The Philippines make up an archipelago of over 7,000 islands. Combined under one flag, they create the fourth largest coastline in the world. It shelters Southeast Asia from the typhoons of the Pacific Ocean and has nurtured the growth of what was once an infant surfing community. With legendary breaks like Cloud 9, an annual stop on the WQS, it’s obvious this country is loaded with opportunities for world-class waves. And many of them just a few hours drive from the nation’s capital, Metro Manila.
As a kid growing up here, I fell in love with surfing way back in 1997. I rode my first waves at a virtually unknown beach in San Juan, La Union on a day with almost nobody else in the water. By about 2003, I remember a surge of Manila folk invading my special place by the hundreds. That surge grew to the tens of thousands in the past decade with resorts and restaurants completely saturating what was once a small surf town. Today, La Union and Siargao are among the top destinations of tourists originating from Manila. And it was all because of this “new” thing called surfing.
As time passed and surfing became more popular, so did the number of surfboards strapped on cars along the highways and in the water. At first, all of these boards were imported and not available for sale locally. Then a few companies began to bring them to the area. At first, they’d come in by the hundreds and eventually by the thousands. This one change definitely had a hand in jump-starting the industry’s growth in the Philippines. But of course, that didn’t mean everybody could afford them.
Meanwhile, while all this was happening, a few local surfers started to make them from scratch. Lui Tortuya, a Filipino American shaper from Los Angeles set up the Fiveforty Surf Company in Manila. Richard Matthews, an Australian shaper, began making bamboo surfboards in Surigao del Sur, just two of the names that planted the roots of the Philippines custom board market.
Fast forward to today and there are at least 10 shapers across the nation mowing foam and pumping out custom boards, a national surfing competition circuit (Philippine Surfing Championship Tour) is gaining momentum and support, a national surf team competes in the Southeast Asia Games, and more newly discovered spots are transforming into premier surf destinations.
This short documentary — with the help of director Gabs Batallones — gives the rest of the world a glimpse of how surfing is changing the Philippines.