University of the Waves

MATI CITY (MindaNews/7 Oct) – It was five o’clock in the morning on a fine weather Sunday  when players of Team Amihan, a Filipino term for northeast monsoon, gathered at Dahican Beach.

Amihan surfer Sonny Boy Aporbo performs a skimboarding tricks at the shores of Dahican beach in Mati, Davao Oriental. Mindanews File Photo by Keith Bacongco

Carrying their skimboards of different sizes and designs, the children of this poor fisher folk village lined up at the shore while waiting for their mentor’s call.

George Plaza, 40, also known as Jun or Botchok for the Amihan members, has been their mentor and trainer in a sport that poverty does not limit them to engage in.

Here, there is neither tuition nor miscellaneous fee as the long stretch of white shore and the waves are for everybody.

One needs only a piece of oval-shaped wooden board with two pointed ends that will carry a slim body as it skates away along the waves.

This side of the Pacific has just produced a champion, 19-year-old Sonny Boy Aporbo, in the 6th Penang International Skimboarding Competition in Malaysia.

Aporbo, or Bayogbog to his friends,  quit schooling several times to focus on what he does best – skimboarding.

“There is no course in college for skimboarding,” he said, while grilling fish for everybody’s breakfast.

He started Grade 1 at eight, but immediately stopped as he was itching to become a pro in skimboarding at an early age.

He came back to school after four years of learning more tricks, but quit school again after finishing Grade 4 when he was 14 years old.

It took him another four years to finally complete elementary through the Alternative Learning System (ALS), a program of the Department of Education for every Filipino, regardless of age, to be able to complete basic education by passing some examinations.

He passed the exams that allowed him to enrol in first year high school without going through two more years in elementary.

But, he quickly told MindaNews, he does not want to finish the school year.

He needs to practice more for another international skimboarding competition on October 16 in Hong Kong. He said in February next year, they will compete in California.

Aporbo won two championships this year – one in Leyte and the Malaysian competition.

His goal now is to look for sponsors so he could play in other countries and raise the banner of the Philippines in this water sport.

He is adamant about not taking up any course in college, but he will finish high school, he vows.

“I can finish high school even when I’m already 50,” he said and grinned. By then, he would have achieved his dreams of becoming the world’s best skimboarder, he added.

Read, write and compute

Aporbo is the only son among five siblings. HIs sister,  Julieta or Lang-Lang, 14, has been diligent in studying.

In fact, she is now in second year high school at Doña Rosa G. Rabat Memorial National High School, where Aporbo used to attend.

But like him, she does not want to take up a college degree anymore.

“High school is enough,” she said in a pensive mood. “As long as I can write my name, read and compute, I can surely find a job.”

The only female in the Amihan Team, Lang-Lang admitted that studying in school is tiresome, but she never gets tired playing with the waves every day.

“I want to become a champion like my brother,” she said, while chilling out in a makeshift lifeguard station after a bountiful lunch of fish and rice.

She thinks winning in a competition is better than getting a job somewhere in the city.

She revealed that her brother’s prizes had helped their family economically. For one, in the 2010 annual skimboarding competition held in Dahican, he won a boat that their father, Ricardo, 50, uses for fishing.

At a similar event in 2011, Aporbo won a motorcycle; and in Leyte this year, he won a cash prize of about P20,000.

Lang-Lang said they spent some of the amount to buy a television and saved the rest for rainy days.

His P6,000 prize from Malaysia was used to pay their debts and for some household needs, she said.

Her family saved most of her brother’s cash prizes to build them a more decent house and to support their daily needs, especially that their mother, Teresita, 52, has stopped selling fish in the market. Also, there are  times when their father returns home with a few catch as the sea would not yield so much fish.

Lang-Lang began competing in the 2010 annual skimboarding competition in Dahican and won third runner-up among some 20 male rivals for beginner’s category.

Hers was not so much for a prize, but she thought it was a good sign for reaching her dreams like her brother.

That’s why she would rather continue learning skimboarding than go to college after high school.

If all else fails

Jonilo Catubig or Anjot, 11,  appears to be the youngest Amihan member because he is barely three feet tall.

Unlike the Aporbo siblings, he wants to become a soldier when he grows up.

“My father was a soldier a long time ago,” he said, waiting for a cue from Jun, the mentor, to play on the waves again.

“But if I won’t become a soldier like my father, I’d rather skim. I want to become a champion like Bayogyog,” he added.

Anjot is the sixth of 11 siblings, and he is in Grade 4 at Don Luis Rabat Sr. Memorial School.

He knows that education may sail him away from poverty, but his contingency plan is to become a champion in skimboarding by training with Amihan.

That’s why he practices with the team every day after school, and helps in maintaining cleanliness in the beach.

He regularly joins the team for dinner, washes a couple of charcoal-stained pots that are used for cooking their meals, and then goes home to his parents’ house.

But his parents were not in their house that Sunday night. His mother, pregnant with her 12th child, had been sick for almost a week and was later admitted in a hospital.

Richard Villacorte, Mati’s city administrator, worries about these children who chose not to continue their studies. He is concerned about “what happens when they grow old, which is the usual dilemma of athletes, actresses and singers.”

“With or without skimboarding, these children are out-of-school,” he said.

Three years ago, the local government of Mati offered scholarships for the kids in Dahican. But according to him, it did not work because some are too old to be Grade 1 or Grade 3 students.

“They were ashamed to go to school,” he said, adding that they were introduced to ALS to bring them to a certain level where going to school is viable and practicable.

Lessons: way of life

For Amihan member Winston Plaza, 28, skimboarding and surfing is a way of life.

“Here, one learns self-discipline, healthy lifestyle, endurance that can be applied in real life situations, and friendliness among players,” he said while gathering coconut husks, which he would use later to build a fire for cooking.

He finished a vocational course after graduating high school, but he decided to quit his job in Davao City to become a full time skimboarder and surfer.

He won second in a stand-up category during the recent international skimboarding competition in Malaysia, along with Aporbo, and will also compete in Hong Kong this month.

Jun, his brother and mentor, strictly prohibits the Amihan members from indulging in alcohol, smoking and unhealthy diet.

He also makes sure that everyone learns to take care of the natural environment, which has not only been their place to learn the sport, but also a source of livelihood for their families.

Jun and the children in Dahican have been guarding the sea from illegal fishing, and cleaning up the shore for more than a decade now.

Because of their efforts to bring back the balance of nature in Dahican, the sea turtles, locally known as pawikan, have returned to lay eggs here again.

Along with his wife Bing, Jun welcomes everyone who wants to learn surfing and skimboarding with the Amihan.

“Everyone is welcome to come here, even to simply enjoy the beach with their family and friends,” he said.

He himself quit his job in the city to live here and continue training the children.

Empowering the community by educating them on how to take care of their environment and living by example has been his greatest achievement.

He believes that someday, these sons and daughters of the northeast monsoon will be champions in their own chosen fields.

Whether or not they will pursue skimboarding in the future, they will surely come out as professionals in maneuvering greater waves that will come into their lives.

For the Dahican skimboarders, the actual experience of life and struggle is the best course one can learn in the University of the Waves. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro / MindaNews)