The Best of 2018: Travel Year-in-Review
The first quarter of the year is almost over and for some of us, the new year has winded down into more of the usual. Perhaps there may be some like me whose new year might have just begun. With this being said, it was only recently that I was able to gather my thoughts and photos to look at 2018 from a macro-perspective.
The Palawan Series
Only when I looked at it as a whole year did I notice that Palawan was where I frequented my surf days. I went to Palawan for three different visits, two of which were in places I would never have thought there were waves.
Balabac Group of Islands, Palawan
This had to be the longest and hard-to-reach destination from the whole bunch in 2018. An hour-long flight from Davao to Puerto Princesa, a five-hour van ride and another five-hour boat ride to reach the center of Balabac and finally, an hour-long boat ride to reach our island base somewhere off the town center of Balabac.
This trip taught me resilience, to never judge the ocean and to respect its unpredictability. It also showed me that the southernmost part of Palawan is filled with the friendliest locals who can cook up amazing meals from whatever resource they have available.
On a sad note, this trip opened my eyes to the reality of the world and our seas today—the plastic nightmare is real, and I will never forget the mounds and heaps of trash I saw on every island we visited in Balabac. If this was the case for this almost unreachable paradise, how much more for the rest of the 7,107 islands of the Philippines and the world even?
Palawan’s Secret Surfing Spots
This came as a total surprise for me. I am one to explore and see for myself before sharing to the world. It was love at first ride. Whether it was the perfect swell, the challenging board setup or the fact that my second visit had me surfing unexplored territories, I will never forget what the waves this side of the country taught me.
The lessons? Accepting risks of a different kind, learning to accept that the once unreachable havens will soon be discovered and the pursuit of stoke will never go away. This last visit in 2018 made me come to terms with the reality that there will never be a perfect wave because like all of us imperfect beings, we find the beauty in imperfection.
Plus, I was finally given the blessing by the local Palaweños themselves to share the secret of Nagtabon Beach to the world! As a goofy-footer who has a grown to love right-facing waves, the left breaks of Nagtabon was a welcome playground to learning the joys of riding facing a breaking wave.
The opportunity to take off on a wave and immediately touch the wall of the wave as you go along the line, the light feel of the waves’ wall ever so slightly on my fingertips as I slowly move my body to mimic the wave’s energy—up and down—it was an ecstatic and addictive feeling!
Then there was San Vicente where I will always leave a space for in my heart because of its left waves, friendly turtles, challenging current (at times) and fine sand unlike any other I’ve stepped on (I haven’t been to Boracay so I can’t compare this to that).
The Second Year of PHL Professional Surfing
If you haven’t yet heard, the Philippines now has an ongoing professional surfing league. Designed to bolster talent from different parts of the country, the Philippine Surfing Championship Tour (PSCT) ran its second-year last year, and I got to be part of it.
The opening leg of the tour was in Siargao which I thought was befitting since Siargao was one of the nation’s premier surfing destinations. Lanuza in Surigao del Sur followed in November. Unlike it’s more famous neighbor, Siargao, Lanuza had this ultimate laidback vibe that only small, quiet surf towns had.
Despite having only three legs as opposed to last year’s four which had Baler and La Union, this year we had the privilege of having the closing leg in a new surf destination that was virtually unknown before. This small fishing village in Sabang, Cabugao in Ilocos Sur was just under the surf radar until PSCT arrived. It was a leg we would never forget. I’ll let the photos do the talking.
The RISE Conference in Hong Kong
My first out of the country trip! I may draw ire and rolling eyes from this statement. It took me that long before I could travel abroad and the truth is, I didn’t mind taking my time to travel around the Philippines first before visiting other countries.
We spent a total of eight days in Hong Kong. Five of those days were spent on the RISE Conference which was the best tech conference I’ve ever attended in my life. With over 15,000 attendees and more than 300 speakers from over 100 countries, this was the largest tech gathering in Asia.
With startup booths from A-Z, the conference occupied almost the whole third floor of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. It was an intellectual retreat for me, and I was absorbing everything like a sponge. My poor brain tried to be able to handle visiting all the booths, and I was almost able to!
At the end of the five days, with lots of information and stories to last me a lifetime, we ended our Hong Kong trip by visiting Disneyland and playing tourist to a few other well-known shopping destinations.
Undrowning in Baler
In most ways, this was the trip I never expected to surf. I didn’t plan on going, and truthfully, I thought I lost the spark of stoke in my soul. My cousin, Ab, and his mom, Tita Carol, invited me around October last year. I haven’t been surfing in a while, and I thought I’d lost the magic.
Without checking the forecast, I hopped in the car and just slept my way through the six-hour drive from Manila to Baler. Occasionally waking up because Buddy, my cousin’s huge golden retriever pup, would walk over me since we were both in the backseat.
To my surprise, when we got to Baler and parked right up the beachfront, I squealed in delight as I saw head-high waves breaking and I knew from that moment on that I’d never lost it.
I went surfing of course, with new connections I made from PSCT last year. Through Harriet, I was able to join Mark Aguila (who was the longboard champion in 2017) accompanied me for a short surf session. It was amazing! I was longboarding for the first time in the longest time. Getting head-high waves in not so friendly conditions—I was feeling so stoked and on top of the world when suddenly my leash broke.
I found myself tumbling underwater. I couldn’t control myself nor did I have the strength to swim up to the surface—I didn’t even know which way was up. I was already taking in water, half-choking and trying to breathe. I thought it was the end, but when I asked myself if this was it, somehow my soul responded fiercely with a “No! You can’t die like this!”
Long story short, I was able to get myself safely on to shore by asking for help and borrowing an acquaintance's board (thanks, JP!) so I could recover better. I loved this tough love kind of welcome in Baler, and I promised I’d be back to redeem myself because the waves were just that awesome though I was too scared out of my skin to go back.
In December, I took a special trip to visit Dahican—my home break, my classroom and the place where I spent most of my time after resigning from the corporate world in 2016.
This was one of my most recent trips and to quote what I said “You'll always be the view I'll never get tired of looking at. The sound of the waves crashing and the laughter of local children—it'll always be a welcome sound to my ear. You never get old, Dahican. I miss you, especially during Amihan.”