- Nicola M. Sebastian -

MANILA, Philippines –  It’s amazing how a New Year, a concept invented by a creature that’s obsessed with beginnings and ends, seems to scrub the days clean again, sweeping away all the accumulated dirt of past doings under the rug of Last Year, leaving a future as blank and full of promise as the clean, white pages of a new planner  at least for another 12 months. New experiences, new habits, new friends, new skills  it promises us as we gaze around us, convinced that this new day is without a doubt different from other days; in fact it even looks different  maybe the sky is a bit brighter, or perhaps it’s the new bounce to the step of passers-by, or for sure there’s a bit less traffic on the streets.

Or maybe it whispers another promise in our ear, of unexplored lands and open roads, of getting lost and finding oneself. Yes, for many, the New Year is one more chance to finally travel. To check off all those places we’ve filed away in our imaginary travel log. Perhaps the place is too far away, or the plane ticket too costly, or the road too rough.

But one place that has truly entered into a new year is the little town of Baler in Aurora. Tucked behind the beautiful, forbidding mountains of the Sierra Madre, Baler has floated on the edge of people’s thoughts as that surfer’s paradise that’s impossible to reach, thanks to unsafe roads  or lack thereof  and dubious public transportation. But with the near-completion of a new road that shoots straight for Baler from Manila by way of the Pantabangan Dam  which translates to smooth riding for about 90% of the journey, or half an hour of rough road  the future of Baler is as open as the roads that lead to this quiet corner of the Philippines.

And it’s safe to say that no one appreciates this newfound accessibility more than Manila surfers, who for years had doggedly negotiated the Sierra Madre in order to reach Baler’s postcard-perfect waves, like the waves of the endless Sabang beach, or the beautiful, powerful Cemento reef break, whose perfect barrel sneaks up on you like a cobra. And so, in what can only be described as a fit of grateful exuberance, MSA (Manila Surfers Association) invaded Baler for the first time late last year in a friendly surf competition called the “Siege of Baler: Isa Para Kay Pake.”

The tide is high but I’m holding on: Surf up in Baler.

Organized in partnership with Aloha Boardsports, the weekend started from sunrise on Saturday morning with the first round of competition heats, judged by Baler’s own surf association ASRAI, grooved right on through the night to the steady sounds of the beachside concert featuring Baler’s local bands, and only ended when the sun set on the sunburnt, surfed-out, but thoroughly stoked participants packing up to head home on Sunday evening. The surf competition beckoned to surfers of all sorts, from surfer dudes to wahines (surfspeak for surfer girls), veteran wave warriors to the newly initiated, longboard trotters to shortboard shredders  it even had a division for the local groms (a.k.a. junior surfers) to show the city folks how it’s done.

But it wasn’t just the champs who walked away with all the booty. A particularly rowdy portion of Saturday evening’s activities turned out to be the raffle, when locals and visitors alike jostled and waited, fingers crossed, for the drawing of the winning tickets to a massive bounty from brands like DC, FCS, Rudy Project, Ocean Minded, EFX, Quiksilver, Roxy, Beach Hut, and Fox. But the podium placers were certainly more than satisfied with their share of the spoils, the cherry of which was the surfboards supplied by that deliverer of surf retail therapy Aloha Boardsports. 

Though remoteness is no longer a claim this town can make, little has changed from the time Francis Ford Coppola arrived on its sandy brown shores in 1979, crew in tow and raring to make movie magic with the iconic Apocalypse, Now. When filming wrapped up, the crew left behind a couple of surfboards, the Philippines’ first surf spot, Charlie’s Point, and ultimately our first local surfers. The town has held onto its quaint charm, filled with friendly, polite people, flanked by lush jungle and proud mountains on one side, and the endless Eastern horizon on the other. And, when there isn’t a surf event or fiesta going on, the evenings are still quiet and cool, lit up by a night sky filled with big, bright stars. It’s about time the rest of the world knew what they were missing.









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