SAKLAY: A Ronnie “Poks” Esquivel Documentary
July 25
My Surf Transformation
August 1
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by Edeliza Virata

Insatiable. A wise friend once said that we human beings are forever insatiable. We are never content, never satisfied, always looking for something more, something different, something better, or something we don’t have. We are nomads with an intolerant desire. It is this desire that keeps us curious and explorative. It is also this desire that can make us greedy, selfish, and unhappy.

This is why people always search for the perfect wave, the perfect spot, the perfect love—and like that line on The Drifter—when we find it, we’re already searching for something else.

I couldn’t agree more, until I found Baler.

What is it about this place that brings peace to my insatiable soul?

I grew up in a family that loves the ocean. It was imperative that we all knew how to swim. If you didn’t learn through summer swimming lessons, you’d definitely learn through pranks played by older cousins and siblings where they would pick you up and throw you into the water whether you were ready for swimming or not. My family also has a non-traditional sense of humor. Sure, we enjoyed the usual stuff—white sand beaches and crystal blue waters, but it was fishing for your lunch and grilling it or drowning it in sinamak or pinakurat to make kilawin, sleeping in a kubo without electricity, eating from banana leaves or bamboo halves, braving the open sea to stay in a more secluded island than the crowded tourist spots—it was these things that we loved the most. We didn’t find the point in staying at an air conditioned, fully-furnished hotel with room service if we wanted to be out in the ocean. We wanted nature, and we liked everything to be as organic as possible. Unfortunately, my family wasn’t the happiest. I had to leave home.

I had tried surfing a few times before, but it was only in 2010 when I actually did it. This was when I realized that going to a surf spot for a few days in the summer does not make you a surfer. Having a picture taken of you posing with a surfboard does not make you a surfer. Having a tan does not make you a surfer. Wearing boardshorts at the mall does not make you a surfer. I was working for a local boardsports company that year, and I was honored to be part of it, but I definitely felt unworthy. I realized that I didn’t know anything about a lifestyle that I was getting paid to represent. So I began learning.

I experienced my first stoke in Baler. They say only a surfer knows the feeling, but I disagree. Sure, it’s an exhilarating feeling that loses meaning once you try to articulate it in words, but its different stokes for different folks. Mine wasn’t just about a wave. The first time I got up on a board and rode a wave on my own got me stoked, but it was more than that. It was everything. It was nothing I had ever felt before. Before surfing, I loved the beach but I never really knew what to do with it. Should I sunbathe? Swim? Snorkel? Go fishing? It was only after I found surfing that I finally knew why I loved the ocean so much. And maybe this makes me stoked, but it’s not at all different from the girl who gets stoked with shopping designer clothes, or the dude who gets stoked with collecting toys or restoring vintage cars. But what makes it magical is that I was surfing for real for the first time, and I felt as happy and intoxicated as Kelly Slater in a barrel. Maybe even more. It was when I realized that it doesn’t matter how good you are or how long you’ve been surfing. As long as you enjoy what you do, you are stoked.

For maybe a year I had the opportunity of going to different surf spots in the Philippines, sometimes with the country’s best surfers. I’d gone to beautiful places, little pieces of heaven on earth. Sure, I kept trying to surf but I also kept trying to impress. Myself, mostly. I kept trying to prove to myself that I can do this, that I can be good. I always ended up disappointed. And then late 2011, one of my wildest dreams came true.

How would you feel if your favorite bands were playing live, at the beach, while you surf? On October 31st, 2011, the first ever Aloha Boardsports Surf & Music Festival happened in Baler. I was going through many changes in my life. I had left home a few months ago, started a new career, and had stopped surfing for a while. But it was that last day of October 2011, at around 4 in the afternoon at Rollins’ point, when I felt it. It wasn’t stoke. It was something else. I remember it being a little windy, and I had a hard time paddling out through the white water. I had been out the whole afternoon, and I couldn’t get myself one good ride. Suddenly, I heard guitars. Drums. Music. Out in the lineup. One of my favorite bands was doing their sound check, while I was out there waiting for my next wave. I couldn’t stop smiling. I decided to stop trying so hard, and just let everything fall into place. For the first time in a long time, I rode a wave. I was at peace.

