The Malihini

Competition Day 1

I buried my toes in the sand and watched as the waves rolled and kissed the shore. They’re bigger than the ones I’ve ridden. Way bigger, and we’re not talking about glassy waves. We’re talking about waves with white water that’s seven to eight feet high. Short board waves, not long board waves. Yet here I am, competing as a malihini in the long board division of the 2014 Philippine Wahine Classic. I must have been out of my mind when I registered.

What if I fall?

It’s just water.

But still.

What if I fall?

Then I heard another voice in my head:

Oh honey, what if you fly?

I found myself second guessing. I thought of backing out especially when I failed to catch a single wave during our training before the competition. Quitting is always easy, but the awful aftertaste of regret is always difficult to let go of, especially when it haunts you every single day. Once the pingpong battle in my head ended, I decided to just push through with the competition. I already paid for my ticket, I traveled a thousand miles to compete, and quitting sounds insane. I decided to apply the concept of open space, the one that says “whatever happens is the only thing that could” so I could manage my expectations. ย If I’m meant to win, I’ll win. If I’m meant to lose, I’ll lose. What’s important is I go out there, paddle my little heart out and surf. I also managed to read a text from my mom before paddling out for my heat. She said, “have fun, waves are your friend”.

Preparing for my heat. (c) Ivan Montalban
Preparing for my heat. (c) Ivan Montalban

Paddling out was a struggle for me and Joeren, my caddy. I remember him asking if I want to give up and I said no. Yes, the waves are scary and I’m risking the possibility of drowning and breaking my neck but I didn’t travel all the way from Mindanao to quit. Seeing that I’m determined, Joerenย asked me to turn around and start paddling for my first wave. It was big and scary but I was committed. I paddled and stood once I felt the push. My ride was a little shaky at first, but I had to make sure I won’t fall. We were allowed ten quality rides. Carla Rowland told us that ten 2’s are better than two 10’s.

(c) Janine Agbon
(c) Janine Agbon
Second ride. (c) Janine Agbon
Second ride. (c) Janine Agbon

By the time I made it back to where Joeren was, he asked me to turn around again and paddle for my second wave. My arms were tired but I paddled anyway. Second ride done. I tried to get three more rides, but I kept slipping. Next thing I knew, we were down to the last two minutes. We gave each other high fives and paddled back to the shore. Joeren kept saying “I told you, you can do it!”. I just smiled. I was too tired. At this point, I wasn’t sure if my rides were good enough. I just wanted to rest.

Moral support from this kickass surfer! (c) Janine Agbon
Moral support from this kickass surfer! (c) Janine Agbon

Before heading out for lunch, my cousin and I approached Carla Rowland and asked for the results of my heat. I was so stoked when I found out that I landed first place and that I’ll be advancing to the second round! I was grinning from ear to ear. I didn’t expect it at all! When I told Joeren about it, he was stoked as well. We were told that the continuation for the Malihini Longboard Division will be moved to the next day because of the wave conditions so we decided to grab lunch and rest for a while.

Day one ended with lights, music, and booze as all surfers made their way to Aliya Surf Camp to party and for the awarding ceremony. Daisy Valdez was able to defend her title as the Open Shortboard Champion and Candra Jordan who came all the way from California won the Open Longboard Division.

(c) Ivan Montalban
(c) Ivan Montalban
Divine Smith, our DJ for the night! :) (c) Ivan Montalban
Divine Smith, our DJ for the night! ๐Ÿ™‚ (c) Ivan Montalban

Competition Day 2:

Two knocks on the door- that’s what woke me up. My cousin opened it and Brian, our friend, was there. “Time to go to church”, he said. We dressed up, checked the wave conditions and the competition schedule, then made our way to church. After church, we wolfed down our breakfast then made our way to Aliya Surf Camp for day two of the competition.

So stoked to see this! :) (c) Ivan Montalban
So stoked to see this! ๐Ÿ™‚ (c) Ivan Montalban

I was in Heat 5, round 2. This gave me enough time to observe other surfers. My cousin was out first who won her heat and advanced to the quarter finals. For round 2, I was on my own because Joeren had to teach. He told me “I know you can do it, and you don’t need me there”. Shudder.

