Knock knock knock
“Just a minute… Oh Hey Murray!”
“We’re going to be leaving in about 5 minutes.”
Ohhh…. So soon. Not 10…10:30?
“Well ya that’s what time we were supposed to go. But we’re leaving sooner, so get ready and lets go.”
.”..Ok just give me a few minutes.”
And that’s how you run out of time and forget to pack your bag with little things. Things like toothbrush, toothpaste, sun screen. Which I will definitely need on my week long adventure of learning how to surf. I’m 30 years old, the number isn’t even real yet. I’m finally going to so something I’ve wanted to try for over 15 years.
Last night the idea of hitching a ride with my landlord seemed like a good one, save a little money where you can. Plus I wouldn’t have to wait for a van, a van packed with too many people and not enough air con. (Interesting aside: In the US it’s always called “AC” like a nickname for a kid. The rest of world though its always called “Air Con” like a plane full of convicts.) As it turns out though sunscreen is not cheap on this island. Unlike everything else it. Not cheap when you plan on being in the sun and water for an entire week, so I have to buy the big bottle not the cute keychain dangler. Oh that tiny cute little travel size is only 140 pesos. And look! It even comes with a cute little repel hook thingie. But no… I need higher spf and a much bigger bottle. That’s going to cost me 500 pesos! ($12). Hitching a ride doesn’t seem so smart now, penny wise pound stupid?
Today I have managed to feet more like a mall tourist instead a world traveler. When you don’t have a personal vehicle, and those little trips to the store seem long and inconvenient, you tend to put off purchases and ‘batch’ them altogether. So with plenty of time to kill, it’s a good as time as any for some shopping. I do manage to find my sundries but not after sending some poor shoe clerk girl to the back of the store a 1/2 dozen times to try different sizes. I’m not used to numbers that start in the 30’s. Do you have this gray one in a size 43? Hold on sir I will go check. Sorry sir only 44. Ok well bring that then. A few moments later “Is it too big sir?” an obvious question I would think, she’s watching me poke the empty inch at the top. No less than 6 pairs of shoes later we find the right fit, you would think with a number like 44 each 44 would be the same, not the case. I’m glad it’s an acceptable color…A moment later the sole ‘crinkles up’ with just a flex of my toes. “Here take these back I’m mot buying a shoe with a weak sole.” She doesn’t laugh at my weak attempt at a joke. A weak sole…I hope my readers get it. No luck with the shoes, in the end I buy a pair of flip flops. Poor girl at the checkout I try a few more jokes an attempt to reward her patience and politeness.
As the barbers clippers touched my hair, front and center set to “size 0” a thought traveled through my slow brain. The kind of thought you wish you had just moments sooner. The thought wen’t something like this “Hey… I’m going to be surfing soon. For a week….Without that shaggy mess protecting me it’s going to get burned!” Oh crap too late now, thanks slow synapses! I’ve never had a head sunburn before. That cant feel good. Guess we can add a hat to that shopping list. That is how I ending up bbuying my first article of clothing that shouts “Hey buddy see this hat with the Philippine islands on it…I’m a tourist!“. I’m sure nothing helps the roadside n negotiations like a great big sign that literally reads “tourist” covering your forehead. We’re not even off the main island yet and I’m not off to a good start.
It wasn’t too long before I had another one of those slow synapse moments. “Maybe I should check whats actually in the movie theatre before planning to go there.” It was all part of my plan last night of hitching a ride with the landlord and spending half a day at the mall before going to the pier. The poster for Tom Cruise’s next movie looks very sci-fi, which is cool. Too bad it’s not here now! Say whatever you want for that height challenged and crazed scientologist. He’a a fine actor; but more importantly he chooses good movies. When I want to be entertained I feel safe with Tom Cruise. I can’t say that about anyone else these days. Todays choices on the other hand, boil down to just 2 “options”. There’s 6 theaters here, but the other 4 aren’t even options. My choices? G I Joe vs The Croods. Ugh I definitely did not intend to ever pay money to see either of those.
So which did I spend $5 and 2 hours of my life on?
The Croods was both entertaining and approached some real world ‘perception’ of life hope for the future kinda shit. Wow! Well done. I didn’t expect to actually be recommending this movie to anyone, but if you didn’t see it you should. The jokes are good light hearted and funny. Not scene was over done or too long. Most left me waiting for more. I had real hope and dare I say connection with more than one character.
