When Your Gut is Your Best Guide

A little while back I had a day off work on a beautiful autumn day so I headed down to my local beach hoping to head out for a surf.

When I arrived there was just one other car there. It was a beautiful sunny, offshore day with a very small swell, which suits old bloke surfers like me. I sat there for a few minutes and watched some waves roll in. Small… fast breaking, but definitely ridable and best of all, no one out. That’s a rare find at any break these days so I decided to watch a bit longer and started considering paddling out. I hopped out of the car and stood in the carpark and got talking to the other guy.

‘Not much happening here’ he says.

He was on his phone checking some data on the net. ‘I’ve been here 30 minutes now’, he said. ‘The sets are at 5 minute intervals, the tide is rising…’ and so he went on with info about swell interval, wind direction and tide movement.’ On his phone he had every piece of data you could want on what the surf was like today and it told him that it wasn’t any good. Now I’ll grant you it wasn’t the best day you’ve ever seen, but fun waves and no crowds is surely a win in itself.

After he drove off I decided to paddle out and in the next hour I had a good 15-20 waves. I came in weary but having had a lot of fun.

The difference was that I simply paddled out into what I saw rather than analysing the ‘data’ and making a decision based on that. I think we do this often in life. We look at the data, see that the numbers don’t seem to add up and then disregard our inner hunches that there might be something there.

Now to be sure – there are times to listen to the data, when the evidence is overwhelming, but there are also times when you just have to ‘paddle out’ and take the risk. There are times when your gut is your best guide. It doesn’t always pay off but frankly, the ‘numbers’ don’t tell you everything either.

When it comes to faith some people look at the ‘data’ and conclude that ‘the numbers don’t add up’. The evidence doesn’t seem to point to the existence of a God (although it very much depends on whose evidence you are listening to.)

And then there are others who get a sniff of the truth and follow their instincts into the ‘water’, only to discover a reality they didn’t expect. Perhaps you’re in the carpark now and you have a sense that the ‘truth’ is out there? Maybe you have sensed it for a while but you haven’t known where to head with your internal rumblings.

Maybe you need to ‘paddle out’ and see for yourself? Yes – its a risk. You might be the only one paddling out and you could look silly. It might not all work out as you’d hoped. But could it be that there is a greater reality that you are missing out on because you just haven’t taken the risk? Could it be that the so called ‘evidence’ you are currently relying on is in fact flawed?

A long time ago the prophet Jeremiah recorded God’s message to his people – ‘you will seek me and you will find me if you search for me with all your heart’. Those words were written to another people a long time ago, but their truth is as real for us today. ‘If you seek me you will find me if you search for me with all of your heart.’

A few centuries later the early church leader Paul said that ‘God is not far from any one of us.’ Perhaps the inner stirring you are experiencing is actually the spirit of God at work, drawing you towards him. Perhaps the dissatisfaction with your current reality is the first step in finding life as it was intended to be lived.

For some folks to ‘seek God’ seems an odd thing to do – and yet I would suggest that this is why we were created – to know God and to live in close relationship with him and then follow his leading in life. I believe that as we live in close connection with God we see opportunities open up, relationships form and life comes together in ways that make sense.

It is as we seek God that we discover who we really are – that we tap into our true identity as his much loved sons and daughters.

Perhaps its time to look past the data and follow your heart into the water, to discover that the God you are seeking is right there if you will take a step towards him.

The Siargao Mission (Part 4)

On Sunday we got up early and left the northern villages to head for General Luna, the main tourist town on the island. Sam hopped in the van with our Air BNB hosts and I rode the scooter the 2 hours into town. Sam was still sick and now feeling homesick as well.

We had helmets which we wore when riding the scooter, but in 7 days on the island we saw a total of 7 helmets worn! Not a top priority! Josh told me no one wears them unless the police come to visit in which case they get used. This sign is hilarious!

We found our accommodation and hopped on the scooter to go and check out Cloud 9, the famed break that so many have spoken of. We got to the jetty and pavilion, but could see without going out there that there weren’t any waves worth watching so we headed back to our room to chill before spending the afternoon with the local Grom Nation crew. (They operate in 3 different areas)

We hung out for a couple of hours but Sam was feeling pretty seedy so we went back to the room and grabbed some dinner.

