Landlocked people may see all waves as the same — water crashing into the sand. But surfers read the language of the ocean’s energy cresting into A-Frame peaks, outstretched points, quick reefs and barreling tubes of water. Look at the more than 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines and it’s easy to envision the potential for surf-able waves at any time of year. That’s what happened to couple Carla (formerly Rowland, now Zamora) and Ian Zamora, who arrived to the Philippines for a two-week trip in 2011, but ended up extending their stay for a month to surf the long, California-like peelers in 80 degree water.
Carla now lives in San Juan, La Union for half of the year during the winter season. San Juan is dubbed the “surfing capital” of Northern Luzon island and one of the more tourist-friendly surfing communities because its amenities and close proximity to Manila. To nurture the local women’s community, Carla started the annual
that unites surfers from established communities with the local line up. This event takes place on the opposite coast from her home, in Baler, Aurora. Baler's coconut tree-laden terrain faces the Western Pacific Ocean and has a handful of very different, quality waves within a short driving radius.
Last month, Seeababes Taylor Nelson and Rosie Jaffurs traveled to the third annual Wahine Classic Event in Baler to explore the different types of waves and landscapes with fellow California travelers Taylor Bruynzeel and Sophia Sarlo.
Taylor Nelson was mentored by Carla at Malibu, and said it was a dream come true for her to finally experience Carla’s home away from home in the Philippines. “We were sharing meals with people and getting to know husbands and wives. They weren’t shy asking about what it was like living in California,” Taylor said of dinner conversation with Carla’s Filipino neighbors. “One of my favorite things was to talk about food. I am a vegetarian and two of them were baffled by me.”
Surfing in the Philippines is a relatively new thing. One of the most famous waves, Cloud 9 on Siargo Island is said to have been discovered in late 1980s
. When you grow up surfing Malibu, and then Oahu, Hawaii, Taylor Nelson has had her share of being snaked by guys paddling around her. It's no wonder that the beginner stoke energy of the Philippines was a refreshing change. “There’s such a competitive chauvinist vibe in California, U.S., Australia and developed surfing communities. The Filipino culture of loving and being open really transcends in the water. It would be pumping and everyone was stoked. That was the coolest thing about the Philippines,” Taylor said.
Carla added, “What I love most about having a life in the Philippines is the simplicity of it. In the States, it is so easy to get caught up in the rat race. In the Philippines, I am reminded to be content in the moment, with what I have, and whom I have around me."
Poverty is rampant in the Philippines, with many coastal residents living in shanty houses that are often destroyed in Category 1 storms. For this trip, Carla partnered with Waves for Water
, in which the California surfers brought clean water filters to a local school affected by a recent typhoon.
"There are so many things to love about the Philippines if you are willing to spend some time getting to know it. While the country could be much cleaner, I absolutely love the climate and ocean temperatures," Carla said. "The welcoming mabuhay approach from Filipinos is something you don’t feel in the States. Even when I am surfing with a relatively crowded lineup, the energy and attitude of that lineup is generally that of joy and togetherness.”
And from the looks of these waves they scored, there's plenty to be happy about. Special thanks to Carla Rowland and Ian Zamora for their hospitality on this trip!
All photos by Ian Zamora
and Brendan Simmons