Like the waves

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Big Wave Bay in Hong Kong Island turned into a collage of colored umbrellas and tents this past Easter holiday. Hundreds of people sunbathed while their children were digging in the white sandy beach with plastic toys.

Swell rarely happen in the bay after winter, but Typhoon Maysak made the waves favorable for surfing. Waves at 0.6 meters high appeared every 11 to 12 seconds with a speed of 6 to 8 knots on April 6, according to Magicseaweed’s forecast.

Some 20 surfers paddled up as a wave chased behind them. Before the wave broke out into white foams, one of them had already pulled off a surfing stunt.

Wearing a black rash guard and striped board shorts, a 39-year-old Scottish woman was sitting on a surfboard in the inner part of the swell.

It was easy to find her in the crowd when she still had dreadlocks, said Julie Barrass, a European headhunter, renting a house in Big Wave Bay. She has known Jacqueline Donaldson and most regular beachgoers since she moved here eight years ago.

Barrass was smoking cigarette beside the lifeguard tower when Donaldson came out of the water carrying an 8-foot blue fun board.

Donaldson’s former dreadlocks once saved her life during a surfing accident in 2011 by cushioning the blow as she landed on the seabed. She suffered only a spinal compression fracture.

Having worn dreads since 2009, she considered removing them, but felt guilty “like killing a pet or betraying someone who’d saved my life.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON
Jacqueline Donaldson surfs with dreadlocks that saved her life from a surfing accident in 2011 in Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong. PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

Changing her style, she took out her dreadlocks in Thailand early this year.

After washing up, Donaldson tied her shoulder-length hair and sat with some friends, lounging and sipping beer with upbeat songs from a tiny portable speaker.

A Filipino born in Hong Kong, Anton Pelayo, 29, joined her, laying down his surfboard. He met Donaldson when “she was doing cinematography video stuff and teaching drama to kids.”

Donaldson took film and photography at the University of Wales College, Newport in United Kingdom.

The two friends had their late lunch at a restaurant facing the beach. It was packed mostly with foreigners.

“I’m going to get the anchovies pizza… Put lemon in my beer please,” she told Pelayo and headed to the toilet.

“She’s a very friendly outspoken lady,” Pelayo said.

PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Jacqueline Donaldson in pink shirt relaxes with her friends after surfing in Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong Island on April 6.  PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

Donaldson first came here in 2001 from trips in Pakistan, India, and Nepal and back to Pakistan, her favorite country next to New Zealand. She saw Pakistan before the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

“Of course, now it’s not that safe there anymore,” she said.

After seven months in Hong Kong as English tutor, she travelled to China and Southeast Asia. She tracked wild Orangutans in North Sumatra with a friend. Then, she came back for a year and travelled around Australia and New Zealand.

Settling down here since 2007, she had taught English through drama and pop-culture programs, and took different film projects for free to build up her cinematography skills.

She works as a fitting model and cinematographer on corporate video and independent films, while managing her company, Media, Theatre and Modeling Consultants.

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

“Did you see the documentary about the Jonestown massacre? I sent you the link,” she excitedly told Pelayo, who was at the time devouring his burger and fries.

Donaldson was hooked into cult documentaries, exploring similar ideas to document in Hong Kong.

She got permanent residency here in 2014. Foreigners can get a legal status of permanent resident if they have lived here lawfully for seven years.

Itching to travel again, she planned to celebrate her 40th birthday in Hawaii by the end of the year.

After lunch, Pelayo asked if she wanted to surf again.

“I don’t like the waves today. But, I want to get more,” she replied, as her turquoise eyes widened.

Having invested here for 15 years, Donaldson wanted to keep Hong Kong as her base at the moment.

“You never know what will happen in life, love or family. Maybe, one day, I’ll have to move somewhere else.

University of the Waves

Skimboarders wait for bigger waves at Dahican, Mati City.

It was five o’clock in the morning on Sunday in a fine weather when players of Team Amihan, a Filipino term for northeast monsoon, gathered at Dahican Beach.

Carrying their skimboards in 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 had just produced a champion, 19-year-old Sonny Boy Aporbo, in the 6th Penang International Skimboarding Competition in Malaysia.

Bayogyog for most of his friends, Aporbo has 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.

Bayogyog passed the exams that made him a first year high school student 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 to champion again another international skimboarding competition on October 16 in Hong Kong. He said in February next year, they will compete in California.

Bayogyog had won two championships this year – one in Leyte aside from the one in Malaysia.

His goal now is to look for sponsorships to 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 finishing high school, yes, he will.

“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.

Sonny Boy “Bayogyog” Aporbo takes a break from a his practice for the Hong Kong competition. 

Read, write and compute

Unlike her brother Bayogyog, who is the only son among five siblings, Julieta Aporbo 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 Bayogyog 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 Bayogyog’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, Bayogyog 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 them a television, while 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 Bayogyog’s cash prizes to build them a more decent house and to support their daily needs, especially that their mother, Teresita, 52, stopped selling fish in the market. And, there were times when their father returned 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 how her brother did it.

That’s why she would rather continue learning skimboarding than going to college when she finishes high school.

Lang-Lang poses with her Amihan team mates.

If all else fails

Jonilo Catubig or Anjot, 11, seems 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, let alone his stunting.

“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 to become a champion in skimboarding by training with Amihan is his contingency plan.

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 coal-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 on that Sunday night. His mother, pregnant of 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.

Anjot smiles for posterity.

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 Bayogyog, and will also compete in Hong Kong this month.

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

He also makes sure that everyone learns to be responsible 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.