Our last stop in the Philippines was for a very specific purpose. We were heading for ABCD beach on Calicoan island which is situated on the very easternmost side of the Philippines. Much like it’s more touristed cousin of Siragao further south, being on the edge of the Pacific ocean and having just the right conditions the water makes it one of the best locations for surfing in the world. Or so we have been told because in reality we wouldn’t have a clue if it wasn’t. Still, if you haven’t worked out yet, our aim was to learn how to surf and I couldn’t think of a better time or place than here. The Philippines has a few advantages for learning this new hobby; world class surf conditions (given the right weather), being a relatively cheap destination to pay for lessons and rental and unlike in the UK, Europe and even Australia, the water is amazingly warm, like 30 degrees warm, so no wetsuit required.
On top of all of that, the local surf hut, being one of only about six buildings in the vicinity, is run by a local surfing legend called Jun Jun. There were a couple of other locals there when we introduced ourselves and asked about lessons for the next day and were promptly asked to join them all at the table to share some locally made brandy. Half way through the second bottle (it was rather tasty) between five of us, we decided it was past time we found some more solid sustenance to soak up at least some of the booze. This was partly not wanting to overdo it the night before having our first surf lesson (likely to lead to some jetsam from a surf board) and partly down to not having drunk much alcohol recently, it was having more of an affect than expected. So we thanked them very much for the hospitality and made our way back to the hotel all of two buildings and about fifty meters away whilst being treated to a very pleasant sunset.
Due to the tides while were there, we could only get in the water to learn from early afternoon. Sadly that meant we had to have long lie-ins in the mornings. It’s a hard life sometimes. What’s more, the breakfasts at the hotel were really quite good. They did an impressive attempt at a full English breakfast, not quite right to our high standards but I’ll let them off as they called it an American breakfast so obviously wasn’t going to be as good. So following a late breakfast and very light lunch we wandered over to meet our instructions. Jun Jun had paired us with a couple of locals who were going to teach us what to do over the next few days. These guys are good, really good, as you’d expect from living with some of the best waves in the world on your doorstep. I am glad that English is pretty widely Philippines and generally pretty well especially with anyone who has contact with tourists. Learning how to surf with instruction in a foreign language could have been a challenge. Alvin and our other who’s name I’ve managed to forget were very good, and in my case patient, teachers. The weather was also pretty kind to us, on our first day providing nice gentle but not too small waves. The first lesson was almost entirely being launched in front of waves by the instructors, attempting to stand up and with the exception of the very first try, mostly falling straight off again. Some amount of progress was made, though not much. Not to be discouraged we finished the lesson and told them we’d be back tomorrow and try to fall in a bit less. That evening we got talking to another aussie surfer who was exactly as you would probably imagine to be. He was asking about how the lessons were going so we told him it was our first ever time on a board and that there had been lots of falling in. He then gave us what turned out to be some really helpful advice. He walked us through how he catches a wave and stands up by waiting to feel the board tip forward then to “push up and pop”. The “pop” was essential jumping from a push up position to standing, which was quite a different method to one our instructors had told us of moving one foot then the other. The next day we tried this out and it made a big difference. We then made pretty good progress and were now catching more waves than not. Inevitably I started overthinking what I was doing and started falling off a lot again so that was a good point to stop for the day.
Most of the next lesson was spent waiting for the instructors to say paddle, then paddling like crazy and attempting to catch the wave. Again everything became a bit more hit and miss, although Jethro was frustratingly better at this at first while I was getting a lot of sea inside my face. Eventually though something clicked and I was let loose out at the back with Jethro where all the locals were waiting for the good waves. Still under the watchful eye of Alvin, but basically doing it on our own. I was still failing off the bigger waves more often than not but catching enough of them to enjoy it. I have a sneaking suspicion that I may be acquiring another toy to find space for at some point in the future.
Sadly our time in the Philippines has come to an end. But what a great way to end learning a new skill in one of the best places to learn. Though we did feel a little spoilt by the wonderfully warm water which isn’t something we’re likely to next time we get on a board. As their seemingly national phrase says “it’s more fun in the Philippines”
Our next destination is a bit of a departure from the normal travelling we’ve been doing. We’re heading to Gunung Mulu national park in Sarawak, Borneo for a month long caving expedition. Boldly (and sweatilly) going where no one has gone before.