Surfing and overthinking-A A +A
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
THERE are places you don’t want to write about.
A jealous lover, you keep them guarded from the grid, hoping their routes remain unmapped, their names whispered in secret.
Cloud 9. GL. General Luna. Please. Please. May they be codes somehow lost in translation. Of course, the feeling is unrequited. Not because the place cannot commit. But rather, because it has, somehow, committed to everyone.
Siargao is considered as the ninth best surf site in the world. This is the sad fact for the possessive. Every September, it holds an international surfing competition with a P500,000 coveted prize, a whopper considering you “just” surf. It’s a lifestyle, newbies. Not a sport, so most will correct.
Cloud 9, its now not-so-hidden site, becomes a sprinkle of brown and white. Tanned abs of locals effortlessly honed by the waves mix with freckled whites. And as Mike, a local surfer regrettably handed the task of teaching this awkward bundle of legs and nerves, calls out excitedly from the back “Ayay! Pag-ready kay daku-daku ni!,” the pounding waves quiet the pounding heart, or mind, and replaces it with quiet determination. As a beginner, there is an overhead of poetic symbols I can attach to surfing –man’s needs to conquer the indefinable, the makings of a perfect swell, the infatuation with transcendence on board. Blah. Blah. On a wave, these thoughts are nonessential. I am too busy trying to stand up.
The purposeof storms
“Kami, dili na mi ganahan motabok kung walay balod. Makatulog man mi,” says Arvin, seatmate onboard Dapa Express. Tropical depression turned typhoon Labuyo brought down the fast craft’s gray tarps. Waves are being battled, making what would’ve been a three-hour ride from Surigao City to Dapa, drop-off point to General Luna, longer. But this is preferable because “mas nindot man diri kung ulan,” says Arvin, who stood under a heavy downpour to show this pluviophile islets still unnamed between Surigao and Siargao.
How undeveloped General Luna is, is precisely what makes it so mystical. The hush of this provincial town that looks like any other provincial town in the country, save for its lack of cars, replaced rather by an abundance of habal-habals with roofs and roadside sari-sari stores selling gas in soda bottles in lieu of formal stations for miles around, is only broken by its gift of geographic position. Siargao faces the Philippine Deep, the deepest point in the country. So deep, in fact, that water can swell to its full strength, broken only by rocks and corals. Add to this uninterrupted wind from the Pacific. This is what makes a wave. The enigma of these elements working together is what brings out the beer, more suitably, the boards.
No absolute truth there though. There is none in weather. Two weeks before, we were told, there was nothing but “mush”, baby waves perfect for beginners, laughable to real surfers.
“This is Cloud 9?” a German tourist quipped. “Maybe they better bring out Cloud 10 or 11, yeah?” But that Sunday, upon arrival, locals are keyed up. Labuyo was bringing out the much-needed wind. They pass on the word over dinner at Ronaldo’s, a barbecue place, what a trusted website tells them, that tomorrow’s waves were ideal for riding.
Perfect for real surfers, laughable for overly ambitious beginners.
Five a.m. and the swells are starting to froth. Altogether, they turn into white fireworks bursting through jagged rocks. A tree with a foot-wide diameter has fallen on the dirt path to Cloud 9, a sign of how strong winds were the night before. By the time we reach the Boardwalk, cross-shore winds are unforgiving that slippers may well just get blown off from feet. Leaves free fall from talisay trees. Birds change their flight patterns mid-air. Even the rain slants with the wind. And always, the perpetual creak of the wet planks that whisper a reminder to grip the handrails. It is the type of weather that calls for nothing but sweatwear. But clad in a bikini, an American surfer takes a go. And in just a few minutes comes back up. The waves, messy, she says. It breaks in all directions. Too much wind. A disaster. A few more ready their boards, but make the sad walk back to the resorts. Even before hitting water, a lesson is taught. That surfing, unlike how it is played out in movies, is an exercise in waiting and timing. No wind and the waves are ho-hum. Too much and it becomes dangerous.
“I’m not looking for big waves. I’m looking for the perfect wave,” a Frenchman who has surfed for 20 years tells me over dinner that night. What does that mean? I asked him. Ask the waves.
The invention of surfing lingo
A wipe-out is a miscalculation. It’s when the wave overpowers the surfer. A beginner will have nothing but wipe-outs. Then, a gratifying, however short, ride. More wipe-outs. Less and less rides.
Two days after, when Typhoon Labuyo finally leaves, Mike readies his longboard, about eight feet worth of weight in hardwood. Carrying it on the back of his motorcycle to mud-splattered Cloud 9 is yet another lesson, this time in aerodynamics. In a capsule, wind resistance is a pain.
The arrogance in me plays with this belief: that because I feel such affinity with the ocean, then it will almost surely equate to a natural grasp for surfing as well. All dreamy thoughts disappear as soon as I hit water.
In surfing, I quickly realize, paddling, and paddling back out, is half the battle. Before the waves come to me, I have to go to the waves, passing by spiked corals while at it.
A beginner (or perhaps just me) makes this mistake easily, to learn too many things at once even when Mike simplifies by saying “Aw, sulayi lang gud ug tindog.” How to transition from down to standing, how to position the feet, where to position them, how to duck waves I can’t handle, how to lengthen the ride. In premeditation, the overthinker (or perhaps me again) even poses problems too advanced or yet to be encountered. How to turn, how to decide which waves to take or let go, how to make everything close to effortless as possible. All these under the pressure of tons of water rushing at over 50 km per hour.
On the brink of another wave and yet another wipe-out, here lies the unexplainable magnetism of surfing, that while all these elements – sun, breaks, depths, wind - and all these processes –stand up, balance, push, carve - supposedly bring about a certain complexity, it does not. Standing on the board, there is only one thought: staying long enough to ride it. All are taken under a moment of the mind quieting. And that ride, however short, is a summation of all the things humanity holds dear. Connection.
Understanding. Wisdom. Defiance. A ride is what you make of it. And perhaps this is why surfing lingo was invented. Stoked. Rad. Cloud 9. Because “good” and “great” is never enough for what a ride represents.
What could be mistaken as moments of non-thought, of clarity, could very well be rather moments of singular thought. Focused mindset from a focused action. Suddenly, on top of a wave, the world is somehow bigger. And even the sea, that by now is home to a crowd that slices to the left or right, sometimes even overhead, in almost-collisions, becomes magnanimous too.
In these moments of “stoked-ness”, Siargao has suddenly become an easily shareable place. “Kamo sa una, bai,” instructors are known to say when hit with a party wave, of the water becoming all too crowded at once. Oh, no. But I don’t mind at all, managing to gesture a “hi!” to a father and son at the second deck of the Boardwalk.
A few meters to the left is a Japanese couple. While the three of us are waiting for a clean wave, the husband asks in a show of beginner camaraderie, “Can you stand long already?”
“Trying to.” I reply, after the board has, for the hundredth time, slipped through my feet, swimming ahead of me.
“Good! Five seconds that time. Next wave!” Mike calls out from the back, nary even giving me a chance to run away with my thoughts, or let thoughts run away with me.
I lie down on the board for what seemed like a second before a swell pushes forward again.
In a task so primitive, so laborious, here lies the simplicity of surrender. What is surfing, after all, than man and his individuality riding on a piece of wood? If this isn’t freedom, it might just be the closest thing to. (Johanna Michelle Lim)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 24, 2013.