Less than welcoming scenes of garbage on the beach in Baler, Aurora.
Wave riders vs. trash
Edu Jarque (The Philippine Star) - October 20, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The history of surfing in the Philippines has as many variations as there are surf camps in the islands.

The most popular version points to a particular scene from the 1975 Francis Ford Copolla war movie Apocalypse Now, which sparked an interest in flirting with the waves.

Though most of the movie was filmed in Pagsanjan, the shores of Baler in Aurora province bore witness to the remarkable line “Charlie don’t surf,” uttered by Air Cavalry commander Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, in one of the most impactful combat scenes ever made. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, the film has since become a cult classic.

After a day’s work, the film crew would hit the sought-after swells and curls in Baler for rest and recreation, while the locals looked on at this then-unfamiliar relationship of some Americans and their mysterious boards with the waves.

An older story claims it started in La Union in the 1960s, when American servicemen from the Wallace Air Station in San Fernando heard of the phenomenal waves on the seaboard.

At the same time, a Japanese visitor named Akinaga “Aki” Kazuo showcased his mechanics as he frolicked in the deep. With the popularity of the practice both in the Atlantic and the Pacific, he patiently took the extra step to convince the curious onlookers to try out the then-strange contraption called a surfboard.

Before long, this archipelago known for its beautiful sandy beaches, inviting warm waters and colossal surges contributed to the boom of what has become a global sport.

It was almost certain that residents and travelers would one day pick up their own boards and start to hit the waves – to seek out thrill, adventure and applause from a cheering crowd – as they immediately flocked to these destinations where the waves beckoned and challenged.

Regrettably, along with them came their trash. Tons of single-use plastics, bottles, cans, sacks, foils, food wrappers, sachets, condiment packets, styrofoam, diapers, plastic cutlery, containers, boxes, chopped wood – all sorts of discards of a throw-away lifestyle.

“Alon! The Exhibit” at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde walked us through six surf camps in the country, each with its own tales of its beauty, the sport, the trash and the process of seeking solutions to solve this persisting problem.

As a way to gauge and to raise awareness of the pollution in these areas, surfers picked up as much garbage as they could within a five-minute span. The results have been captured in photographs, displayed at the exhibit.

The coastlines of Baler, Aurora still has on display the barnacle-encrusted surfboards of yore. Though most came to the municipality to see the torrents portrayed in the movie, it is popular for its clean beaches, a rarity today.

The allure is so magnetic that some individuals decided to relocate from Manila just so they could embrace nature all the more.

“There were a lot of things I gave up, but I really didn’t have a hard time moving here. I left my family, my friends, I left pretty much the comforts in Manila but I don’t regret it. I miss those things, but I still think this is a better kind of life for me,” shares Giovanne Fara.

However, it is not without its share of headaches. Due to being one of the most accessible spots from the metro, the shores and seas of Baler have become a dumping ground of waste – with wrappers of food not even sold there – without regard for the environment.

The local residents take care of the beaches in their own way – educating sightseers, doing shore clean-up drives and through recycling.

The consistent visitors of the once idyllic Mati, Davao Oriental were one day dismayed by its filth, for it seemed to have crept in unnoticed.

Jun Plaza, from a family whose main trade was the illegal and highly dangerous fishing with dynamite – which has in fact claimed the lives of some of his family members – shares his experience.

Some townsfolk think of it as karma, but it could be interpreted as a way of nature exacting her revenge. They eventually realized the error of their ways and transformed for the better.

Today, Jun, who manages the Amihan sa Dahican Surf Camp, spearheads the Eco-Warriors – a determined group which has kept Dahican Bay clean and green. More than that, they have revitalized marine life. Swimmers and snorkelers can now encounter turtles, dolphins, stingrays and even dugongs (manatees).

The town of Gubat in Sorsogon hosts the Lola Sayong Eco Surf Camp, a rustic complex of several nipa huts, lots of palm trees and just within touching distance, the nautical gift. It started with the generosity of Lola Sayong, who lent her seaside property to the youth of the community to practise and teach surfing.

They enforce the No School/No Surf policy, where the youth are encouraged to do well in school or risk being barred from surfing. The group also requires everyone to undergo orientation before they can even hold a surfboard. Because of this determination, Gubat has since become cleaner.

However, the visitors brought their own garbage. Not one to allow the surroundings to deteriorate, the sprightly senior founded Mandirigma, who taught others to swell while always incorporating environmental awareness.

“When you leave the water, you look back and you hope that the sea will always be there, always with waves and, more importantly, always clean. This is why we also hope that people learn to live harmoniously with nature, because we’re part of it, so let’s not destroy it,” surf instructor Noli Mercader says.

Siargao Island is a favorite and internationally acclaimed surfing destination with its perfect swell, the Jacking Horse, popularly called Cloud 9.

In 1992, surfing photographer John Callahan propelled this venue onto the international spotlight with excellent pictures of renowned international surfers John Slater, Taylor Knox and Kevin Davidson riding the magnificent waves. Surfers of all calibers took this as a challenge to visit and try the waters for themselves. Since then, Siargao Island has cemented itself among the Top 10 Best Surfing Destinations worldwide.

As expected, holidaymakers and developers came in large numbers, which posed a challenge to preserving the pristine environment.

Fortunately, in 1996, Siargao was included in the list of protected seas and landscapes by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Still, surfers that call these isles their home inspired others, rallied and have taken it upon themselves to keep this island as unsoiled as possible.

How can anyone ever forget the devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 and the mountains of debris that it brought?

Tacloban City was one of the hardest hit places. The citizens took it upon themselves to clean up, rehabilitate, renovate and recover. Everyone in the environs – and of course, the international world – cooperated in rebuilding efforts with a strong will to fight, as they were able to foster a renewed sense of respect for nature.

The Sabang Daguitan Surf Camp in Leyte is considered as one of the last unspoiled spots in the country.

“Here we have this practice: Pass on the Hope. After only two years following Typhoon Yolanda, Sabang was able to recover,” Bantay Kalikasan’s Ailyn Caballero shares.

Though late to the movement, La Union is home to its very own surfing community frequently visited by foreigners. One such visitor is Brian Landrigan, an Australian surfing enthusiast, who settled in the country.

The fun-loving multitude invaded and their trash came soon after, which caused rubbish to pile up on the shores and even out to the seas.

Landrigan set up his own site, which slowly transformed the community from a collection of individual groups into one large cooperative municipality working together to beat this sad phenomenon. Together with his son Luke, they encouraged more resort owners to follow their lead by cleaning up the coast and taking care of the beach and the waters.

Because of this awareness, these practices have become a norm and a trend among those who call La Union home.

These are the anecdotes of how surfers and local communities have banded together to attempt to solve this impending garbage and pollution crisis.

There will always be challenges, but we are on the road to achieve this idyllic and pristine reality. The job is monumental as many visitors are still unaware of such devastating issues. However, the environmental representatives are determined to continue their crusade as their success swells like the waves that they ride so gracefully.

Alon! The Exhibit is on view at the the 12th floor Main Gallery, School of Design and Arts (SDA) Campus, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB) until Dec.14.

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