THIS weekend, the local government in Siargao issued — and then retracted — guidelines for surfing as the province of Surigao del Norte moved into general community quarantine.
Opening the famed beach up for activities like “swimming, surfing, bodyboarding, paddle boarding, [and] kiteboarding”, the municipal government of General Luna cautioned would-be surfers to wear masks before and after hitting the water and to stay away from large crowds.
A day later, the municipality closed the beach again, pending further discussion.
Surfers in other spots in the country debated if surfing should even be allowed under GCQ.
“Pwede siguro i-lift [ang ban],” said Daisy Valdez, who won two bronzes in the recently concluded Southeast Asian Games. She lives in the La Union town of San Juan. “Pero dapat may limit. We have a [schedule] na dapat sundin, like one hour each person for 10 people in the lineup.”
Valdez, who has been surfing since she was eleven and is recognized as one of the top competitors in the Philippines, has been sorely missing the sport since the beach was closed and the town quarantined.
But safety must come first.
“Personally ako siguro, di pa [dapat] mag-open for the safety of my family,” said the mother of two.
To keep her body in surfing condition, she’s been doing home exercises and jogging. For her fellow surfers, she said: “Lahat tayo miss na mag-surf, [pero] tiis-tiis lang muna tayo. Mas ok na ang safe kesa maging career ng virus na ito.”
Abdel Elecho, a Samar-based surfer, points out that a blanket ban may not be applicable to all areas.
Unlike the more tourist-accessible towns of General Luna in Siargao and San Juan in La Union, the safety concerns are a little different for his spots in Samar.
"Depende siguro kung saan ang spot mo," he said. "Kung sa tapat ka ng beach nakatira at wala naman masyadong tao, pwede siguro. Kung di naman crowded spot mo, why not."
For SEA Games gold medalist Roger Casugay, surfing and safety can still go hand in hand.
“Surfing yung trabaho namin,” he said. “Kung anong nakasanayan namin na gamin dapat hayaan na lang kami na gawin yung nakasanayan namin.” He suggested limiting the number of surfers in a beach to just 10.
It’s been a difficult lockdown period for Casugay and his fellow surfers in San Juan. With no income from tourists who sign up for surfing lessons and patronize the hotels and shops, they’ve had to go back to farming or other means of livelihood.
“May tulong naman galing sa mga kaibigan, gobyerno, at iba pa,” he added. “Malaking tulong na yun.”
To fellow surfers, he said: “Tiwala lang. Malapit na tayo maka-surf.”
Ian Saguan, president of the La Union Surf Club Inc., is considering the wider implications of the continuing surfing ban. For many surf towns, surfing is not just a sport or recreation — it’s an entire industry.
“Nasanay ang community na tourism na talaga ang ikinabubuhay kaya sa ngayon marami parin ang di alam kung ano pwede gawin to survive,” he said.
But despite the economic difficulties, Saguan believes that the ban on surfing should remain. A second wave — and not the surfing kind — would be an even bigger disaster for San Juan.
“For me hindi talaga posible na buksan ulit dito sa La Union,” he said. “Dahil members pa lang ng lokals plus yung mga stranded dito, mahirap na ma-control. At sayang kasi ang sinimulan na community quarantine kung ang titira sa atin ay yung second wave. Baka yun pa ang reason na mapasukan ng kaso ang buong community.”
Saguan added: “Isipin nalang natin wag natin sayangin ang pinagmulan na hirap at sakripisyo natin since day 1 ng quarantine.”
Michael Eijansantos is the founder of My Life on Board.