I think Dreamworks is what Disney started out as. A true worthwhile and inspiring attempt at making cartoons into art. If Walt we’re still alive today… Would he be upset that such rivals exist or happily challenged? (For those who haven’t read his biography let’s get one thing straight shall we? Walt never cared about the money. He didn’t do what he did for a profit. In fact his investors never made any real returnsuntil he created Disneyland. If your looking for the evil villain that only cares about money, maybe Roy Disney will fit the bill. Walt was a puritan for perfection. Anyway I won’t tell the whole story, you should read it for yourself. It’s very fascinating.)
As I write this on my Iphone at 4:13pm I have just 1 hour to make my way to pier 3. Meet the group of strangers who will be my companions on this ‘learn to surf trip’. Then make our way to the last ferry to Surigao.
AT PIER 3
It smells like shit! Maybe if this article was being posted elsewhere I wouldn’t curse, but sometimes this is how I talk. This pier smells like human feces. Luckily I don’t see any, although some late day ‘puddles’ look questionable in origin. Especially since it didn’t rain to my knowledge. I wonder if the ships discharge near the dock thus infecting the waters near shore. Whatever the cause it does not smell pleasant.
In my boredom of waiting around SM mall and a my perpetual habit for never being late I may have made the mistake of being too early. Thought I did want to make sure to not get lost. I even asked the person sitting next to me on the Jeepney (Even the governement refers to them as Public Utility Jeeps or PUJs for short) to let me know when we reached pier 3. She obliged and let me know… Only to have not one but 3 people begin telling her that was not the right place! I don’t speak Cebuano but I can imagine the conversation went something like this.
“We just passed pier 4 so this is pier 3.”
“Maybe that is pier 3 but it is not gate 3. He needs gate 3. (to be fair I can understand the phrase “gate thrace” aka gate 3)”
“Are you sure maybe he needs pier 3.”
“You can’t get in through that gate it’s not for public use. He must need gate 3.”
Well he said he needed pier 3.
Whatever the conversation is, it seems to continue on until she exits at the next gate. I’m a little concerned but when in doubt; crowd wisdom over an unsure individual is a sound bet.
The crowd was right. In fact I boarded on Pier 1, but the gate was under renovation so we had to use Gate 3.
I’m on a Boat!
After a long winding que, and more than one line cutter, we managed to pile onto a bus. My new friend ______ was carrying one of the surf boards. We headed to the back of the bus and stood it up. Then a bus ride took us to our ferry, the size of a small cruise ship. Except we thought everyone on this bus was getting off and we sat patiently waiting for people to get out of the way more or less. Then as the bus started moving a nearby passenger saw our board and said “surigao surigao”… We hurried as we politely yelled at the driver “surigao, surigao wait let us out”. Never a dull moment.
We make it to our bunk and kind of I’m surprised we have bunk beds. This is when I find out we’ll touch Surigao’s shore at 6am! Should be fun sleeping in the open air of a boat on a bunk bed, might not get much sleep though. So now that we are all safe on board the boat many campers have come to up me to shake hands and exchanged names. Names I’m sure to forget as quickly as they say them. I can only connect a few to faces right now. Nick, niko, paulo, boeing, jay, denver and maimai. I think there’s 15 in total. Jay informs we kept to a yearly tradition. That there manages to be 1 white guy, no more no less. This year I’m that guy. That’s right I’m representing ‘MURICA! Time to show these boys how quickly we can learn how to surf! Meh, just kidding, I’ve gotten used to being the only westerner. To be honest I haven’t ran into many locals in any country that dislike Americans. The only people I have found not seem surprised and excited about me being American are other westerners. I guess when your also white, but come from a country with no real military, few nuclear weapons, and can’t hold a candle to our work ethic, I could see how that could make you feel inadequate. Everyone here though is native Filipino and seems be good natured and in high spirits. This should be a fun trip.
I try sharing some dried mango but no one wants any. It seems Paulo’s fried pork rinds are more popular. Perhaps those vendors who hop onto buses and peddle fried snacks really do know their market. I always wondered why they only peddled crap and never fruits. I had assumed because of the weight and profit margins. Pork rinds weight a lot less than fresh or dried fruits… Maybe I was wrong. I like to think I’m partially right. Hopefully there is a market here for healthy snacks.
