Written and Photographed by Michael Jennings
Traveling can be one of the most rewarding experiences. The opportunity to search, explore, walking in the shoes of other travellers or creating your own new path. I’m fortunate enough in my line of work to travel regularly and to all corners of the globe, from standing under the Northern Lights of Norway, to filming perfect waves in the tropical waters of the South Pacific.
Most of my filming trips are based around the search of perfect waves. With the Internet taking over these days and the ability to check charts, live buoys and conditions, waves are becoming more and more crowded. This means that you need to be ready to be able to leave with short notice. It also means the intrepid traveller has started pushing themselves further into the unknown and chasing new, exotic destinations not yet splashed across travel magazines pages. This next trip was going to be exactly that.
I got the call up from good friend Matthew Lackey. “Dude, Charts look pumping. Back to back typhoons. We leave in the morning,” he said. There is nothing like a phone call like that to get the heart pumping. Then the brain starts to tick over with a mental checklist; batteries, chargers, fins, the list could go on forever..
Doing up the final zipper on my bag, its already past 11pm. Having to travel early my brain then turns to the thought of sleep. I know I will just end up laying thinking about what is going to happen. Will it be flat, crowded or could the typhoon hit the island like it did 2-years prior when I was there. The mental noise is deafening.
Coffee, Shower and I’m on the way to the airport to meet the boys before the sun has even come up. As a last minute call up, good friend Joe Clarke was asked to join us on this mission. With his explosive surfing and general laid back attitude he was going to be a good addition to the team.
Within minutes of arriving at the airport we encounter our first hiccup. As a photographer and videographer, I have always required extra baggage as I have so much equipment and Matthew had been left in charge booking the flight and baggage. When the lady behind the counter asks how I would like to pay for the extra charge, I’m thinking it would be forty to sixty dollars max. She says, “That will be two hundred and twenty dollars please Mr Jennings.” I almost keel over. After a few desperate minutes of trying to bargain with the lady I realize I would have to just cop the bill and move on. This certainly wasn’t going to be the last of today’s difficulties but as you do when you travel, you work through the challenges and keep going.
While on the last leg of our journey to the infamous Cloud 9, excitement and fear start to kick in. It is always such a risk just jumping on a plane putting total faith in the weather forecast and wave charts. Travel time to our destination would usually take around 24hours during which anything could happen. The typhoon could change direction, the winds could turn sour, the island could be locked down on account of the very typhoon we are chasing. There could also be other surf travellers that saw what we did on the charts and had the same idea.
The hiccups and challenges had ceased and we were in a local taxi, filled with emotion, ready to get our first glimpse of waves we’d travelled across the world for. We quickly put our luggage in our room and ran down to the boardwalk.
Walking quickly through the sand, kicking every rock and stick on the way down, we filled our heads with memories of our previous trip to the Phillipines. Looking through the palms we could see a light offshore wind with small but groomed waves. The swell wasn’t forecast to hit until the following day so we weren’t disheartened by the small waves. Without a second glimpse, the boys suited up to get some waves and wash off the travel vinegar.
As the morning sun shone through the blinds, we all wake with sore and exhausted heads. Not being used to the humidity and air-conditioning, we didn’t sleep very well. However, nothing that would stop us from jumping out of bed and heading down the track to check the waves. Suddenly our hearts sunk. We weren’t the only ones that saw the potential in the chart. The boardwalk was filled with people. Surfers and bodyboarders had turned up in masses. Thankfully, the waves had also come to the party with clean 5 to 6 foot lines marching towards shore and exploding on the reef. Again, the boys quickly jumped into their gear and joined the lineup to try and get their piece of the action. After a few hours of trading waves with the crowd of 70 plus surfers, they had had enough and called it a day.
We retreated back to the resort to enjoy a well-deserved mango smoothie and breakfast omelette with fresh fruit. We sat around the table disheartened with the size of the crowd, thinking to ourselves, “did we make a bad decision, did everyone have the same idea as us?”
“did we make a bad decision, did everyone have the same idea as us?”
After filling our belly’s with the best meal we had eaten in the past 72 hours, we took a moment to rest and ready ourselves for the afternoon session and the likely crowd it would draw. As we walked back down to the boardwalk, was a noticeable difference, there was no one there. Our slow walk had increased to a jog as we saw an empty wave unload on the reef. Now we were running. Cheers and screams of, “its pumping” and “Woooo!” coming from all of us. The tide had dropped and we were greeted with a empty line up. This is why we travel. This is what its all about.
The waves were 4 to 6 foot and there was no one insight except Joe and Matthew, trading waves. It had seemed that the shallow reef intimidated the locals as the tide had dropped and we had the place to ourselves. After surfing all afternoon with no one out, the boys came out of the water surfed out and sun burnt. We would sleep well this night.
After that first day of good waves, it seemed that everyday was Groundhog Day or that we were stuck in a time warp. We slept, surfed and ate. The Philippines is such an amazing place to visit. As soon as you walk into your resort and the staff treat you like you are some kind of rock star or celebrity. One of the staff members had started to imitate our accents, greeting us every morning with, “G,day mate, would you like a water”. Its funny the effect we can have on people when we travel.
With every passing day, the swell started to fade more and more. The low tide sessions now left the surfers to dance with the devil on each and every wave. After surfing this spot for a week straight, confidence was high until Joe came unstuck and visited the reef. It wasn’t much but in these remote countries, it doesn’t need to be. The reef in this part of the world is alive with bacteria that will start to penetrate your body if it gets into your skin after a run-in with the reef. Returning back the resort, Joe gets some fresh lime from the staff. Rubbing lime in a reef cut is a sting you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy, but it is always entertaining to watch a friend have to go through this cleansing ritual.
Rubbing lime in a reef cut is a sting you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy
I spent a lot of time on the boardwalk watching the locals and their ways. You would see the younger kids come down with their home made spear guns, wading around in waist deep water with goggles on looking for that nights dinner. Seeing the size of the fish they were keeping was a huge eye opener to me. The first catch wasn’t even the size of my palm. I thought to myself, “What would they even be able to do with that? How do they even cook it?” But they seemed perfectly happy with their spoils. Some of the cultural experiences that you will encounter while in a foreign country might not make sense to you but that doesn’t matter. It was just what they have been brought up doing and it will continue for generations to come.
The second typhoon had changed course and the winds were starting to look less favorable. So with flexible tickets, Matthew and I decided we would pack our bags after a successful trip and head off somewhere else. There seemed to be some good swells heading towards Bali where would continue our journey, just less than a week since we had arrived. We were in that same taxi heading back to the airport sunburnt, exhausted and surfed out yet we would leave the Philippines with a smile, knowing we had traveled and scored.
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