On an overcast September morning in Mati City – the coastal capital of Davao Oriental province, which overlooks the vast Philippine sea – Julieta Aporbo is holding a foam board loosely in her right arm while quietly observing the tumbling waves on the seven-kilometer-wide Dahican Beach. It’s nine in the morning and she has just jogged barefoot for an hour on the shore’s soft, white sand, fueled by a heavy breakfast of steamed rice and freshly caught squid cooked in soy sauce and vinegar.
Wearing just a plain gray shirt and black athletic shorts, the 19-year-old stands out in a crowd of mostly children with her sturdy build, sun-bleached hair that reaches down to her chest and skin golden-brown from spending many hours outdoors. Spotting an oncoming wave, Langlang – a diminutive of palangga, Visayan for beloved, which is what everyone here calls her – starts running toward the water, throwing down her board near the Mayo Bay shoreline before mounting it and placing her left foot in front.
As a young girl nearby readies her camera phone to capture the moment, Langlang rides the wave, flips her board 360 degrees and glides off the crest. After a split-second, her feet regain contact with the board before it lands flat on the salty water. In less than a minute, she finds herself back on the beach, ready for the next breaking wave.
Langlang is a professional skimboarder and a member of Amihan sa Dahican Surf and Skim Team, named after the trade winds that dominate the area from October to April and create big waves that are ideal for the sport. “Seeing my brother and my male classmates skimboarding made me want to learn it too,” she says. “At first, when I was just starting, I would fall a lot and hurt myself. I would cry every time, but I kept trying. These days, I can’t even sleep without having gone in the water for the day.”
When Langlang is not training, she skateboards or plays beach volleyball with friends, chats with the tourists on the beach or takes an afternoon nap. When preparing for exams or quizzes, Langlang wakes up at 3am and sits by the shore to review. “When I’m studying, I only hear the sound of the waves so everything I read seeps into my mind. It’s so wonderful.” She feels very lucky to be able to live by the sea with all the wonders it beholds.
When I’m studying, I only hear the sound of the waves so everything I read seeps into my mind. It’s so wonderful
FOUNDED BY GEORGE “JUN” PLAZA in 2004, Amihan sa Dahican Surf and Skim Team now has nearly 40 members, ranging from six to 22-years-old. “During amihan season, children playing on the beach would hang out at my old house because my wife and I had food to share with them, so I organized them into a team and found a spot to store our boards,” says Jun.
As a teenager, he would engage in dynamite and cyanide fishing to catch dugongs and sea turtles for food – a trick he learned from his father – but stopped after he found odd jobs and enrolled in a course on auto mechanics. In his heart, he knew all he wanted to be was a fisherman, so he eventually quit his job as an ambulance driver in Mati City in early 2000 and moved back to his village.
Most of the team members stay at Amihan sa Dahican, a camping resort where backpackers can pay a minimal fee to pitch tents for the night. The only structures here are a two-floor main hut – Langlang sleeps inside a tiny room on the ground floor, while some male members of the team sleep outside – and two tiny open-air cottages with no divisions, which the rest of the boys use. Jun lives in a compound across the beach, where he built two more cottages for the rest of the team’s female members, some of whom are orphans.
When Jun first met Langlang, she was only six and would tag along with her only brother, Sonny Boy, one of the team’s first members and a local champion skimboarder. While their parents sold seafood at the local market, she watched her sibling perfect his side-slips and wraps in the ocean. “I told her that if you want to have a future, you can stay here. But if you don’t, I’ll send you home,” Jun says.
In 2012, Langlang turned 14 and joined Team Amihan’s annual invitational skimboarding competition, squaring off against male members and consistently placing second. In 2014, she was allowed to compete in the men’s individual category at skimboarding events in Zambales and General Santos City, where she similarly nabbed second place.
OTHER THAN A DAILY TRAINING that includes swimming, paddling, kayaking and carrying stones while underwater, Jun also teaches Team Amihan’s members the basics of biodiversity conservation and engages them in pro-environmental activities.