(c) Ivan Montalban
(c) Ivan Montalban

There are moments in life when you only have yourself. I have to admit, day one was easy because I knew that Joeren was there and as long as he’s around I’ll be fine. For day two, I had to toughen up. While paddling out, I kept reminding myself that everything will be okay. First ride, fail. Second, manageable. Third, okay. Fourth, wipe out. Paddle out, try again. It was almost impossible to reach the line up and it was hard to paddle against the current. We were all struggling but we still gave our best.

(c) Ivan Montalban
(c) Ivan Montalban

I didn’t make it to the quarterfinals, and that’s okay. I told myself that I’ll just have fun and accept whatever the competition results will be. For me, it’s enough that I finally had the chance to surf again after being landlocked for a long time. My cousin finished fourth, and I’m very happy for her. She’s improved so much from last year and she’s proof that hard work really pays off.

(c) Ivan Montalban
(c) Ivan Montalban

I ended the trip by burying my toes in the sand again. I stared at the ocean, as if trying to take a mental picture of the waves that were rolling in front of me. Fall, I did. Hard. But fly, I did, as well. I was asked why I decided to compete despite being landlocked for six months and my answer is, well you have to start somewhere. Yes, I haven’t surfed for six months and my skills suffered, but I’d like to think that whatever’s meant to happen is really the only thing that could. Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith and surprise yourself. It’s like falling in love- there’s no specific schedule. It just happens to you. I now experienced what a real competition is like, so I know what to expect next time, if I decide to compete again. Surfing is as fluid as it can get. All you have is yourself, the board, the waves, and that 10 seconds worth of commitment to paddle, stand, feel the drop, and ride. This experience taught me to trust in myself more, and to not be afraid of falling. Sure a wipeout will shove buckets of saltwater down your throat, but what do you do after that? You get back on the board, and you paddle out again. I also learned to open myself up to possibilities, and to more good things. ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s been three weeks since the competition and I’m still on a high. . I went home with a huge bruise on my right arm because it was hit by a fin, but it’s all worth it. I learned so much from this experience and I met a lot of people. I’m just glad I took the risk.

I’m very thankful for my mom, gave me permission to take time off work to compete, and for sending me messages of support all throughout the competition. My uncle, who lent us his car ย so we don’t have to commute and to Manong Dario of course who drove for us despite lack of sleep. To ย J9 who encouraged me to join the competition and made sure that I enjoy my first Baler experience. Fin, for cheering me on when I told her that I was thinking of backing out. Brian, my Monopoly Deal partner for the water (yay!) and for the support, of course. Esh, my roomie, it was so nice to see you again! Ivan, for helping us carry our stuff and for taking our pictures. Sagasa Surfkada, it was very nice to meet all of you. Siargao crew, it was great to see you again! Mico, thank you so much for lending me your board and for telling me to imagine Siargao when you noticed that I was scared. Joeren, my masungit-na-mabait caddy for helping me brave those big waves. Of course, to Carla Rowland and Ian Zamora whose passion for surfing and love for the Philippines made this event possible.

Fellow wahines who competed, kudos to all of us!

Saltwater Musings : Siargao

When you’re a wahine stuck in the city and programmed into a daily routine, you begin to crave for the ocean. Once you notice with every glimpse in the mirror that your tan lines betrayed you and decided to disappear, you begin to crave for the ocean even more. With each passing day, the craving intensifies and the only way to satisfy them is by watching your surf videos that your lovely friends captured from eons ago. You know that things have gone bad when day in and day out, all you can think of are long rides, sunsets, stoke, surf, sand, and sea. This is when you become thankful for friends who invite you to Siargao for a surf/soul searching trip (thanks, Liz).

Siargao is probably the best surf spot I’ve been in. I’ve heard about it from surfer friends and I can remember painting mental images of the place based on how they described it. I used to be scared of surfing in Siargao because of the reefs and what they call “professional waves”. ย I am far from being a professional surfer. The biggest wave I’d dare ride is only six feet high and that’s after convincing myself that the worst thing that can happen to me is a wipe out. Siargao always gave me a combination of fear and excitement that whenever I thought visiting it before, I’d chicken out. I guess it’s true that there’s beauty in timing. I think if I went there before, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did.