Monday we did the island hopping thing – we went to the jetty, found a boatman and he took us around 3 of the closer in islands. Sam was keen to do this, and given he hadn’t had a heap of fun to now I was happy to do it in the hope he’d find some energy. I think we both felt the same about island hopping – ‘ok… that’s that…’ There is only so much to do on a tiny island before you simply have to move on. Naked Island – a piece of sand in the middle of the ocean – looks stunning in the right photos, but is really pretty uninspiring once you are there. We were glad we had booked our own boatmen as the tours were taking between 5-6 hours and we were all done in 3.

We headed home for a bit and then back down to Cloud 9. I was determined to have a surf at this place and I figured I might not get another chance in this life. So I waited until low tide – when the crowd was smallest (around 15-20 in the water) and walked out over the reef to get to the wave. It was all of 1-2 ft, but you could see the potential on some of the bigger ones. If you ever think of going there then you need to know that Cloud 9 is ruled by the Filipinos! They swarm every wave that comes thru and someone catches the wave. If you happen to get a wave then it will be because no one else wanted it – or by some fluke no one was out the back.

I got 6 waves in 45 minutes. Two were close outs, two I got dropped in on, and two I made – one was ridable… By the time I got out there were around 40 people at the take off spot and it was getting silly. Whereas in Bali tourists are plentiful and the locals are pretty laid back, my perception of Filipinos (generally very laid back people) was that in the surf they hustle and go hard.

Cloud 9 was hardly memorable, but hey I’ve done it now…

I paddled in and got back in the pavilion to get my gear. A group of Filipinos asked us to take their photo and in the process of doing that Sam told them I was a retired Aussie professional surfer. Suddenly everyone wanted a photo with me… Sam told them to google Mick Fanning to find out who I was. Haha…

In the middle of that drama a message came in from Danelle telling us something was wrong with Lucy our dog. It sounded bad. I made a Facetime call to try and work stuff out, but the connection failed after a couple of minutes so we headed back to the room a little worried but unable to do anything.

Sam began to pack some stuff ready for our trip home the next day and I headed back out to try and find a better connection. I managed to get some reception and called home. As soon as Danelle answered I knew what had happened. Lucy was no more.

She had been out for a run and just collapsed. It turned out she had a large tumour on her heart that had burst and was putting pressure on the heart. There was no fix possible so she had given the go ahead to put her down. While Lucy had driven me insane at times I had also grown to love her and I was pretty sad. I went home and told Sam and he was pretty devastated as well.

We shared a few tears and then headed out to dinner where we shared some fun memories of our anxiety ridden labrador.

Tuesday was our ‘go home’ day and after some fun waves down at Tuason we packed up and made the trip to the airport. Sam packed in the trike and I rode the scooter back to the pick up point. The queue in the steamy Siargao airport was intense, but we finally got on the plane and back to Cebu where we spent another night.

In the morning we headed for Singapore where we had 24 hours to kill. I’m not a big Singapore fan… I guess if you like shopping then it might light your fire, but we had an afternoon and a morning to find stuff to do and we ended up walking the streets exploring. If you do go to SIngapore then its worth knowing that shops don’t open until 11am, so our decision to check out the shops in the morning proved to be futile as we needed to be back at the hotel to check out at 11.00…

The next day we made it to home, picked up the car in long term parking and drove the 60 minutes to home enjoying the cold weather, the open roads and the smell of home.

‘Would you go back again Dad?’ Sam asked.

‘For sure – but in September  / October when we are guaranteed waves. I wouldn’t bother hanging around the Cloud 9 / General Luna scene as that felt a bit like the Asian version of Byron Bay and just wasn’t my cup of tea. But to escape to a remote village in the far north?… Yeah baby. I’m in every time!’

So, another trip to the Philippines ended… Was it what I hoped?

Yes and no. I wrote down my hopes before leaving and some of them got met while others just didn’t. The fading surf wasn’t something I could control and Sam’s sickness meant that  he really wasn’t himself so having fun with him was harder than I’d hoped. It was great to see the work of Grom Nation and to just get away to another culture again and I had a great time in spite of the mishaps and struggles we had.