The night on the boat was difficult. With no blanket And a chill breeze I used my towel to cover my legs and another shirt to cover my arms.
The bed padding is comfortable for sitting but too thin for me to sleep on. Laying on my side caused my hips to press against the hard wood under the padding. I wish I could sleep on my back.
It felt like I slept for 5 minutes at a time. Each time I awoke with a bit of worry and quickly checked with one arm to make sure my backpack was still beside me. And why was I so thirsty? Everytime I awoke my mouth was perched. I managed to drink an entire bottle of water at a time when I should just be sleeping.
Whatever island this is it’s so beautiful but I’m too tired to stand up and take a picture past the railing.
Back to bed
FIRST DAY SURFING!
No one told me surfboard wax would tear up my nipples! Oh my god my front side is so pink and sore.
We left the guest house after lunch in the middle of the rain. A few blocks from the house we take off our sandals walk across a beach of rock and swim a quick but small current to a sand island. There I meet my instructor Kim who begins by apologizing for his lack of english. Oh great. Instructions were simple, he’ll hold the board then when a good wave comes push it and tell me to stan up. Push down like a push up then stand up left foot first, right foot in front.
Ony trouble was how far the waves are from the beach. It’s like a city block of knee deep water to reach the surf. I was tired before even starting!
So when that first wave came and I heard go stand up, I try but can only make it to my knees. Even that was a balancing act and felt kind cool. But it’s not what I came here to do.
A few more like that then Nick gives some key advice. Push down on the board until you feel it moving faster than the wave, then stand up. The very next wave I nailed it!! It’s that magic moment where everything “feels right”. Not just the accomplishment of doing something but a moment in time
Where doing it feels right, it feels natural, even the world feels like a better place. I don’t know if these words can explain it in a way that makes you feel what I felt. You just have to experience it for yourself.
SURF PART 2
We started surfing around 1pm and left the water around 5:30. That first epic ride happened within the first half hour. So 3 hours later im an expert, right? Not really. The rest of the day was experimenting to try and learn what went right and how to correct what can go wrong. Kim (A man)
was a helpful teacher but learning the muscle movements of standing up, balancing and riding the board thats all on me. The firt time I tried to squeek out a few more feet of ride by turning the board resulted in just tipping over. So turning on a surfboard is not like leaning on a motorcycle. Check got it. The next wave I manage to push out with my backfoot and turn the board a bit. It wasn’t much but it felt good. I exclaimed my excitement to Kim and he congratulated me. There was approximately 4 other surfers in the water on top of our 15. At times it felt crowded I had to abandon a couple runs or risk running over one of the cute females of our group. Probably not a good way to stay popular right? Being crowded had good perks too. When someone rode well we cheered. When you turbed around and waited for your wave there was a friend to smile at. Everyone was asking how it felt to surf. I couldn’t ask for a better first time. The clouds in the sky, the green mountains, the colors of a setting sun. Really beautiful out here just fucking perfect. Do I really want leave this place in a week?
I stayed on the water as long as I could. By the end my arms were just noodles trying to paddle ahead of a wave to gain speed. When I failed to push up ob the first try and had to pause stabilize and push up a 2nd time I figured thats the limit. So tired and tomorrow I’m going to be so sore. But it was awesome.
At dinner one of the best surfers Boeing said I rode the longest wave. I feel like he’s reaching for a compliment but it’s appreciated. He may be right technically i never bailed early but I still can’t stabilize and stand until the wave is half over. The “pros” of the group are riding the waves right as it starts to curl. I try to stand up quick but I can’t hold my balance and wipe out.
Tomorrow Nick says he’s giving me a longer surfboard. Says it will wobble less. I’m looking forward to it.
MOSQUITO FILLED NIGHT
No air con and no bug screens on windows? A wonderful mosquito filled night ruined my chances at a peaceful sleep. If the surfing and majestic green mountains can lull you in your in for a surprise when you try to sleep. These mosquito are special, their easily 5x itchier than normal. It was impossible for me not to scratch. I’ve felt mosquito bites so intense. Pressing in an X with my fingernails to seep out the poison wasn’t enough vs these mosquito bites from hell. The intense itching would suggest additional inflammation and swelling would occur. Instead the swelling is so minor I often have difficulty finding the source of the bite.