It’s only been a week since that epic Siargao trip and all I can say is I never left. Yes, I’m physically back in the city but everything else is still there, riding those waves, enjoying the good vibes, and staying stoked. That place gave me so much and I’ve only been there for six days. I got to be in my element again, and it was humbling to know that six months without surfing brings you back to square one… at least for the first two hours of your mini reunion with the board and the ocean. It was frustrating that I couldn’t catch a wave, that I kept falling, and that I was being robbed of patches of my skin because of the reef underneath. However, it was also very fulfilling when after approximately two hours of not giving up, I finally got that long ride that was enough to keep me stoked until the next day. The next two surf days were about learning how to do the frontside and the backside which were both challenging at first.

backside

superbend

We also chanced upon fellow surfers (Xave, Pia, and Mico) who were also there for vacation. We went island hopping to see more of Siargao on our second day and it really is beautiful. It’s sad to see that there are buildings being constructed after almost every kilometer. There are hotels, condominiums and resorts, claiming the place as theirs when it really isn’t. Everyone wants to own a piece of the land. Everyone wants to own a piece of paradise and its alarming. The locals say that Siargao has changed so much since it became popular. Its spot on the list of the popular surf destinations worldwide has its good and bad side and everyone’s just dealing with it. My only prayer is that they get to preserve its beauty.

lizxave

 

The ocean lent its ears to oohs and ahhs as our boat docked from one island to another. The waters were clear as crystal, it was fun to dive and be all mermaid-y without having to worry about landing on someone’s trash. The corals had were painted with a beautiful symphony of colors, it was hard to focus on just one. There were fishes of different shapes and sizes that swam in distances both far and near- depending on who was brave enough to touch the human skin. The salty Siargao breeze was filled with our laughters, jokes, and tricks with the GoPro. There were moments when we would randomly burst into song or dance once a good song plays in Spotify. Our day would end with the obligatory Monopoly deal where everyone’s competitive side showed.

(c) Mico Cervantes
(c) Mico Cervantes
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(c) Mico Cervantes
(c) Mico Cervantes
(c) Mico Cervantes

Liz and I did a lot of walking during our stay and this allowed us to explore the resorts in the area. Of all the resorts we’ve been to, Hotstpot stood out because they were very accommodating, the interiors were nice, and it had the ambiance that we wanted. Before surfing, Liz and I went there to hang out, order some drinks, and watch surf movies. Hotspot also offers board and GoPro rentals for Php 500/day which is really cheap! Their sexy chicken is a dish worth trying after an epic session. I give it two thumbs up!

The last day. :( (c) Hotspot
The last day. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ (c) Hotspot
(c) Hotspot
(c) Hotspot

Notes:

1) Respect the locals.

2) There is no ATM, so make sure that you have enough money. Meals cost around Php 80 – Php 130 but they have big servings, so it’s like having two meals in one.

3) You have to bring small bills since they almost always don’t have change.

4) The airport transfer will cost you around Php 300.

5) Go out and explore the island. There’s so much to see!

6) Think twice before accepting beer or any alcoholic beverage from people.

7) There’s a yoga session at the tower every 9:30 in the morning.

8) Be sure that your USB has enough disk space (17 gigs) so you can copy your videos from Hotspot’s GoPro.

9) Brace yourself for lots and lots of walking.

10) Enjoy each surf session and if you can, wait until the sun sets on the horizon.

Siargao is a paradise. It’s a great place to get lost in. You bask in its wonder and thank God that there’s a place like it in a country that’s fascinated by constructing giants in the concrete jungle. It’s a place that welcomes you with a warm embrace and gives you a heartache once the day of your departure draws near. You meet people from all over the world, speaking different languages, molded by different cultures, united by one thing : surfing. Okay, some just lay down and pray to the heavens that they get tans instead of freckles but you know what I mean. Siargao heals you in ways you can never imagine. It gives you picturesque sunsets that make you close your eyes and thank God that you witnessed that. It gives you ride-worthy waves that bring you from the line up to the board walk. It gives you locals who are nice enough to lend you a helping hand when they sense that you’re having trouble. It blesses you with the opportunity to know more about your teammate/travel buddy/friend who’s just as game as you are to explore the island and brave walking down dark streets since there are no street lights as of writing. Most of all, it gives you a chance to breathe, to take a break from the city’s fast-paced lifestyle. Siargao is a beauty, and I will forever be thankful that I ended my 6-month streak of no surfing in that island.

