just in case you guys didn't get a copy of last sunday's MB, reproduced below is my article on surfing at bagasbas beach in daet.
Riding waves, saving lives: Surf’s up at Bagasbas Beach Text and photos by Alman Dave O. Quiboquibo
“Something must be taking place in the Pacific,” says Owen Andrade, as he looks out onto the long stretch of Bagasbas Beach one peaceful Saturday morning, during the transition between summer and the season of typhoons. This is an odd time for this slice of beach on the outskirts of the town of Daet in Camarines Norte. Usually, at this time of year the waters are flat, and approach the dark, fine sand of Bagasbas quietly, tumbling in with little froth, secretly keeping the otherwise perilous back currents that have pulled many unsuspecting beachcombers to treacherously dangerous depths.
But the beach, a gloomy stretch of dark sand where not a single palm tree stands, and which could be ghostly empty on weekdays and when waves are absent – is bustling with activity. Moderate waves are rolling into the beach, and boards long and short are busy shuffling from water to sand. Surfing season in Bagasbas arrives usually in late August, and may well last until September, when winds swirling in the Pacific Ocean push in swells that swallow novice riders whole, and intimidate even those who are experienced.
Back in the day, locals referred to the sea that lapped the shores of Bagasbas as dark water, owing to the fact that it has claimed many lives. But less and less people have drowned since Owen organized the volunteer lifeguard brigade, composed mostly of local surfers who share boards and duties of watching over the beach. The prominent warning about dangerous currents and swimming at one’s own risk placed near the lifeguard station had been temporarily put aside – there are several life guards on duty, and at play as well.
“We can’t surf knowing that someone is still under the water,” Owen explains. Whether he put together this brigade to save lives, and surfing became secondary, or whether they were surfers first, who also happen to be trained in saving and resuscitating drowning victims, isn’t important anymore, considering their contribution to bringing life back to Bagasbas Beach.
And the program has yielded recruits, as well as converts. Mocha Edusma, a local surfer and also a volunteer lifeguard, is one of the top women surfers in the country today. She moved to Daet 13 years ago, and although she’d often seen other people riding the waves, she only got very interested in the sport when she and two of her friends were saved from grave danger by a surfer. Although a capable swimmer, Mocha and her friends were swept into deep water by a sneaky back current, and were it not for the efforts of a surfer who paddled to their location, she might not be riding waves today.
She was only 14 years old when she approached a local surfer and asked to be taught the sport. At the time, no other female, particularly of her age, had shown any similar interest in surfing. She recalls that there were instances when she had to steal boards in order to be able to surf. Now, she has traveled to many of the archipelago’s surfing spots, collecting accolade for her grace on the water.
As a kid in the 1970s, Owen first watched American Peace Corps volunteers rushing into the tumultuous waters with boards that resembled the shape of a pili nut, a local delicacy. When martial law was declared and the Americans made a quick exit, surfing in Daet also immediately disappeared. The waves have always been there, but interest in the sport and culture of surfing emerged only fairly recently. It was not until sometime in the 1980s when Owen’s cousin arrived from Japan with a surfboard that his curiosity for surfing was revived. With a movie on surfing as his only instruction and lesson, Owen took the board into the tempestuous beach and attempted to surf. He failed, miserably, and locals found his attempts pathetic, that they had described his antics as a slow and extended suicide.
It was not until Owen met a traveling surfer in the early 1990s that he finally learned the basics of the emerging sport. Now, surfing in Daet lures curious folk wanting to try something new and different, and even seasoned surfers bronzed by sea and sun will find its best waves challenging. Owen is convinced, and has some clippings to prove his claims, that Daet hosted the first Philippine surfing competition in the mid-1990s. But with the steady growth of the sport, so did attention for places with surf. In a country of islands, surrounded by water and visited by typhoons, there should be an endless number of places one could find waves worth a ride.
What attracts people to surfing may be any of an infinite number of reasons. When I arrived at Bagasbas Beach, I watched without interest, how newbie surfers were attempting to ride moderate waves. I have a profound respect for water, having nearly drowned myself as a kid, and am very cautious when I am surrounded by it. I was happy to get only my feet wet, watching as the sea retreated to expose a beach filled with morning revelers playing volleyball, throwing skim boards onto the shallow part of the water, throwing frisbees, kicking footballs. There was a free surfing clinic and I didn’t even bother to have myself listed.
But someone else submitted my name, and I was shortly called for a brief lecture. Surprisingly, I wasn’t completely unprepared. I put on my rash guard, telling myself that I would merely try the sport, and convinced that I would walk out of the water embarrassed and swearing off surfing. My personal teacher was a 19-year old local who was extremely patient with me even as he demonstrated the fine art of standing on a moving board while we were still on dry land.
We proceeded to the water, and there was a gentle thump in my chest. I was scared to drown more than anything else, and also a little concerned that I would expose myself to a lot of embarrassment. Sure enough, my first attempts at surfing as waves came in were pathetic. And after about 20 minutes, I was all ready to march back to shore. But the minute I managed to stand, regardless of the fact that it was no longer than 5 seconds, provided me with a thrill I could not remember experiencing, not since I first encountered a roller coaster loop. It was addicting. So addicting, in fact, that I refused to surrender the board, even while other newbies were interested to try the sport. I have never used this word before, because I have never tried to surf, but now that I have, I was completely stoked. At the end of the lesson, I was riding that longboard nearly all the way to the beach.
The color of the sand at Bagasbas Beach, and the peculiar absence of natural shade along its considerable length might disqualify it for any references as paradise. There won’t be fantasies of lying in a hammock, sipping on a cocktail, watching couples walking by around these parts. But its other qualities are certainly appropriate for many other things, surfing being just among them.
Today, Bagasbas Beach is Daet’s biggest tourist draw. Restaurants and videokes have popped up along the Boulevard that run astride it. Daily, the Bagasbas Builders Club, composed of local volunteers, sweep the entire length of the beach collecting trash and sea grass washed ashore. Hardly anyone is paid in Bagasbas, either to save lives or to keep it clean. And if you’re lucky like me, you could even get taught to surf for free.