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…

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