I leave you with this video that my friend Xavier D’Souza made. Thanks for reading! ๐Ÿ™‚

Silver Plus One

Last October 24, I added another year to my age. I was excited to celebrate my birthday this year for two reasons: I get to spend time with my family and I get to surf. ย ๐Ÿ™‚

My heart has been overflowing with happiness since two weeks ago. God has showered me with blessings and each day, I woke up wanting to express how grateful I am, but never finding the words worthy enough to show what I really feel. It’s been some time since I felt this way that’s why I was thrilled to welcome my 26th birthday. Too excited, I have to admit. I had a hard time sleeping because I was so happy.

It was nice to wake up to my mother’s very tight hug. She woke me up at around 5:30 in the morning since we had to leave early for Dahican. We stopped by Cafe France for breakfast since she’s been wanting to eat there since the night before. We were lucky because the place wasn’t full and there were parking slots available. The restaurant staff were very accommodating and attentive to our needs; they even greeted me happy birthday. ๐Ÿ™‚

It was already 9 in the morning when we left for Dahican. Traffic not permitting, we arrived in Dahican at 2 in the afternoon. ย I was looking forward to having an afternoon surf session, but since the waves were too small, I decided to take pictures of the skim boarders. The way they run, skim, flip their boards and ride the waves is like beautiful poetry. How they do it effortlessly is a mystery to me.

And he's only 11.
And he’s only 11.
Bayogyog Aporbo, 2-time champion of the Penang International Skimboarding Competition
Bayogyog Aporbo, 2-time champion of the Penang International Skimboarding Competition

After taking pictures and teaching my brother the basics of surfing, we ate dinner. The number of people in the venue was starting to grow since the Sambuokan Festival competition participants and event guests were starting to arrive. We had the chance to talk to Alantoy who immediately gave us updates on what’s been happening the past few months. It was nice to see him and his brother, Bochok, again. They’re kind of my surf family here in Mindanao. After dinner, we went to bed since we planned on going dolphin watching and surfing the next day.

Because of the Sambuokan Festival in Mati, all of the hotels were fully booked. Good thing we were able to rent a tent from the Amihan Boys. They set up the tent near the shore which was a good thing. I liked falling asleep to ocean’s lullaby and waking up to the same song. When I opened our tent the next morning, I was speechless. See, this was waiting for us outside:

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Early morning peelers.
Boys in the city jog for miles while Amihan boys skim for hours.
Boys in the city jog for miles while boys in Dahican skim for hours.

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Langlang, sister of Bayogyog. She's only fifteen years old.
Langlang, sister of Bayogyog. She’s only fifteen years old.

I had my share of stoke that morning too! At 9 AM that morning, after looking for dolphins, our boat stopped at a spot that had glassy waist-high waves. Two of the Amihan Boys were there to assist and they were nice enough to give tips that helped me improve my ride. They also taught my brother how to surf. Both of us were stoked!

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Birthday surf from a different angle.
Sibs. :)
Sibs. ๐Ÿ™‚
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Long ride โค
My brother's first ride. ;)
My brother’s first ride. ๐Ÿ˜‰

My brother and I had our own share of cuts from that morning’s session but we were still stoked. The water was so clear, we could see the corals, fishes, ย and sea urchins (unfortunately) underneath. The waves were perfect and the best part was, we had it all to ourselves.

Birthday cut.
Birthday cut.

We stayed at the Amihan Boy’s cottage in the afternoon because our tent was hotter than a sauna. We met new people there, including the youngest of the Plaza siblings: Juan. Some of the younger Amihan boys were there too and they were all smiles as they told us their stories. Some of them came from really difficult situations and according to them, skim boarding helped them cope. It was really good to hear how surfing and skim boarding helped change their lives.