As of that wasn’t enough our neighbors own dogs. Lots of them. I’d expect owners to teach their dogs some manners and not let them bark and howl all night. No such luck with this island community. When the litle dogs would bark the big dogs would bellow in reply. Then at the height of this orechestrated crescendo an Elvis impersonator would howl his doggy lungs out piercing the chrous of barks like a crashing cymbal. With all that i could varely notice the roosters. Cebuanos treat cockfighting like a national treasure. You would think it was their national sport instead of basketball. I’ve seen yards littered with half truck tires nailed down on each side with a chained fighting rooster using it as their house. Male roosters kept in such proximity to each will cockadoodledo insults and challenged back forth at each all day. Destroying the childhood dreams of roosters only crowing at sunrise.
We’re scheduled to begin surfing at the ungodly hour of 8am. The sun was so bright I thought surely I must be waking up late. It’s only 5:30 am and breakfast isn’t even ready yet.
I hope the waves are worth it.
FRIDAY IS MY DAY OF REST
After oushing myself to the limit for 2 days straight I’m too exhausted to surf. I know by the time I carry my board to the water and paddle out to catch a wave I’ll have nothing left inside me. No reserves to pull from and paddle hard when that wave swells up. No strengtg to angle down to pick up speed and stabilize. Most of all I don’t have the legs to spring undearneath me as I pop up. For the time everyone in the house looks how I feel. It’s already 9am and we’re too busy watching HBO to get dressed.
An hour later someone wakes me from my half slumber “Hey David are you coming surfing?” “Oh well you should come with us anyway it’s a beautiful location. You can just swim and enjoy the view”
Ughhhhhhhhhh it’s sentences like that which ruin well laid out plans to stay home, do nothing and be lazy.
They we’re right this cove is beautiful. The first beach was wide it’s water and skies stetching out far abd wide before being framed on 3 sides by mountains. A place where you can feel connected to the rest of the world.
This cove on the other hand gives a different feeling. Like a pirates secret cove a place where you can hide from life and just be alone (or alone with friends). The mountains to the right are close and cozy. The rocky beach curves out to the left obscuring vision and wrapping your seclusion like a blanket. The beach is not a childs sand box. Everything here is rocks, some as small your toe nail other the size of a gorillaz fist. Most are smooth and fit on the palm of one hand. So many different shaped rocks and pebbles. My favorite are the flat oval shaped ones, perfect for skipping. The beach is an avalanche of pebbles as you descend the 2 natural drifts into the water. To the left is where the surf waves break. Just yard away from huge rocks that jut out of the water threatening to sink any ships careless enough to drift close. Carlos knows those rocks can be dangerous for surfers as well even with the safety of a backwash. As the wves crash into the rocks the water ricochets back creating a watery buffer. That didn’t stop him from wiping out and breaking his collar bone on a smaller sharp boulder under the waves. Nor did it save a middle eastern from kissing the rocks with the left side of his face. Surfing here takes some bravery and yet it’s only considered “intermediate”. Even Nick, argueably the best surfer here, respects these rocks enough not to surf here. Kind of surprised he brought us here. Eventually everyone else takes to the waters and tries to catch a few waves. I wish I wasn’t 30 years old out of shape and out of gas. i know if I get out there my legs are too sore and rubbery to stand up quick enough. Another day Poontan left cove, another day.
One thing that really speaks well for the Filipinos is their willingness to have fun, make do with less and offer lots of encouragement to friends.
We just experienced a brown out. Which turned out to be a fun event. Did you know a styrofoam cooler makes a good iphone speaker. We’re calling it “iBucket”. Kay a pretty but often quiet even Melancholy girl surprised us by bringing out a pair of glow bolas (soft balls lighted by battery on the end of ropes) the street turned into our own little light and dance show. Complete with rave music blasting through ibucket and Kay’s dancing light show. She dis well, not amazing but everyone cheered her on.
The stars were so beautiful during the brown out. It makes you want to plan a beach rave under the stars. I told them that cove would be perfect for a campfire under the stars, cooking hot dogs and smores for dinner. And yes they know what smores are here. Although Hershey chocolate is very expensive compared to their local “choco”. Smores just wouldn’t be the same with chocolate of less quality than a Hershey bar.
LAST DAY OF SURFING
After not surfing for a day I’m eager to go. Trying to stretch reveale the spirit is more willing than the body. It almost feels like I have forgotten how to surf. A bit unsteady at first. Then I catch a wave and ride it until the wave loses it’s power, balance on the board as ot begins sinking and gently dismount. Not a thrilling ride but it reminds me I know how to do this much at least.