One thing I became conscious of half way thru was that when I went to the Philippines years ago I went always assuming people were out to rip me off, steal from me or mug me. I’d been warned about the dangers and told to be careful, so I was always wary. Before I left this time I was operating with that same assumption. But halfway thru I realised it was a false assumption. Pretty much everyone I met was honest, decent and genuine. I didn’t get ripped off, I didn’t ever feel unsafe and I would have been happy to trust the people I came across.

I tend to believe that at some level your expectation shapes your reality. Go to a place expecting the worst and you will probably find it. Go expecting the best… you will probably find that too. And if along the way I pay a little bit more for food, or travel than a local then no harm done – I’m sure they need the $$ more than me anyway.

The Siargao Mission (Part 3)

Day 4 and Sam was still sick – coughing like a dog and feeling generally lethargic. The anti-inflammatories were barely holding my own pain at bay, but I was keen to find waves and worry about the consequences when I got home.

I hopped on the scooter and took off to the nearby village of Pacifico and found a few mushy lefthanders. The high tide was making everything full and hard to ride. The surf was average but the scooter ride was fun. It’s a great way to actually see a place while watching out for stray dogs, pigs, goats etc. In the Philippines it’s not uncommon to see a dog asleep in the middle of the road and for everyone to drive around it… Its one those cultural quirks you enjoy.

We hung out with the groms again that evening as they did some board repairs and had fun. There is great energy in these kids as they make the most of what they have. Aussie surfers have donated boards to them and they then fix the dings and keep them surfable. If you have donated a board then be assured it will be very well used!

The next day the swell had pretty much gone so we hopped on the scooter and took off to do some sightseeing with Josh. He took us to the beautiful Magpupungko pools and then a couple of kms down a bush track to a hidden cave that was fun to see. Its so good to have ‘local knowledge’ on a trip like this!



On getting back into Burgos we slipped in a tiny wave at one of the local reef breaks before chilling again. Unfortunately when there are no waves there isn’t a lot to do in a tiny remote village. We had walked the streets, checked out all there was to see and now we were ready to move on to General Luna and the famed Cloud 9.

The next day with a flat ocean (Saturday) we did the tourist thing with Josh again and hopped on the scooter to check out the local waterfall. It was our last day in the north and one of the main days for the gromnation crew to gather and hit the water. We joined them for a few hours that afternoon, helping them clean their beach, playing with kids, swimming out to the break as they chased tiny waves and had a blast.


You can just see Josh at the top of the waterfall… He jumped – we didn’t.

As well as ourselves Josh had recruited a bunch of backpackers from the General Luna area to help out and make sure the skids were cared for. Once the beach clean was done the kids headed out into the water – 30 kids all in the one space – all paddling for the same tiny wave! Surf etiquette was a bit lacking but fun wasn’t and everyone had a ball.

Sam was still sick and now feeling homesick as well – a shame because this trip was going past fast.

The Siargao Mission (Part 2)

After a good night’s sleep we had a quick breakfast at the hotel and headed for the airport (Goldberry Hotel in Cebu is a good budget hotel if you ever do this trip) and the flight to Siargao. After some tense airport moments we managed to get one of the packages of boards on the small plane, but not the other. It was picked up by a Cebu local and waits to be transported on another day.

It was a fast (1hr) flight across to Siargao and we were very glad we had taken the plane rather than the overnight (12hr) ferry. It might have been cheaper and a real ‘experience’ but… gruelling overnight ferries just don’t prepare you for a week of surfing.

We landed and met Josh at the airport where we packed into a tiny trike for the hour long trip to the village of Burgos up in the north of the island. We arrived at our airbnb, just 50m from the water’s edge, checked in and ran down to take a look at the waves. And there were waves everywhere.


As we walked up the steps over the seawall we looked out and saw a beautiful beach with waves breaking on the reefs. Josh pointed out the 3 best breaks – all of which were all looking nice – and then left us to get out bearings.

