Ang Dagat ay para sa Lahat: an open letter to the surfers who have always, always known better

My phone has been beeping for hours now as social media notifications come flocking in every ten minutes or so. Facebook private messages come pouring in at a rate comparable to when people flood your news feed on special occasions. But today is no special occasion, and no sweet messages are sent; these are personal hate messages and raging comments related to one remark I made about the thin line between sustainable tourism and people’s greed.

Apparently, when you voice out your opinion, you become a disrespectful **sh*le. You question their intent, they tell you to f*ck off. You tell them to show some humility, they humiliate you. You show your support to boost the local economy, they start acting out. I guess most people are better off not caring. But I am not most people, and I actually care about actual issues. 

Three days ago, a friend sent me a screen grab of someone’s social media post on his thoughts on a commercial surf trip happening in our hometown next month. He is one of the surfing pioneers in the province and is well-known and well-respected in his craft. 

The gist of the post, stated in the most unbiased manner that I can, is that every commercial surf trip in our province (yes, province) must go through their surfing club. Or group. Or whatever they want to call themselves. And if one must post photos, disclosing the exact location is highly discouraged. On-point. 

In the interest of those who care to know the organizers, they are non-locals I met last year, who frequent our town, surfing public spots. Public. Spots. They are responsible for shaping a few long boards that are now seen in the area used by new enthusiasts because long boards were a scarcity back then.

For someone who has been keeping every location of every trip – summits and seas – off the grid, I couldn’t agree more on his sentiment when he said that every surf trip must be moderated to avoid overcrowding, just like how the number of Pulag climbers is limited to the mountain’s capacity for a sustainable tourism – to cite one popular example of tourism gone wrong (and because the case of Boracay is all too publicized). 

I re-read the post for countless number of times and tried to convince myself that it wasn’t some form of greed or owning the waters that are not theirs in the first place and that this sentiment is deeply rooted in truly caring for the environment. 

But they have surfing tours. And they bring in foreigners to our place, and they have been doing so for decades. And nobody says a word, nobody bats an eye, nobody cares. Years later, surfing becomes a new fad, more and more people are seen riding the waves and sharing the stoke, surf tours come sprouting out, and suddenly, they come to the picture reacting like lords because they are advocates of the environment, so they say. And because old school knows better, so they say. 

Respect is a big, big word and it is all we have for all the pioneers out there; we acknowledge that they own those once-uncharted spots because they earned it over the years. They are not called pioneers for nothing; they know better; and nobody has cared for those places better than them. Only fools can argue with that. But like most people, my friends – the organizers – only wanted a little share of the waters in public places. Public places because who holds commercial surf trips in secret spots anyway? But they come forward with their group’s logo, shoving into everyone’s mouth that they exist, pointing fingers to people not involved and emphasizing the word respect.

So I asked, “if you can bring foreigners to our hometown, to our waters, then why the sudden hate when others do the same?”, after all, ANG DAGAT AY PARA SA LAHAT (the seas are for everyone) as long as it is shared responsibly. Do they actually live true to their #ShareTheStoke culture? 

I guess I hit a nerve the moment I dropped the foreigner bomb because everyone blew it way out of proportion: some say that they bring in only responsible people who cook their own food [squeeze in some “FUs” and “disrespectful *ss in between lectures], who do not throw trash to the seas, that I should learn the local’s culture (seriously?) [squeeze in some more of that disrespectful *ss], that there are other ways to boost the local economy [squeeze in some FUs] and the list goes on, to the point of sending rather hostile messages so foul that they would definitely lose all their credentials the moment I post a screen shot of their hate. 

They could actually pass as a surfing mafia lording over the whole coastline of our province with the way they reacted. A few messages that I cared to read went beyond the line and bluntly noted that I am probably ashamed of myself for not having a profile picture on Facebook (as if not having a photo has something to do with the issue. Or world peace. Or sustainable tourism. Or coastal development. Or their sex lives). One prominent personality spoke up on the brighter side of things that it would help boost the local economy and said that in the long run, the province would no longer be among the poorest. [He got some lengthy Fs in return.]***

One would not believe how educated and how accomplished these people are. Obviously, one cannot find manners (and grammar) in the oceans.

No matter how cruel their words were, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that they misunderstood and took it the wrong way because Seniors. Seniors have always known better. 

There are those who righteously claim to be ocean defenders in their group, so I ask again: If they can bring in responsible foreigners to our place, what gives them the right to bash people who bring in equally responsible travelers to public places because there is such a thing as public access? I can’t even begin to lecture about the carrying capacity of a place or matters on sustainable tourism because if you talk some Science to them, they bash you with FUs. 

Someone angrily told me not to immerse in an issue I don’t know about as I haven’t been asked to pay a few hundred bucks or had been called a monkey by foreigners while surfing in my own backyard. True, I haven’t. But someone I know had been tossed out of the water by a well-known local surfer while learning how to surf in our own backyard simply because He. Doesn’t. Know. How. To. Surf. Looks like you have to be a pro to be allowed in the waters they are so proud to call their own. But never did they hear a word because Seniors. Seniors have always known better.

I used to hate the thought of non-locals exploiting and invading our place, may it be the waters or the mountains, and I used to despise people disclosing locations of local destinations we have been secretly keeping from the tourists’ eyes. I hate organized tours which aim to reap the biggest profit at the expense of pristine environment. But what I hate the most is greed disguised in some “advocacy” for environmental issues when a competition arises. Too dubious of a timing.