Later that afternoon, Langlang and Jovic taught me how to skim. They said it’s a lot more difficult that surfing but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. I really appreciate that they took some time off their skim session just to teach me. I was really moved. I didn’t really do well because I was scared of falling. The board hit me twice and I’m sporting two new bruises on my left leg, but it’s okay. I want to learn how to skim and seeing how it’s done, I know that I will have more scars and bruises.

(c) Bane Agbon
(c) Bane Agbon
With Langlang. (c) Bane Agbon
With Langlang. (c) Bane Agbon

I’m still stoked from my 26th birthday celebration. It was simple, but it was very meaningful. I got to spend it with my family while doing what I love the most. To those who remembered my birthday and took time to send their birthday greetings, thank you so much. My heart is overflowing with happiness and gratitude. โค

Surfing: Behind the Scenes

I’ve been meaning to write about this since I started surfing. I just didn’t have the time. No. I had the time, I didn’t have the words worthy enough to give justice to my journey as a surfer. I think for most people, surfing is just about standing on a board, looking fancy, having kickass photos (to be posted on Facebook with -insert number here- comments), prancing around in bikini and board shorts, and doing the “shaka” whenever possible.

Every surfer surfs for a reason. Every surfer has his/her story. Here’s mine:

I started surfing at a time when I was still in the process of healing from a terrible experience. I guess at some point in our lives, we hit rock bottom and we’re left standing in the crossroads. That was, by far, the biggest blow I’ve received in my 25 years of existence. Everything was uncertain. Everything was taken away from me. The only thing I was hanging on to at that time was the determination to live up to my second name (Aliya) and bounce back.

It took some time.

I was slowly getting back on my feet when our flag football team (Team Sunken Garden) decided to go on a surfing trip to Zambales. I had mixed feelings about going. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited. Really. However, despite all the excitement, I was worried about some things. I had issues with my body. I’m not exactly fat, but I’m not thin either. I was scared of not being able to stand on the board. ย I was worried about being judged but as the trip drew near I decided to let go of my inhibitions and just go with the flow.

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Kneeling on my first ride.

I remember hating myself for not being able to stand up during the first session. All of my friends were getting stoked with their rides while there I was, struggling. I didn’t want to surf anymore because I felt that maybe, surfing isn’t my thing. Good thing I managed to stand during my second session, thanks to Kuya Pat! Too bad our trip was cut short because all of us had to go back to Manila for work. I remember telling myself that I’ll be back in a week or two to surf again. I really wanted to improve.

Stoked. Me with Kuya Pat!
Stoked. Me with Kuya Pat!

And return I did! This time, my rides were longer. I made friends with some of the locals too! My friends and I stayed at Kila Bot Sir Ping Spot, owned by siblings Bot and Ping Danila. My instructors, Jay-R and Pangke, both patient and generous in teaching.

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My first long ride!
My first long ride!
Skim sessions in between surf sessions
Skim sessions in between surf sessions
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From strangers to very good friends – here’s our first picture with the KBSPS surf instructors.

I eventually found myself riding a bus to Zambales every two weeks. Each surf trip gave me the chance to experience new things, meet new people, and learn more about myself. The beach became my happy place. The sand became a bed so comfy I could just sleep soundly and drift to places far and near. The salt water, a blanket that hugged me with each shore entry, as if showing me how much it missed me. The waves sang sweet melodies that were delightful to my ears. Everything was beautiful, and everything in the beach made sitting for four hours in the bus worthwhile.

Music appreciation sessions with my good friend Momma G. ;)
Music appreciation sessions with my good friend Momma G. ๐Ÿ˜‰
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My first injury. Crashed into another surfer whose surfboard hit my shin. That’s Gan carrying me because I couldn’t walk.

There were good surf days and there were bad surf days but regardless, I learned to enjoy both. I figured, it would be futile to make a fuss out of not having long rides. After several surf trips, I learned to embrace the fact that wipe outs are part of surfing. With each wipe out, I found myself smiling, getting back on the board, and paddling out again. It’s similar to the traps that we fall into in our daily lives. When we’re faced with challenges, our initial reaction is to drown in depression and let the problem consume us until it becomes our reality. Yes, it’s easy to let ourselves drown and accept defeat but because of surfing, I learned stand up with each fall and bounce back.