Our Airbnb was simple – two mattresses on the floor with an air con in the bedroom and then a rudimentary living area with some chairs, a table and a kitchen. I didn’t care what else it held so long as the air con worked and we had somewhere to retreat to. For $40/night it was more than enough.

Sam was sick as a dog by now and I was amped to go surfing. Not ideal. We went back to the house and unpacked before having lunch at Josephine’s (Josh’s mum’s) roadside food house. It was one of three food places in the village and by far my favourite.

The others served wraps (quite nice) and ‘burger’ as we discovered a few nights later.  We asked to see a menu but she said ‘I just do burger.’

‘Burger?’ I asked.

‘Burger.’ she said again.

I looked at Sam. ‘Ok – we will have a burger thanks…’

And it was a good burger… No need for menus when you only do one item of food!

That said , if you like Filipino food (and I do) then you would love Josephines!

By 2pm Sam was curled up on bed and I was champing at the bit. I had flown the drone over the whole area and seen some guys getting awesome waves. So I headed out to try one of these waves – a beautiful A frame reef break with just one other local guy in the water. I parked the scooter I had hired, paddled out and found it was every bit as good as it looked – fast barreling rights that got pretty ‘slabby’ on the big ones and shorter lefts that were also fun. It was wonderful to sit in warm water in a tropical paradise with just one other bloke to share it with. This was why we came!

I spent an hour there just having a blast, getting some fantastic waves and enjoying the sheer beauty of the place, before suddenly twinging a groin muscle – yeoh!… Over the next half hour as perfect waves rolled thru I found it harder and harder to surf as the shooting pain went down my thigh. Eventually I called it a day and paddled in – having had a fantastic start to the holiday and being eternally grateful for powerful anti-inflammatories that I take with me on trips like this. I was going to need them.

We grabbed some dinner at ‘Lokal’, a small café/food stall in town. When I say dinner it was actually a variety of wraps and a smoothy, but it did the job and we headed home for some Netflix.

We crashed hoping the next day would be as good and Sam would be fit and ready to go. We woke to a drop in a swell, but still some great waves. Sam was still feeling off, but we both walked out the 300m over reef to the break at low tide. It appeared to be small waves, but they were actually head high on the sets. The reef was very shallow initially and probably even a little dangerous, but as the tide filled in, the swell grew and we scored another session of beautiful waves. A few locals joined us and we shared the waves, taking it in turn to get tubed.

I could get used to this…

We came in and ate lunch at Josephine’s before chilling in the house and waiting to see what the afternoon would hold. Tide changes are enormous in this area so it makes a big difference to surf conditions. Sam was spent after the morning surf, but I was keen to head out again, so I paddled out alone for an afternoon surf at the same place – this time at high tide. The waves were not as consistent as before but it was still fun being there alone.

That afternoon we went and joined the Grom Nation groms as they gathered at Josh’s place to fix some surfboards and make a surfboard stand for board repair work. I loved the way the kids got into what they were doing – using pretty rudimentary tools and some pretty gnarly bits of wood they eventually knocked up a stand that was usable.

Board repair saw every kid on the job with some sandpaper, cutting back the dings as prep for the repair work. My first inclination was to send over a hand sander to make it all easier, but I dunno if that’s such a great idea. Right now 25 kids go hard with bits of sandpaper. If a sander arrived I imagine it would be used sequentially and there would be a lot of inactivity.

Interesting question as to whether that would be helping or hindering…

While the kids are able to understand English they speak their own dialect moreso so communication was limited. What was obvious was that they were keen as mustard! It was wonderful to watch and see the way they are encouraged and inspired to learn new things.



We had dinner with Josh’s family that night, then went home and crashed. You can see our house in the pic above, just 50m from a beautiful beach in a simple Filipino village. At this point I was in heaven!

The next day we woke to very small waves – the swell was on its way… and Sam was still very sick…

The Siargao Mission (Part 1)

Way back in 1989 when I was just 23 years old, I picked up a Tracks Magazine with a story about surfing in the Philippines – a break called Majestics on a remote little island called Catanduanes. It looked like a tropical paradise with no crowds, warm water and un-surfed waves so I quickly grabbed two friends and we made a plan to go.