Stop the hate. We all have been non-locals to foreign places and foreign lands, welcomed and accommodated and treated with respect. Inasmuch as I’d like to say I hate tourist influx, I cannot play hypocrite this time because I trekked mountain ranges not in my own land, stepped on their grasses, consumed water, ate fresh produce, as much as I had swam and surfed in the waters of the North, where it is actually okay to surf along and learn with locals even on weekdays. 

Stop the hate. We are supposed to be humbled by the places/seas we have been to, the locals we have talked to, and the experiences we have gone through.

What I don’t understand is why they put on too much restrictions for organized commercial surf trips (I know, sustainable tourism), chastise people who show support, throw a lot of foul words and discourage posting of photos with exact locations (I agree with this one though) while they go around hanging some bigger-than-life Surfing. It’s more fun in B******* tarpaulins in the metro, at the airport, at MRT stations with their enlarged surfing photos used as backdrop for the advertisement. Then they send me some links about tourism gone wrong in Bali. I could go crazy right now with how notoriously fickle their minds are. 

Surprisingly, I found one published article in an online news portal some years ago, with the title East*** S****: Surfing’s Last Frontier, and I quote “A hundred more are waiting to be discovered. And we’d like to discover them with you”.  Good Lord, with the way they have been reacting, I have no idea who they are kidding.

This much irony makes me want to buy a one-way ticket to outer space.

I don’t know how big the gap in our generations is, but you have to eventually succumb to the fact that this is already an era of cheap action cameras, promo fares, discounted travel tours, social media check-in apps, and adventure/travel junkies. We can hate all we want, but we have to learn to accept that more and more places are getting discovered and many more will be discovered. Anybody who knows how to use google earth and knows how to read weather forecasts would know where your surfing spots are. 

But you don’t get to hate. You educate.

And dagat ay para sa lahat.


***My bad. This should have been a lenthy discussion about tourism gone wrong with some $!@*# (characters not verbatim) in text. Apologies. 


P.S. To the one who posted the status, thank you for answering my queries  in a civilized manner. I say my thank-yous. 

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9 Comments

Filed under Random Thoughts

9 responses to “Ang Dagat ay para sa Lahat: an open letter to the surfers who have always, always known better

  1. Cesar Ambalada

    I hear what you are saying. There are times that progress is not for everyone. People tend to be greedy to make money that they do not care about others. Maybe the locals at your place should get together & place some restrictions on your beach.

  2. Good read. Very good read. Time to think how much we give up for foreign tourists in the Philippines. They shout at our waitresses, they harass our security guards because we allow them to. Kaya ako ha, ako, when we see tourists, dont smile too big, dont bow too low. Kilala tayo for being hospitable e pero my best demeanor I reserve for our elderly and the kids, because they deserve that. And when someone from among us speaks independently, we bash them, we threaten them. Let me apologize for the generation we have. I’m sorry you have to be a victim of this tiring fad of online bullying.

    It’s the first time I’ve heard of organizers limiting access of public travel destinations. Maybe LGUs have to step in. I have little say in this matter but I hate it when people speak their mind and are attacked for this.

    β€œDon’t ever let anyone put out your light because they are blinded by it.” Shannon Alder

    • thank you Sharmaine. Glad to have some people sharing the same sentiment. and thank you for the concern over bullying. I am not mad at those people. I just want enlightenment conveyed in a very transparent and civilized manner. I’m sure those people mean well because they know better, but they just reacted in a very, very bad way (benefit of the doubt).

  3. mangnay surf

    This line will explain everything, “greed disguised as environmental advocacy”

  4. Pingback: Ang Dagat ay para sa Lahat: an open letter to the surfers who have always, always knownΒ better « I am Dasho

  5. Gretchen Que

    Honest. Well-written. Thought-provoking.
    I hope this generation can learn to agree, disagree, and talk things through.

    And to nip things in the bud πŸ˜‰

  6. Considering that I (a USA foreigner) discovered some of the better waves in ES on a boat trip way back in 1998, when there were few if any surfers in ES maybe I should ask everyone who surfs them now to pay me a tax?

    The ES people are NOT against visiting surfers. In fact, they welcome them, Pinoy or foreign.

    What they are asking is to have commercial groups notify them of their plans to make a COMMERCIAL project with PAYING customers in their area, and extend opportunities to local surfers as guides, videographers, photographers, ect.

    It’s a matter of courtesy – and respect. Paying customers of a company are different than independent surf travellers who make their own decisions about where to stay, where to eat and where to surf.

    After all, this is how the benefits of such projects get spread around the community and lead locals to view visitors as a positive and not a negative.

    If Manila companies are able to make commercial projects . . . with large groups of paying customers . . . in ES without ANY input or guidance from the community – well, it’s obvious that will lead to a situation of localism in ES, which no one wants.

    Why should local surfers be enthusiastic about groups from Manila if they receive NO benefits, financial or otherwise?

    If this company is smart, they would start talking with the ES locals – now.

    They might be surprised at how reaching out can have major benefits for their business, like capable and experienced surf guides, photographers, videographers, social media coordinators, and perhaps most important – stoked customers, who rave about the ES experience and encourage others to sign up.

    Any other surf travel providers considering similar commercial project should do the same, and establish a new protocol that shares the benefits of commercial projects with the local community.

    To do otherwise is to repeat the mistakes of the past in Bali, Tagazhout, Tamarindo, and many other places where outsiders move in and take most of the money generated by surf tourism.

    Salamat Po,

    John Seaton Callahan, Director surfEXPLORE

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