Surfing in a Small Hideaway Town | Lanuza, Surigao del Sur

Already positioned on top of my long board, I looked behind me and saw a cluster of incoming swell. With my heart racing, I paddled my hands to gear up for my impending stoke. The waves pushed me forward and as I raised my body against my two arms to stand on my board, I heard something pop on my lower right chest. I lost balance and the swirling of the swell resembling the insides of a washing machine swallowed me yet again.

Debbie Gumanoy surfing in Lanuza
Pick your Waves at Lanuza

After suffering a minor muscle strain that caused some pain, I sat at the shore and watched the endless breaks of the waves - only to be charmed back into grabbing my rented surfboard and repeat my encounter with the onslaught of the swells. Long story short; I had a wonderful time. That was just the first of my many series of attempts learning to surf in Lanuza.

Locals here surf from Sunrise to Sunset
Five days of continuous stabs at getting stoked paid dividends when I finally rode the waves amidst the cheers of my surfer friends George and Izzy, who exhibited patience in watching me learn. I looked around me and as I see the endless waves of Doot Poktoy, a surfing spot located at the river mouth leading to Lanuza Bay, I instantly believed all the raves about Lanuza being a ‘surfer’s paradise’.

We surf here all year round. After work and after school” says my young surfer instructor Junjun. “Except on summers when the sea is flat; we play basketball and volleyball instead”.

“Life Here is steady and chill”

Surfing scene in Lanuza
Surf and Chill
Home to less than 12,000 residents, Lanuza is a fourth-class municipality in the province of Surigao del Sur in eastern Mindanao. Sandwiched between the coastal towns of Cantillan and Tandag, it appears distant and off the beaten path. Like most provincial settlements in the Philippines, the quaint town of Lanuza relies heavily on fishing and farming industries. It is small in size, with most of the commercial activities happening in the market at the center of the town, adjacent to the municipal building and other local government offices. Rows of small houses dot the few parallel streets leading to the coastline, where local kids can be seen riding their surfboard starting at the first light of the day.

Life here is just steady and chill”, a local surfer whom everyone refers to as “Attorney” tells us. A week of learning to surf and bonding with my friends George and Izzy surrounded by a calm and balanced environment, I straightaway understood what Attorney was telling us about.

Post-Ruined Trip

George and Izzy during their pre-engagement surfing sesh
A month and a half before I lay in almost ruins caused by another disbanded romantic affiliation. After a series of nights feeling the blues I just decided to continue with my own travels and fortunately ended up on this part of the country - where my friends George and Izzy, who unbeknownst to my at that time, would leave the surfer’s haven of Lanuza; a newly-engaged couple. Like a mirror that shows opposing angles, mine was wrecked at that time but to my friend George and Izzy, an image of blissful union surfaced at Lanuza that week.

The River House

Every morning I would awoke to the sounds of the crashing waves even from the quiet spot where I slept – the so called “River House” which is owned by a friend of mine from my UST Mountaineering Club days; Darah.

View from the terrace of my room (River House)
For almost a week, I followed the pattern of a simple life in Lanuza. I would head out to the boulevard and sit to watch the swells grew as I hold a cup of coffee in one hand. A couple of mornings I would start the day chilling at the small round jetty of Darah’s river house and would count minutes until the tides rose up gradually – slowly covering the roots of the surrounding mangroves.

Darah Hockey after an afternoon surf
During the day we all bonded over the sea, the waves, our rented boards, conversation of strategizing how we should approach the swells and more surfing talk. At night, we further welded our friendships over shots of ‘pritik-pritik’ – a local wine and karaoke songs. One night, we even attended a town party highlighted by a free for all plaza disco.

More than Surfing

After a few lucky attempts at riding the waves, I still could not surf to save my life. Surfing, as I have learned – isn’t like riding a bicycle. It takes continuous practice in order to master the skill of balancing over a surfboard. There was a moment when I stared at Darah paddling herself to the waves almost effortless, as if she owns the seas and the swells moves to her own concurrence.

Debbie Gumanoy about to head into the swell
Where I failed in learning to surf, I succeeded in making new friends. I traveled to Lanuza only knowing Darah, George and Izzy, but I left with a few new additions and by the time I packed my backpack to head back to Butuan, I had become a part of this surfing circle; that also comprises my new friends Junjun, Debbie and even the aforementioned ‘Attorney’.

The swells of the sea remains elusive for me to master – literally it insist much room to be desired. Figuratively though, the tides of life changed for the better to myself in the entirety of this week-long trip. Nursing yet another tattered heart, I left with a new leash of gleeful anticipation for the future. The waves, it turns out – has swept me further as if I’m on a surfboard. Mis-adventures with my surfboard aside, I surfed my blues away at Lanuza. 

* parts of this article appeared on the pages of Manila Bulletin Style Weekend on January 27, 2017 *