It was a fair old mission to get there – long planes rides and a very long jeepney ride, only to pop over the top of the hill after 2 days of travel to see a 1 ft wave and near on 30 other guys in the water all with the same idea of finding an un-crowded waves


Ok so that didn’t work out as planned… We made some friends (see pic above) but the biggest waves of the trip were at Maroubra when our plane got re-routed on the way home and we had a 6 hr stop in Sydney!

It was still a fun trip, but the big learning was that if you go a long way for a surf trip just don’t count on mother nature being on the journey with you. She may have other plans.

I’d been to the Philippines several times in my early 20’s playing basketball and it was those early trips that set my life trajectory as a ‘missionary’, so it has always held a special place in my heart.

So – how did we finish up on this recent surfing trip to a place like Siargao (red marker above)?

At the start of the year I told Danelle I felt I needed a bit more adventure in life – that things had become a bit ‘meh’ and ‘same same’, so all this year I have been on the lookout for things to do that put me in a new headspace. I’ve been writing a book, we’re planting a church and then the opportunity came up to do a father-son surf trip and go visit this place. I had also been on the lookout for a project that I could give time and money to – something that brought me alive.

I’d popped the idea of a father – son Philippines surf trip into Danelle’s head at the start of the year, but more with the thought of returning to Catanduanes. It was never more than a passing thought though as those memories of long flat spells were still there.

Then on the June long weekend as I was out for a walk with Danelle and recovering from a nasty flu I spotted two people heading out to surf our local break. I thought it was two girls at first… but turned out it was an Aussie girl (Emily) and her long haired Filipino boyfriend – Josh, running down the track into the water. (Sorry Josh!)

My friend Jake had told me months before of his friend, Emily who had started a charity in the Philippines and I was curious just as to what she was doing. So while the flu was still biting I went home to get my board and paddled out to say ‘G’day’.

Josh and Emily ended up coming home for a coffee and then stayed for dinner and we heard about the work they were doing in Siargao with Grom Nation, a charity that seeks to help keep kids in school, sustains their education and moves them out of poverty.

The short version of how Grom Nation came about is that kids were being ‘hired’ for work by local surf businesses (the pay was board usage) and as a result missing out on education. Grom Nation helps them stay in school by rewarding attendance with surfing experiences – as well as encouraging kids in keeping their beaches clean and developing life skills. There is more – but that’s the gist.

As we chatted I was inspired by their work, but I was also curious as to how we could help support these guys in their work. And as we chatted I got interested in travelling to Siargao both to surf and check things out.

We discussed it for a few days, and then booked tickets – nothing like a little spontaneity to add adventure to life. So on July 9 Sam and I were bound for 10 days in the Philippines.

Danelle the travel guru had managed to get us an almost direct flight to Cebu (12hrs) using our frequent flyer points which was much nicer than the insane 35hr travel itineraries that all of the budget airlines were offering. Now rather than arriving in Singapore at 1am for a 5 hour layover we flew to Hong Kong for one hour and then back to Cebu – not very direct but much quicker and nicer.

I watched the Magic Seaweed surf report each day up until we left and every day it showed 1-2ft waves and little to get excited about. Then a few days before leaving the swell was being predicted to jump to 6-8ft for a few days, slowing down on the day we arrived to 3-5ft. We were pretty stoked and hopeful of scoring some decent waves. Josh got a few the day before we arrived…

Josh gets a wave the day before we arrive.



Josh also got rolled and the reef chewed him up just a bit…













So at 4.00am on Monday morning with 2 packages of 10 boards smothered in bubble wrap and more fragile tape than was necessary, we headed off to the airport. Two of the boards were our own and the others were Aussie donations to Grom Nation – we were just the ‘mules’.

The Cathy Pacific fight to Cebu was an easy one – spacious and relaxing so when we arrived in Cebu at 7pm we weren’t weary – more excited. We got a cab to the hotel and then went for a walk in the steamy evening hoping to find some food before hitting the sack ready for a 6am start and another flight to Siargao.









I couldn’t resist some street cooked fried chicken… but Sam was less excited about it.

By this point he was coming down with the flu, coughing, shivering and generally showing all the signs of it taking hold.

It wasn’t looking good…