How a Sorsogon surf camp helps keep kids in school
SORSOGON, Philippines – A local surf camp in Gubat, Sorsogon is making waves in the community, for reasons different from what others might initially assume.
The growing interest for the water sports of surfing comes as no surprise to many especially in a country like the Philippines. In Sorsogon, however, the surfing bug evolved into a double-edged sword: kids enjoyed surfing so much that they started skipping schools to spend more time catching the waves.
Because of this, the town's surfing pioneers have been imposing a "no school, no surf" policy since 2009 to keep children in school.
Noli Mercader, one of the administrators of the Lola Sayong Ecosurf Camp, knew from the get go that schooling should not be sacrificed for surfing.
“‘Yung ‘no school, no surf’ policy din, nakikita din namin na para mas maipagpatuloy pa yung camp. Kailangan nila mag-aral. Hindi naman lahat puro surfing,” Mercader said.
(We consider the ‘no school, no surf’ policy as a sustainable strategy for the camp.The children need to go to school. It should not be all about surfing.)
SURF BOARD. Back then, Lola Sayong ecosurf camp only started with one surf board shared by everyone in the community who wishes to learn how to surf. Photo by Vee Salazar/Rappler
The people behind the surf camp are childhood friends who used to treat the ocean as their playground. Mercader is one of them.
According to him, surfing only started as a hobby for them. They learned how to navigate the strong waves with surf boards through the most millenial way possible – through YouTube.
In 2014, the group of childhood friends came up to Lola Sayong asking for a big favor: They wanted to use her property along Gubat's coastline to build a surf camp. To their delight and surprise, the elderly resident quickly agreed.
Since then, surfing turned into more than just a hobby for Mercader and his friends. They slowly established the camp one nipa hut at a time.
Helping surfing trainers
While the surf camp in Sorsogon is unlike those in Siargao that offer world-class surfing spots, or those in Baler that draw hundreds of tourists at a time, residents would agree that it embodies a charm of its own.
For one, the camp opened many opportunities for residents such as Jay-Jay Eva.
Eva, 21, is studying to become a seafarer one day. When he is not at school taking up courses for his degree on Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation, he is at the beach teaching tourists and the kids on how to surf.
Just like his students today, he learned surfing and benefitted from the camp's "no school, no surf" policy a few years back.
"Ang kagandahan ng pagsusurf ay minsan nalalayo namin sila sa mga bisyo nila," Eva said, adding that surfing introduces a form of "healthy lifestyle" among the residents.
(What is good about surfing is that it keeps the kids away from vices)
INSTRUCTOR. Jay-Jay Eva, a 21-year-old instructor at Lola Sayong ecosurf camp, teaches kids who want to learn how to surf. Noli Mercador taught him how to surf when he was still young.
"'Yung surf na ang nakatulong sa akin lalo na sa finance. Doon ako kumukuha sa pagiging instructor kaya natutulungan ko sarili ko," Eva shared in an interview with Rappler.
(Surfing helped me in my finances. I earn money in my job as an instructor that's why I can support myself.)
Maintaining the playground
Managing the surf camp did not come easy. According to the Mercader, they had to balance the camp's need to generate income, their goal to make a positive impact, and keeping the place clean and pristine.
He said that their main selling point is their playground – the clean ocean. That is why they need to take care of it through the many camp rules that they have implemented.
"Kung mangyayari man na aabusuin, o dahil sa pera, papasok 'yung mga guests. Kapag maaabuso 'yun, sa long term, mawawala yun," he said.
(If we exploit this place and allow the influx of so many guests, we lose this in the long term)
SURF'S UP. Noli Mercador believes that they have to take care of the ocean and give back to the community in order to sustain their sufing camp.
Various rules meant to keep the place clean and inviting are posted everywhere. At the entrance, a colorful sign that says "You are entering a no smoking zone" welcomes guests. On the other side of the camp, a place known as the "detox area," guests are reminded to keep their voices down.
What is most noticeable, however, is how, like the ocean that entices even newbie surfers, the instructors and the employees at the camp are always ready with their bright smiles and energetic hellos.
According to Mercader, their hospitability is rooted in the fact that everyone who help run the place consider the Lola Sayong ecosurf camp their second homes.
"Para sa mga guests, pupunta sila dito para payamanin pa yung mga mamamayan at makapagdugtong ng mga pangangailangan doon sa mga talagang nangangailanan," he said.
(Having guests in the camp helps the community by allowing the locals to earn money, especially those who need it the most.) – Rappler.com