“Not possible to swim here, too dangerous, people die."
Looking out at the thundering shore-dump as it hurled itself on to the beach before sucking back in a chaotic roar of white water and rocks, I could see that our driver had a point. If I managed to make it through the shore-dump, the wave would have only been long enough for one bottom turn before being pounded into the beach. We would have to keep looking.
Kris Kinn and I had arrived in the northern Philippines province of Ilocos Norte a few days earlier on the overnight bus from Manila. When we awoke on our bumpy ride the crush of traffic and the pollution of the big city had been replaced with bright green rice paddies and farmers ploughing their fields the traditional way with water buffalo. Heavy monsoon clouds hung on the lush mountains and the air was thick with moisture. Through the dawn we caught our first glimpse of the sea, covered with white-caps and with swell breaking on jagged volcanic rocks.
To explore the surrounding area we hired a tricycle and driver. This unique Filipino form of transport is a motorbike with a tiny covered side-car and has advantage and disadvantages. The side-car isn't designed for anyone over six foot, so unable to fit inside I had to sit behind the driver on the bike, however, its size made it light enough to push through the sand as we explored the beaches.
We could already see this area had a lot of potential, but finding the right combination of waves and wind proved a frustrating process and our first attempts at kiting were less than successful. A perfect peeling wave looked promising but a hill directly upwind made it incredibly gusty. We thought we'd found the ideal place until I caught a wave and realised it sucked dry over a jagged reef. Luckily neither I nor my equipment ended up impaled on the rocks. Our tricycle driver seemed puzzled at our lack of interest in visiting beautiful waterfalls and our rejection of all the idyllic beaches he took us to.
We eventually found the conditions we were looking for close to the fishing village of Bangui. At the mouth of an estuary the deposited rocks and silt create a well-formed right-hand break, and the nearby wind farms were a good indication that this place received constant wind. Although the wind passed over land, which made it gusty, it was clean enough for wave riding. As we shot over the white water and carved on another over-head wave, our smiles told our tricycle driver that he had finally found the right beach for us.
Word spread quickly in the village and it wasn't long before a crowd of curious spectators were lining the shore. The kids were extremely friendly and surrounded Kris as she filmed. They wanted to know all about us and told her about life in the village and the name of every member of their family. The next time we returned to the beach I was surprised by a group of waving children shouting my name and telling me all about myself! A couple of boys even designated themselves as my board rescuers and when my board was washed to shore they would come running down the beach to carry it back to me.
With Bangui being so close to the break it was an ideal place to stay and film for the next couple of weeks. We managed to find a room within metres of the beach and with no other tourists around we had the wave to ourselves.
The local entertainment was limited to Thursday night Karaoke, when the town came alive to the sound of crooning, and Sunday afternoon cock fighting. When not killing roosters or Madonna songs, the locals fish. Their method involves a group gathering on the beach and staring out to sea, searching for a shoal of fish. Using a rowing boat and fishing net a few hundred feet long they would encircle the shoal, drawing it close to the beach.
The Philippines was once a colony of the United States and signs of its influence are still evident. The brightly coloured local buses are designed on modified US World War Two jeeps. Their sheet metal sides are adorned with religious icons, fantasy scenes and astrological signs in garish psychedelic colours. Passengers, produce and livestock pack the jeepneys to bursting point and American hip-hop culture is reflected in their music, clothes, and games of street basketball that are seemingly played everywhere. Being tall and so obviously a good player, I was often invited to join in; however, once my very limited skills became apparent I focused on passing the ball rather than hopelessly going for the hoop.
For the next two weeks we were lucky enough to have the conditions to ride and film most days. The wind was usually light and offshore in the morning, picking up and swinging onshore during the afternoon. The best conditions were around midday when the wind was clean but not strong enough to flatten off the waves. By the end of the day I was often fully powered on my seven metre in a sea of white-caps. It was a great place to film as the wave broke close enough to the beach to capture the action... sometimes a bit too close, as I found out when I was munched in the shore-dump just downwind. I was forced to ditch my kite and the strong rip current made it hard to swim ashore as it kept sucking me out each time I came frustratingly close to the sand.
Towards the end of our trip the conditions slowly dropped off and by the last day there wasn't a ripple on the water or a puff of wind in sight. It was a sign it was time to go. As we waited for the bus back to Manila we were wished farewell from the friendly people of Bangui. It was satisfying to have found such great conditions in a place we had heard so little about, and with over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, there is still so much more to explore. Hopefully I'll see you there!
OUTRO - If you enjoyed this story, you'll love Monsoon, Miguel's five minute video documentary from the Philippines, now playing at www.kiteworld.tv