2008 Team Rider Update: Miguel Willis in another danger zone, big waves not big guns.
Watch the video then read the back story:
Miguel Willis takes the new 5'7 Thruster Waveboard into battle.
Welcome to Manila.
“Waaatch...” was about all the warning I had before the rock hit me.
A deranged street lady was hurling chunks of concrete at a group of tormenting kids. What she lacked in accuracy she made up for enthusiasm and I was lucky I didn’t get hit in the head... welcome to Manila. A blue haze hung over the city and the air was thick with exhaust fumes which burned the eyes and throat. Everything moved with a frantic energy and ten minutes later in a completely separate incident of violence we watched someone threatening to hurl a brick through a motorist’s windscreen and then kick their door in.
Not surprisingly, we didn’t warm to Manila and hurried to jump on the first bus out. I was travelling with Kris Kinn, another kiter, who was joining me for a couple of weeks as we searched for waves on the northern coast. It was February and we hoped that the North East Monsoon winds pushing down the South China Sea from Taiwan would bring swell. By looking at forecasts we had an idea of the general area that should receive the best conditions. However it would take a bit of searching to find the right spot.
It was dark by the time we left the chaos of Manila behind and when we woke the next morning the transformation outside the bus couldn’t have been dramatic. Shafts of light shone through heavy clouds, illuminating patches of iridescent green rice paddy fields and farmers rode water buffalos on their way to work. Anarchy had given way to calm.
Our first attempt at kiting was on a pristine white beach where the head-high waves of a reef break peeled in both directions. Unfortunately it was in a bay with a large hill directly upwind and only few meters of beach before the waves broke on a jagged reef. Occasionally a gust would come through that felt deceptively strong and hoping the wind would be more stable on the outside I decided to give it a go. On my first tack, I shot out halfway through the waves before reaching a glassy patch and sinking. I managed to keep the kite in the sky until the next gust came through and I was off again for another twenty meters before wallowing in the calm again.
Miraculously after an hour of this I (or my gear) hadn’t managed to end up on the reef but as the wind wasn’t improving it would only a matter of time so we decided to look further afield. For the next couple of days we explored the surrounding area trying to find the right combination of wind and waves. We almost drove our tricycle driver crazy in the process and he couldn’t understand why, when he’d take us to these beautiful beaches, we’d take one look and want to move on. Finally we found a break close to a small fishing village. Although the wind passed over the land and was gusty it was rideable, the wave was a good size and peeled right and the shore dump was manageable.
Our arrival in the village caused a stir of interest and we soon had a crowd of over 30 people running down the beach to watch the show. Riding the waves I could hear cheers from the beach although the wipe-outs received the biggest applause. Everyone was very friendly and being so close to the break we decided to base ourselves in the village for the next couple of weeks.
A Fishing Village on The South China Sea
Fishing in this area seemed a communal affair that hadn’t changed for years. Once a shoal of fish was spotted from shore a canoe was rowed out, encircling it in a huge net a few hundred meters long. A large crowd of villages would then haul the net into shore and divide the fish. Much of the Philippine fish stocks have been devastated by the use of dynamite and cyanide to catch fish and it was good to see it done on a sustainable level. Although there was no shortage of food, eating out was a challenge for Kris as she’s a vegetarian and everything on the menu seemed to contain animal parts. Vendors lined the main street fanning charcoal barbeques and selling everything from pork marinated in a delicious sauce to the less-appetising pieces of skewered pig’s ears and scary-looking chicken feet on a stick
Our hotel was only a few hundred meters from the break and each morning we woke to the crash of waves and howling wind, a sign that it’d be another full day of riding. The place was fairly basic but ideal for us apart from being infested with ants. Saucers filled with water under every table leg helped protect against them but it was a running battle and they even chewed through kite bladders. Most mornings the wind would blow slightly offshore, slowly picking up and swinging onshore through the day. Although the change in direction was only by a few degrees it was amazing how much different it made when riding the wave. The offshore wind held up the wave face but made it harder to unhook as you needed the depower range for when the apparent wind built. We were shooting a short video of the trip and it was a good place to film as the wave broke close to shore, allowing Kris to get close to the action Although a couple of times I didn’t pull out soon enough and was spitting sand for ten minutes after being dumped on the beach.
Not Even “When in Rome”
Apart from watching us kiting the main entertainment in the village was karaoke. It was quite normal for a couple of people to sit around the karaoke machine in the middle of the day crooning away to Madonna and Rod Stewart hits. Being completely tone deaf I hurriedly made my excuses when invited to join in. However from what I heard I don’t think I would have stood out. The other popular pass time was cock fighting and most houses had a few roosters lined up outside. Betting on the fights is big money and a lot of work goes into training their birds for a five second bout.
For the trip I rode my 5.7 Thruster and my 7 and 10 meter Bularoos which made a great combination. I had initially thought the board might be a bit small for me but it proved to have speed, manoeuvrability and worked well in a large range of conditions. I took the Thruster backpacking around Sri Lanka and the Philippines for a couple of months and it has stood up well to the trains, buses and planes. Its biggest test was when it flew off a tricycle roof at 50 kmph and cart wheeled down the road. The noise of fibreglass bouncing on tarmac is a sickening sound and couldn’t believe it only received a few superficial scratches. The Bularoos handled the gusty winds well with their range and stability which made them ideal for wave riding.
Time to Go
Towards the end of our trip the swell slowly dropped off until it was completely flat on the last couple of days. Another sign that it was time to leave was my video camera couldn’t focus and was chewing up video tapes. I’d been filming fishermen pulling in their nets from a low angle, maybe not the brightest idea when it’s blowing 35 knots on a sandy beach. With no waves and a broken camera but content with the good riding that we had scored, we returned to the bedlam of Manila. For a kiting trip the Philippines has huge potential. With over 7,000 islands in the Philippines archipelago there is no shortage of places to ride, from flat water to over-head waves. At certain times of the year the wind is very consistent and the friendly people all help make it a great destination.
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