you pitch surfing to someone who has never entertained the idea of paddling in the direction of a giant wave?

How would you even know if you don't even try? The risk is worth taking. Just believe that you can do it, but do the hard work. I believe anything is doable with the right mind set. Condition yourself not just physically but also mentally and spiritually.

We heard you’re not only into surfing but also longboarding. What tastes better: seawater or asphalt?

Hmm… Asphalt tastes more solid like chocolate and seawater tastes like seafood or ramen! <laughs> I guess they both taste good. <laughs> Just kidding!

I love the feeling of riding a longboard on asphalt, especially when you’re going fast, over the curves, but I guess it's much safer in seawater because you don't have to worry about getting some bruises when you fall off the board… Unless it's a big, big wave, and if it's low tide, there's a chance you might hit your board or something.

I can't really choose. They both give me good feelings!

More from Maya Fernandez: Instagram

Photo from Maya Fernandez

Photo from Maya Fernandez


KARA HIZON

Photo from Kara Hizon

What do you love about the sea?

Going to the beach has a great relaxing effect on me and most people I know, which has led me to believe that the sea is healing and invigorating. A dose of “vitamin sea” is all we need when we are not feeling well in the city. Living in the concrete jungle of Manila, surf trips are always the highlights of my month—a refreshing change of scenery where I can laugh and play in the waves, and on shore, meet a lot interesting people from all walks of life to share the stoke with. It’s these moments that I share with my brothers and sisters from the sea that I live for. Life is better in bikinis, indeed.

On the other hand, the sea is also a dynamic and unpredictable force that can be challenging and fearsome—pretty much how I’d describe life. Life throws a lot of our plans awry, which sends us running around like headless chickens at times. The ocean can be the same—sometimes, waves are nice and enjoyable peelers then out of nowhere it gives you a freak overhead set of waves that eats everyone in the lineup! That’s why I love how surfing pushes me to be present to myself and to my surroundings. When I am out there, everything is blacked out and it really feels like it’s just me, my board, and the waves. Catching a wave isn’t as simple as standing up. For me, understanding how the waves work, knowing my capabilities, and deciding the right timing are required. Once I catch a wave, it then becomes a dance—I can choose to simply glide, take a step or two, caress the face of the wave, or trim along until it ends. This sea then becomes a medium for me to be bold and creative as I flow with the ocean.

These are what I love about the sea: the beautiful sunsets, the cold beers in the beach, the fresh seafood feasts; the fun bonfire parties are all pretty cool too, but it’s the ocean’s effect on me as a person and its influence on my outlook in life is what I love best.

Where has been your favorite place to surf? If not in the Philippines, how does it compare to our local beaches?

La Union is where I first tried to surf and it would probably be my favorite if I had to name one spot. Urbiztondo is a small cove in San Juan, La Union, where waves are perfect for longboarders. The waves are always gentle and the vibe is always good. A lot of foreigners even choose to settle down there or at least spend months at a time living there when it’s winter in their country. Apart from good waves, it has a lot of comfortable resorts, a lively night life, a coffee shop that serves the best dirty whites to cool off after surfing, and even an authentic Greek restaurant when you’re craving for souvlaki!

I love surfing in the Philippines. Although I haven’t explored all of the surfing beaches in our beautiful country, all the spots I have been to—La Union, Baler, Zambales, Siargao, Catanduanes, and Sorsogon—have a special place in my heart! Hawaii and Bali probably offer better waves but in the end, home is always where I want to be.

Do you play music before you go surfing? What songs get you in the mood?

My surf playlist includes songs that help me chill out. I like waking up early to check the waves’ conditions, then listening to alternative rock songs from Phoenix, Two Door Cinema Club, and Minus the Bear while I pour my coffee and cook breakfast, taking my time to prepare.

The excitement, however, much more quickly builds up when I hear the sound of boards being waxed, when the scent of sunblock reaches my nose, when I see the glassy waves lined up from the shore, when I feel the touch of cold wet sand under my feet and when I taste the salt on my lips. It’s this kind of engagement of all the senses that truly sets my mood and fuels my desire to surf until I can barely lift my arms anymore!

How would you pitch surfing to someone who has never entertained the idea of paddling in the direction of a giant wave?

Anyone can learn to surf. If it interests you, if you think it looks cool even if you can’t imagine yourself doing it, I’d definitely recommend that you try it at least once because I was one of those girls whose eyes widened and whose mouth gaped whenever she saw other girls surfing in movies.

I will promise you two things: First, it’s as simple as learning how to ride a bike. Finding your balance, after falling down a hundred times, just suddenly comes together in an instant and then you can never unlearn it! The only obstacle left is conquering that paralyzing fear—whether it is the fear of drowning or the fear of looking stupid in a bikini. The sea is outside our comfort zone—true, it’s beautiful to gaze at but for some, including me, it’s terrifying to swim in, especially with big waves. In fact, prior to surfing, I loved going to the beach but was contented with sunbathing and watching my friends swim because I wasn’t a strong swimmer. Now, I can’t stand being out of the water and what’s worse is going to the beach without waves!