On the next that I manage to catch and stand up I learn the downside of being in such a large group. I see the person next to me struggle to stand up on hos board, I’m already standing at this point. As he begins to wobble he could almost correct the situation and stand up if my ankles weren’t in his way. Luckily the boards are not sharp edged or even as hard as wood. Plus since I see his board coming I’m not caught off guard as he clips my ankles. I simply go with the flow and let myself fall into the water not giving any resistance. He applogizes for his mishap and asks if I’m ok. Yea I’m fine l, no worries I say but secretly frustrated. It didn’t much far leas than the muscle aches in my thighs anyway. I’m just annoyed his mistake cost me a wave. Well at keast I can say I have had my first collision.
Later I find myself in on the other end of things. See the waves low and scarce this morning. Normally when it’s crowded you give way when someone nearby paddles to catch a wave and simply catch the next one. Good waves are never constant but usually come in sets of 3. This morning on the other is nothing but “party waves”. Their called party waves because when one comes everyone is going to take it at the same time. So what happens to me? Well I paddled to catch the wave but it’s curling a little sooner than anticipated. As I try to gain speed, stabilize and stand up my board is wobbly. In a couple more seconds I’ll have it but the guy to my right is already up. Those couple seconds to stand mean I won’t have time (and I don’t have the skill to do it while standing) to veer left and out of his path. So instead I lay down and roll left. Letting him have that wave. Maybe I’ll get lucky and there be another one behind me. No such luck. Everyone rides their wave and paddles back before there is another one. Then we all just bob up and down whistlong don’t worry be happy. Waves sure are scarce today.
Later Nick takes turns training the video camera on people to record them rising a wave. Just my luck when it’s my turn to have the camera pointed at me I let it distract me and fail to stand up instead ending up stuck on my knees. I’ve learned this is probably the worst mistake I personally can make. Once I’m on one knee I can’t seem to stay balanced while moving to a standing position. The trick for surfing is to push up with my arms but don’t let my hands leave the board until I get one foot under me. I have to remember to skip the knee, it shouldn’t be used anyway and for me it’s surfer zen death.
I guess Nick has filmed everyone else as he asks me “how come you haven’t caught any waves?” I hold up 2 fingers and let him know I already caught 2 (I’m counting the one where I got clipped, hey I was standing!) and if I caught a 3rd he’d (I point) have no legs. We’re too far apart I don’t think he gets that last part but it doesn’t matter. Eventually I catch a wave and stand up with the camera pointed at me. My luck it’s the short wobbly ride. I guess I’m just not photogenic, even on a surfboard.
After lunch everyone gathers in the living room and watches a movie. Except their so exhausted I think half of them fall asleep. Either that or Mel Gibsons unkillable role of a killer of killers who is constantly getting beat up, hit by cars, and shot yet won’t go to a hospital or die just doesn’t entertain them.
My legs, thighs and hips are so sore I ask Nick where we’re going and what we’re doing tomorrow. To weigh my options. If it’s the same beach i’m rest up if we’re going someplace new tomorrow. No such luck I’m afraid turns out we’re going someplace new this time. And tomorrow we leave at 10am barely enough time for an early morning surf. Well that settles it time to push past the pain. I can recover in the X hour van ride followed by the X hour ferry ride.
Nick wants the biggest board which is usually the one I ride. The extra length and width makes it less wobbly and thefore easier to stand up. I’m in the mood for a new board anyway though so that works for me just fine.
Move and catch a tube
<I wanted to come back and wrap this up. Tell more of the story and give it a nice ending… I’m just too fricken busy right now>
Warning: Below is a buzz kill. I probably shouldn’t even post it.
Americans talk about hitting rock bottom, talk about filing bankruptcy. Americans wealth is so deep they cant even see rock bottom much less hit it.
Imagine living in a shack and having a landlord. Imagine someone charging money to live in under a tin roof and some plywood walls. No nails in those walls just lean them up. Maybe rope a couple together. No carpeted floors, no hardwood floors just dirt floors. Imagine someone coming by every month and charging you money for that.
I’m here it’s staring me right the face and yet I still can’t imagine it.
Your rock bottom, is someone else’s ceiling.