That was it. After that weekend, I knew there was no looking back. I had fallen in love with surfing again, and this time I was committed. I kept coming back to Baler.

I went as often as I could. I brought my friends with me, surfers and non-surfers alike. But most of all, I made new ones. I feel both guilty and grateful to say that my best friends now, I’ve met through surfing. In Baler. I used to think I was unusual for being so boyish that I would always feel out of place and less of myself in certain groups. It was only until I found these people who are as weird as me that I finally realized that I am okay. That we are okay. It’s sharing the lineup with these beautiful people, sharing this brilliant view of mountain, sky, water, and everything on the horizon. It’s sharing a wave, and knowing what that feels like. It’s being out there at sunrise or at sunset, with some kind of music playing in the background, or in your head. It’s this feeling that forever binds you to each other, and no matter how much you try to explain this to people or old friends who weren’t there, they will never understand it. It’s not stoke. It’s more than that.

I still go to Baler even on days when it’s flat as a chest. It’s never disappointed me. There’s always something that brings peace to my soul in Baler. Maybe it’s the tortang talong, dorado, and rice combo from the rolling store. Maybe it’s Ram’s 24/7 tapsihan that’s closed on Saturdays. Maybe it’s the crispy squid in Aliya, Mako’s fish tacos-slash-huevos rancheros, or Gerry Shan’s P150 buffet. Maybe it’s the turon at the Joy Bus terminal, or Tita Baet’s buko lumpia. Maybe it’s the locals, my ates and my kuyas, who surf when there are waves, and put on their jeans and sneakers and it’s amazing and almost funny because you never really see them in jeans and sneakers and they put them on because when there’s no swell, they will skate with you. Maybe it’s their love for music. Maybe it’s because they like to sing, whether it’s Ric Segreto on the videoke or Franco on the stereo. Maybe it’s because they like to jam and dance and take shots and smoke with you, and call it a Paddle Reggae Party. Maybe it’s because they change the lyrics of Bob Marley’s Jamming to sing, “Dianed! I want to Dianed with you!” Maybe it’s the picnics that remind you of your family beach trips. Maybe it’s their love for nature and all things organic. Maybe it’s because they’re funny and warm, and they’ve got your back. Maybe it’s because they’re real, and they’re true to themselves. Maybe it’s because they let you be yourself, too. And that’s okay. Because you’re family.

Baler is a beautiful place. It never runs out of waves, stoke, or laughter. What is it about Baler that brings peace to my insatiable soul?

It’s not just a homebreak, it’s home.

The waves are calling… Rollins’ point on a small but nice day, April 2012.

On days off-season, they surf in the mornings and skate in the afternoon. These are just some of the ‘Lords of B-town’, from left to right: Jok-jok, Mark ‘Mac’ Espinosa, Mark ‘Occy’ Belen, Ryan Torre.

Finally, we caught Ram’s open. The Surfaholics Anonymous, a.k.a. T-joint de Jesus, Mon Querubin, Rafa Itchon, Gia Querubin.

Dabo, Baler local surfer and downhill longboarder for Ladera skateboards, with Rafa at BBC Lodge, or what we like to call Babylon Beach Club.

When there are no waves, we go for a picnic by a lake or by the waterfalls.

She will kill me for this, but I just love this photo. Chloe, one of the people I met in Baler last year, before devouring a fish taco-slash-huevos rancheros by chef and Baler local Marco Villareal. Chloe is now one of my closest friends, and we miss these tacos very dearly.


Panatag. Thanks Ede.

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1 Comment

  1. Ben says:

    I told TJ months (maybe a year) ago that I wanted to write something for him. This is EXACTLY what I had in mind. You beat me to it. You practically put my thoughts into words. 🙂 I’m sure I’ll see you around Baler. My barkada feels the same way about the place but we aren’t there enough. Definitely sharing this with them. Gotta go back soon!

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