My only advice if you want to learn how to surf is to get a proper lesson from a licensed instructor. In popular local spots, there are surf schools that offer board rentals and surf lessons from trained instructors who can teach you the basics of surfing and more importantly, all the safety elements and the surf etiquette you need to know.

My second promise is that once you stand on that board riding your first wave, once you get stoked, once you get bitten by the surf bug, your life will never be the same again. There’s no other way to explain it, you just have to find out for yourself.

Have you ever given any thought to becoming a mermaid?

I honestly have never wanted to be a mermaid. I’m sure they’d be experts in surfing, but it was being the land dweller that I am that got me fascinated by this seemingly unattainable way of life. It was the adventure of discovering new limits and new possibilities for myself that has expanded my world to be filled with all the things I never dreamed of knowing and activities I never thought of doing. I bet it would be quite the opposite if I was a mermaid. I’d definitely be the Ariel stereotype, giving everything up to have two wobbly feet.

More from Kara Hizon: Website, Twitter, Instagram

Photo by Pongky Gozun

Photo by Pongky Gozun


LIANE NG

Photo from Liane Ng

What do you love about the sea?

Where do I even begin? Everything about experiencing the sea is therapy. Just seeing the gradient from green to blue has a calming effect in itself. I can just sit and stare at the water and listen to the waves crash onto the shore. It has got to be the most relaxing, repetitive sound that I never get sick of hearing.

It’s another kind of love when the rays of the sun hit the water—everything is clear and all the colors are brilliant above and under water! It’s also a whole different life down there—don’t get me started on that ‘cause I can go on and on...

On the other hand, I am scared shitless of the sea. One of my greatest fears is drowning. Big waves scare the hell out of me and God knows what kind of scary creatures lurk underwater ready to bite my toes!

Oh, but it can’t be a great love story without the rollercoaster of emotions. I choose to love it, nonetheless. When my feet are touching the sand, half my body’s submerged in water, and the other half above water enjoying the sunshine and hearing the waves—that is perfection!

Where has been your favorite place to surf? If not in the Philippines, how does it compare to our local beaches?

I have so many favorite surf spots in the Philippines and they all have their own charm. If I were to pick my top two, it would be the Monaliza Point in La Union and ABCD Beach in Calicoan, Eastern Samar. Outside the Philippines would be Medewi Point in Bali, Indonesia.

Monaliza Point will always be special to me because that is where I learned to surf consistently. We would always stay at the resort right in front of it—The Little Surfmaid. At 6am, we’d have our coffee, cheese bread, and cigarettes (breakfast of champions, yes) just right at the balcony that faces the beach. We’d head out into the water and surf until lunch time or when our arms would feel like Jell-O or when we would get hungry (whichever came first). The Point gave me some of my nastiest reef cuts but also some of the best first long rides. The first rides I took that I paddled on my own (without an instructor) are those I won’t forget. Monaliza Point is home.

ABCD Beach in Calicoan, Eastern Samar—I haven’t been here since before Yolanda hit. It was one of the first that got hit by Yolanda in 2013 and it was really such a shame because the place was beautiful. From Manila, we’d take a plane to Tacloban and a van ride (surfboards and all) for a couple of hours before reaching our destination. The resort we’d stay in is called Surf Camp where they’d have Balinese-type of huts, no wifi, and telco signal is very hard to come by.

ABCD Beach had the cleanest left-hand waves I’ve ever experienced and since Calicoan wasn’t easy to travel to, we’d usually have the beach and the waves all to ourselves. The locals there were really friendly and if they’re not in the water giving me every good wave to ride, they’d be in the “kubo” at the beach handing me my next shot of Emperador.

I’ve tried surfing out of the Philippines and my most favorite is Medewi Beach in Bali (a 2–3 hours ride from Kuta) that also gave nice clean left-hand waves. Watch out, though, ‘cause they had real sharp barnacles on the rocks, but even if we got nasty cuts from them, we didn’t really care because we had some really good rides there! The locals there were really friendly, too. I guess it’s like that with surfing—we may all come from different places, speak different languages, have different jobs and all, but when we’re all in the water waiting for the next wave to come, everyone just gets along!

Do you play music before you go surfing? What songs get you in the mood?

Truth is, I don’t really have any specific song or playlist I listen to to get in the mood of surfing but I do have some songs that only remind me of surf trips. Nothing extreme, just really chill ones. Here are some:

“How to be a werewolf” – Mogwai
“Pachuca Sunrise (acoustic)” – Minus the Bear
“Pacific Theme” – Broken Social Scene
“Swimmers” – Broken Social Scene 
“Montana” – Tycho

How would you pitch surfing to someone who has never entertained the idea of paddling in the direction of a giant wave?

First of all, I would never pitch the idea of paddling or swimming into the direction of a giant wave. The idea of giant waves scares the hell out of me!

Whatever happens, make sure the surfboard leash is strapped well on your leg. Make sure! This is the best advice I could give anyone who goes out surfing. Even if you feel that you are a great swimmer, losing your board and having waves crash onto you and the current pull you is a whole different story. I am only comfortable when a wave hits me and I know that my surfboard is just a pull of my leash away.

