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Exploring the Philippines

emi cataldi surfing in the philippines with a palm tree backdrop

Consisting of over 7,500 islands that trickle down the western edge of the Pacific Rim, separating the South China Sea from the Philippine Sea and the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines are an archipelago that still holds a great allure for those looking to escape and explore.  International photographer John Seaton Callahan and surf explorers Sam Bleakley (UK), Emi Cataldi (an expat Italian hot air balloon pilot now residing in Australia) and Frenchman Erwan Simon have made several trips to these islands, whose total length of coastline exceeds 36,000km, each time compelled to return by a feeling of unfinished business and the potential for yet another fresh discovery.  

In late 2015 the SurfEXPLORE team travelled to Samar, the third largest island in the Philippines located mid-way up the Pacific side of the archipelago, in search of undiscovered waves.  We caught up with Riz ambassador Emi Cataldi to find out more about their latest expedition, and present below a selection of photographers John Calllahan and Abdel Elecho’s incredible imagery.

sam bleakly surfing a small wave in the philippines

“Despite having been on the radar for many years, Samar is a huge island where land and boat transport options are quite limited and rather difficult, hence the potential to find unsurfed and unexplored waves is still there. The coast of Samar is also littered with a myriad of smaller islands/islets, some of which hold some real gems, but because they're hard to reach (especially when it comes to being at the right place at the right time) the chances of missing or overlooking some potential setups are far greater than the chances of scoring great surf. Both John Callahan and myself have been to this area before, and even after a couple of trips we both felt that we hadn't even scratched the surface of the surf potential it holds. So, after having done a couple of boat trips we decided the time was right for a good old fashioned road trip to explore the true potential of the mainland. We still ended up on little fishing boats most days though, which allowed us to explore the little nooks and crannies that we've always wanted to go to but couldn't really take the big boat in."  

emi cataldi searching for surf in the philippines

"Our good friend Abdel Elecho (who's a local surfer and and ace water photographer) was keen to explore his backyard as much as we were, so joining forces on this project was a no-brainer. The other reason that took us to Samar in particular is that the same area that we explored was badly affected by a super-typhoon a few years ago, so as surfers we were interested to explore the duality of the interaction that local people and local surfers like Abdel have with these phenomenal weather events. On one hand their surfing (and business) depends on the typhoons to deliver world-class waves, whilst on the other hand they are a constant threat to the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people every year.” 

emi cataldi surfing in the philippines wearing riz boardshorts

sam bleakly surfing in the philippines and erwan simon drinking a coconut

“The challenge of immersing yourself in an alien environment chasing perfect waves is what fuels our adventures. Nothing is more alluring to us than what I call the "un-factor": unknown, unexplored, unpredictable, unsurfed. You don't really know what lies around every corner until you walk, swim or hike there. And even with all the tools and the technology available in 2016 there is no substitute for being therein person at the right time. We do a lot of research before every project, and each member of the SurfEXPLORE has its own little niche of expertise: John is passionate about history and geopolitics, plus he has a huge amount of knowledge and experience when it comes to weather and swell patterns and how local geography can affect wind and waves refraction. Which is also my sort of field of expertise, so we're constantly going back and forth, researching and cross referencing between us. Sam being the superb intellectual he is puts in a lot of time and effort researching the cultural and historical aspects of the places and people we are going to visit. Erwan is passionate about environment and conservation so his research is mostly focused in that area. He's also the guy who collects and sends over the water samples to the ASC (Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation) laboratory in America. At the end of the day we all spend countless hours scrutinising satellite images and researching every single photo and video library imaginable when we suspect there may be good waves in a certain area! That's always the starting and finishing point of every research session.”

erwan simon surfing in the philippines

image of sam bleakly's legs whilst surfing in the philippines

“The Philippines is a beautiful destination with incredibly friendly locals and great quality waves, however unfortunately there are some enviromental issues there, some of which (like the devastating consequences of dynamite fishing on the reefs, the marine eco system and the coastal communities) were directly in our faces as surfers. Fish scarcity has a dual impact on coastal communities: it forces the fishermen to take greater risks by venturing tens of miles offshore in their tiny boats hoping for a better catch (a decision that sometimes they pay for with their lives) and it also drives a lot of people out of the coastal villages and into the city slums, where a lot of young people end up being exploited and living in conditions of extreme poverty. This is a scenario that I've come across often during my travels around the world and it always makes me wonder whether life would have been better back in the village...there may not be much money to be made, but for sure it's still possible to live off the land and enjoy a much cleaner and healthier lifestyle in the countryside.  On the upside though, we've met a lot of people who, after spending stints working overseas, have come back to their villages and set up small businesses that support their extended family. Almost everyone in the countryside has a roof over their head, a meal on their table and can afford to send their kids to school, which at the end of the day is all that matters.”

emi cataldi backhand snap on a wave surfing in the philippines

Images courtesy and copyright of John Seaton Callahan/SurfExplore and Abdel Elecho.

 

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