THREE boys gazed at the crepitating fire licking the bottom of the sooty caldero.
Their yawns competed with the sea’s audible snores 20 meters away. With nothing much to do but wait, they fed the fire with more wood for the water to come to a boil faster.
Before they could join the rest at the beach, before the sun cracked the morning sky open, they must prepare everyone’s breakfast of rice and noodles doused in two liters of water.
I could hear Winston, a guy in his early 30s whom the boys considered their tatay, calling out the names of the boys, still too sleepy to get up from the quarter that squeaked with the slightest step and movement.
Camped under their sleeping quarter, I could hear every twist and turn of the boys’ young limbs: an elbow hitting the floor while scratching the back, a leg kicking someone else’s leg away, arms looking for a body to hug, a hand tossing the tanday away. Their mumbles and gnashes accompanied their bodies’ tossings, the floor’s crackles, and the Pacific Ocean’s restlessness.
On both sides of the tent the kids pitched for me, were hammocks two young men used for sleeping. While the Plaza boys—Winston and Wan—slept on similar hammocks at the hut.
Kids—around 15 of them—descended from the five flights of bamboo stairs, stretched their bodies, some removed the sleep from their eyes, some grabbed their boards, eyed the sea, waited, waited, and waited till the perfect wave arrived, and ran for it. The first ride often ended up with a topple. They shivered at the coldness of the twilight water. This woke them up. That is how Amihan kids at Dahican start their day.
Dahican’s beach stretch at Mati, Davao Oriental is an extravagance of coconut trees and seven kilometers of natural pure bliss.
“Wa pa lang ni na develop,” I could hear others say. If undeveloped means fishermen docking their boats on the very shore that I strolled for a good two hours, if it means local kids having free access to the waves, if it means drifters bringing their own tent or renting for a cheap price, if it means dining with the locals, then I would prefer it that way.
If undeveloped means protecting the turtles—the very creatures whom the place owes its name to, if undeveloped means protecting their nest—the whole stretch of Dahican, then “undeveloped” is the new development that we haven’t developed yet.
Looking at the expanse, somehow, I was consumed with the nostalgia of an island that I had never had the chance to visit before tourism marred it: Dahican feels like Boracay in the 1980s, the time before the tourists rushed in.
Winston shared that a famous hotel chain already bought the lot to our right, and
perhaps a few years from now, the Boracay-kind of crowd would wander along the very expanse the kids and occasional drifters like me had solely for ourselves.
Winston supervised the kids’ dula or duwa—their word for skimboarding. He broomed the gapnod—mostly coconut husks—and buried them in the sand while looking at the kids’ forms and tricks in the water. The gapnod, he said, would eventually rot and integrate themselves with the sand.
“Here at Amihan, momatag sayo kay magduwa, nya prepare para eskwela,” he shared. For a young body, waking up early can be a daunting task. The body always craves for more sleep. But at Amihan, rules are absolute. Those who cannot follow the rules can leave the skimboarding school that Winston’s brother, Jun, established.
“Dako sad nga issue ang bisyo,” he said. He gestured to a young man whom I met on my first day at Dahican. He left Amihan months ago and manned the neighboring surfing/skimboarding school together with other young men.
On my first night at Dahican, he, their guest, and another young local alternately smoked a joint in between shots of local rum after a dinner of tinola, sinugba, and kinilaw from a huge yellow fin tuna their guest bought from a local fisherman.
“Maayo kaayo na. Pero tan-awa, ninghangos na, duha pa gani ka duwa,” Winston pointed out. Despite looking spent, he had some moves on the waves almost as good as Bayugyog’s. Now Bayugyog.
Sonny Boy Aporbo, whom everyone calls Bayugyog—their local word for kapri—is the pride of the Amihan Boys. With the recognitions he received from different competitions here and abroad, the most recent at 7th International Skimboarding Competition in Malaysia, where he brought home the bacon, he made Dahican, Mati the skimboarding capital of the country.
His fluidity captured the attention of my camera. My eyes love, follow, feast on beautiful movements. His gaze never left the waves. There was a certain hunger on his sprint that I did not see in other players—that hunger to meet the wave at its surest moment, that hunger to defy the wave, that hunger to stretch the ride as long as possible, that hunger to understand the workings of the sea—hunger that Bayugyog fed with discipline, determination, and humility.
Sometimes, Bayugyog would execute his winning poses as the shafts of the morning light sliced the ocean behind him. Often kids would look at him with awe and pride like I could almost see his hunger in their eyes.
But the kids knew that “daghan pang bugas ang ilang kan-on,” before they could equal or emulate Bayugyog. They understood each of them would also have his turn at preparing everyone’s meals.
They understood—better than anyone else—that not all of them have the wind, the hunger to win against the waves. Just as not all the hatchlings that leave their playground can survive the terrors of the sea.