If you do decide on paddling in the direction of a (considerably not so) giant sized wave, I think you just need that one washing machine moment, y’know, when a wave crashes over you and you’re underwater being pulled by all forces—your board, the wave, the current, and you’re gasping for air for what seems like forever… Don’t panic, you’ll eventually get there. After that one moment, it’s not so bad after all (and it’s really just a few seconds underwater). Then you’ll get your courage. Then you’ll want to brave every wave that goes your direction.

When you’re finally ready and you start paddling and you pick up a bit of speed and you catch that wave… That feeling, I can’t explain. I guess everyone has different feelings when they finally catch that wave. I love it because the slide gives me butterflies in my stomach! “Kilig.” Some say they feel like they’re flying. I guess you have to experience it yourself to know.

Have you encountered any awesome sea creatures out there? Like stray dolphins, killer whales, or the Naga? Would you want to encounter any of those things?

Just flying fishes in between sets of waves, and that is pretty awesome! I’ve heard of surfers in Baler that encountered a “butanding…” How crazy is that? I’d want to see that and dolphins and I’d better have my GoPro with me or else I’ll regret it forever.

More from Liane Ng: Flickr, Twitter, Instagram

Photo from Liane Ng

Photo from Liane Ng


CAMILLE PILAR

Photo from Camille Pilar, taken by Ian Saguan

What do you love about the sea?

I started answering this questionnaire a week ago but I could not sit still, could not dispense even a spare ten minutes to type all that I wanted to say, because the waves would win every single time. I’ve caught myself opening my laptop and shutting it midway into startup because the pull of the sea would be so strong. Even on days when the conditions were not ideal for surfing, I’d rather be out there, sun bright, breeze cool, soul in quiet, imperturbable peace.

I have learned many lessons from my favorite body of water but the most recent one I’ve been living since we moved to the La Union coastline is this: the sea is my center. Nothing can start or end without it. These days, I wake up straining for the faintest sound of crashing waves, and at night, I go to sleep reminiscing the day’s rides, wipeouts, and those pauses in between the sets of waves, body bobbing in motion with the ocean, untethered, unfazed, free.

I love the sea because it clears the mind, simplifies life, and most of all, reveals. I love the sea for bringing myself back to me.

Where has been your favorite place to surf? If not in the Philippines, how does it compare to our local beaches?

I might not have a favorite place to surf but I have favorite things about each surf spot that I go to. To know where to go, we follow the seasons. When the swell comes in from the south as brought in by the “habagat” winds, I like watching the rain fall on the mountains of Pundaquit. I like looking for the rainbow after each sun shower in Zambales. And when the swell comes in from the north, ushered in by the “amihan” winds this time, I like the consistency of La Union waves and the sunsets of deep red and soft purple hues that await you at the end of a session. There are spots that work in between the seasonal shifts and this is when the Bicol region becomes home.

But no matter where I go to surf, whether North or South of here, or outside of the country, it is simple living that I love the most. I am over the thankless city life. I’ve learned that happiness isn’t about doing more, getting more or being more—it’s about wanting less.

Do you play music before you go surfing? What songs get you in the mood?

It depends on the waves! When they’re fun-sized and there’s a clear channel that you can follow to get to the lineup, I like listening to soft beats or acoustic chill or any mellow melody with a tropical vibe. I’m sorry, I think I’m making up music genres! <laughs> But when it’s firing out there and you can feel your pulse firing, too, any song can become a battle cry, your heartbeat, the deep bass drum of war. 

How would you pitch surfing to someone who has never entertained the idea of paddling in the direction of a giant wave?

Some people think success is a position, a stable profession, a certain number in one’s bank account. But surfing is one of those things that can make you realize that success is about saying “yes” at any given moment you are asked: are you happy?

I used to be less of a risk-taker. I liked to over-calculate my decisions and I ended up in a sad state of “safe,” a level of complacency that was the most dangerous thing to the human soul. If you’ve been raring for a brighter and braver way to live, try surfing. Or anything that will will bring you closer to the sea. You’d be surprised at how much you might come to love yourself and others, bruises and jellyfish stings included.

Have you ever fallen asleep on your board while at sea? Any "mermaid" dreams you can share?

No, not literally. But I’ve daydreamed countless of times. When you’re out there, your gaze tends to just drift across dreamlike scenery: tree-laden horizons, cloud canopies in the shape of ships, fishing boats that come in every color, sea birds spreading their majestic wings overhead, and the occasional glimpse from a curious fish or turtle amidst a glittering sea. And then you smile because none of these things are dreams after all.

More from Camille Pilar: Website, Twitter, Instagram

Photo from Camille Pilar

Photo from Camille Pilar



Surfing is definitely as intimidating as they come, but like how the old adage goes, "no pain, no gain." In this case, the gain outweighs the pain: there's only so many times the sea will toss you around before it begins welcoming you with sea salt hugs and all the magnificence of its otherworldly appeal. Over and under, life doesn't get any better (or wetter) than conquering gorgeous waves.


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