You learn to laugh after a wipe out.
You learn to laugh after a wipe out.
This "stance" is the reason why they call me Superbend.
This “stance” is the reason why they call me Superbend.
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After a wipe out, all you have to do is paddle out and try again.

I spent Christmas in Zambales last year due to certain circumstances. Pangke, Jay-R, and Noel were kind enough to spend time with me. They introduced me to other locals and surfers. They also taught me how to read waves. Some days, we just sat on the shore and watched the sunset. Jam afternoons were the best. Noel’s a really good guitar player and I sang to every song that he played while Jay-R and Pangke took turns in playing the kahon.

It was also in December when I made the decision to level up by catching a wave on my own. I wanted a solo ride as a Christmas present and it was given to me. ๐Ÿ™‚

Mornings, the way they should be.
Mornings, the way they should be.
First solo ride!
First solo ride!
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Liwliwa sunset- always a sight to see.

Catching a wave when you’re a beginner isn’t easy. It takes practice, timing, patience, support from people who know you, and most of all, BELIEF IN YOURSELF. A simple “I can do it” goes a long way. It took me months to take the risk, hours to catch a wave, and a ride that’s seconds long to prove to myself that I can do it. That it can be done. That it’s possible. Since then I’ve been surfing solo but for safety reasons, I still make sure that the pros are nearby.

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Where there are no waves, you practice on an indo board.

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I met a lot of people because of surfing. Most of them are acquaintances- turned-good friends; proof that a simple exchange of hellos goes a long way. I met some of them while waiting for waves at the line up, some through another surfer, and some during hang out sessions at KBSPS.

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With Julianne at Crystal Beach. (c) Benjo Robles
With Kuya Ping and Phil, the surfer dog.
With Kuya Ping and Phil, the surfer dog.
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(c) Benjo Robles
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With my twin, Ian.
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I miss them. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ (c) Telay Robles
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Achievement unlocked!

My second family. :)
My second family. ๐Ÿ™‚

Surfing has taught me a lot of things. It has taught me to rise with each fall; to go with (and not counter) the flow. It taught me that everything has a process; that things will eventually fall into place as long as you’re patient. It also taught me to believe in myself more.

Sunset surf sessions.
Sunset surf sessions.
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(c) Adele Katerina Raya

img_4117Surfing is the very reason why I don’t mind that I’m 10 shades darker, or that my hair color has changed due to too much sun exposure. It’s one of the reasons why I wake up early in the morning and sleep not-so-late at night. In the beach, on a surf board, is a place where I’m most happy. It thrills me, it keeps me alive, and it gives me an extraordinary kind of high. I’m proud of the scars and bruises I got because of it. I earned each and every single one of them. I know I still have a long way to go and I’m actually excited to see what the sea has in store for me.

Surfing, for me, is more than just riding a board. Surfers are not measured by the number of waves they ride. Instead, they are measured by how much fun they have out there. It’s not in the number of wipe-outs you get, but in the number of times you get back on the board after each wipe-out.

Surfing is waking up each morning and running to the ocean to see how the waves are. It is sitting in the bus for hours while doing everything that you can so that your EQ level stays up. It is going back to a place that’s both beautiful and painful while dealing with all the memories(both good and bad). It is waiting patiently for a wave, even if it means sitting under the sun for hours. It is meeting people from different walks of life who eventually become family disguised as friends. It is learning more about yourself. It is realizing that your biggest competition is yourself. It is putting your life in the hands of a 9″0. It is saving every single penny you have so you have enough money to surf on the weekend. It is caring for nature.ย It is falling in love with sport. It is learning to put more value in things that matter, and less in things that don’t. It is trusting that you can and will ride that big wave, no matter how many times the blithering idiot in the line up says that you can’t. It is paddling out after each wipe out. It is sharing the stoke. It’s a way of life. It is more than just a feeling, it’s a state of being.

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And when people ask me why I surf, my answer has always been simple: it heals me.