(Words of Andy Irons. My all time favorite surfer. Video Copyright: ASP World Tour)
“Have you ever heard of being kissed by God? Because it is pretty much what it is. The closest thing you can feel, as in being kissed by God. For those 10, 3, 2, 1 second, it is like God came down and gave you THE KISS and you felt it. Then you just chase that the whole rest of your life trying to get that first wave, or that first barrel, or that first turn. And you get it sometimes but you’re always gonna go back and try to do it better, do it longer, do it higher, and go father and I think it is like just being kissed by God.” -Andy Irons
All the craziness started on a bus ride back to Manila with Gene Villapando. Coming from a Coastal Clean up in Puerto Galera, our conversation suddenly shifted to surfing competitions.
We were bound to talk about it after I watched and shared to her a documentary about the legendary Pipeline Masters Competition in Hawaii days before .
After telling her my thoughts about how it must be great to compete and how many times I came close to joining, she told me to consider finally joining my first surf competition while further describing the experience and feeling as unique and indescribable.
Well the impulsive me decided instantly to join one soon. I just knew I had to discover it for myself.
Thinking about preparing hard for weeks, and reaping the benefits of one’s hard work, pushing and finding out one’s limit appealed to my adventurous nature completely and was enough for me to get excited.
The event: Surf and Music Festival 2012
When: Just 6 weeks away.
A surfboard for the 1st place made it all the more alluring to join.
(Location changed to La Union)
I was joining a “Beginner’s Competition” but I knew well enough not to take the competition lightly. I was familiar with stories of beginners getting floored hard by advanced surfers. A brand new surfboard up for grabs is certainly the bait that is needed to call any decent so-so surfer to proclaim he is just a “beginner’ and for the level competition to rise.
For consecutive weeks I went to Baler to prepare. It was work from Monday to Friday then off directly to the Bus Station. I surfed the whole weekend and went back in the wee hours of Monday morning directly going to work still wearing boardshorts , not yet taking a bath. (There is a shower in the office and I have a fresh set of working clothes waiting for me at my desk by the way)
(Sleeping with Jovvit and Bok-Bok in our Charlie Does Baler Surf Shack)
It took 5 weekends of sacrifice to get me prepared. Along my preparations I experienced tiredness from conditioning workouts to get fit, midnight longboarding and balance boarding; and of course wipeouts. My board got damaged and holed up. I got bruises and wounds from being sliced by fins. Lastly I was obligated to attend an 8hour drinking marathon with the Baler locals (not as amusing at it sounds).
I also had my leash snap, leaving me boardless at the worst place possible, on the inside with waves crashing down upon me, while I was experiencing heavy cramps in my leg and my body was heavily exhausted. I struggled for my dear life and thought I was doomed until salvation came out of nowhere in the form of my Baler friend Jok-Jok. He offered me his surfboard to cling on until I reached the shore.
On the day of the surf competition day just knew I just had to go through the worst. It was because the usual feeling of calmness in knowing that I am prepared was present. No negative thoughts bothered me, I was loose and even was able to smile. Win or lose I would be content that I am able to perform at the peak of my capabilities.
By the time it was time for the very first competitive heat of my surfing life. Excitement was all I felt.
“Third heat paddle out!”
(Running towards my very first surf heat)
The early morning waves were great I couldn’t wait to catch a wave prompting the announcer to state:
“Red paddling! Paddling madly. Red Relax Lang! This is a long competition.”
When I caught my first wave I turned left (front-side). It didn’t matter that I only practiced going right (backside) for this competition [I was told that most LU competitions are held in the Monalisa Point, a point which required me to ride the waves backside. I was surprised that the event was going to be held on the beach break]. I was surprised to do it very smoothly in my first attempt. I only had to recall what I felt when I rode a left wave in Baler, seeing and holding the face of the wave in front with my palm riding it as if I was in slow motion.
Nailing my first front side attempt lifted my confidence. I was going left at will.
(Riding the wave front-side)
Surprisingly on the contrary I was having problems with my backside turn (the maneuver I heavily trained). I couldn’t get the hang of it as I was always falling off my board. No matter what I tried and adjustments I made the result was the same.
I was getting frustrated.
Then as if by coincidence all fell into place.
A last 10 second call for the heat from the announcer.
Spotted a right wave from a distance.
Paddled into position. “5….4…3..”
Paddled madly (once again!) as if my chances of advancing to the next round depended on that last wave alone.
Smooth drop… Felt the crazy adrenaline rush inside me while I was going through the face of the wave with speed. Instantly time went into warp speed it went to slow motion. Was able to observe in detail how the wave was slowly forming, curling and breaking right front of me.
When the wave completely broke, I was still standing and riding on top of my board. I raised my arm and clenched fist feeling as if I was Andy Irons who came back after being comboed to snatch victory from Kelly Slater in the dying minutes of the 2006 Pipeline Master.
(Right after the smooth drop)
It just didn’t matter if I was going to advance to the next round or not. The only thing on my mind was as far as I can recall that wave certainly belonged to the best waves I have ever ridden. It was certainly up there with the first ever wave I caught. The competition didn’t matter anymore, I was satisfied.
The sacrifices and hardwork I poured combined with that wave definitely summed into what I can only describe as “The greatest feeling in the world”.
The late Andy Irons was positively on the spot when he stated:
”Surfing is the closest thing you can feel as in being kissed by God. “
I can’t remove the smile from my face when I came in. As much as I didn’t want people to think that I was arrogant, that I had the heat in the bag, I just can’t stop myself from smiling up to my ears from the feeling that I felt.
(Exhausted and ecstatic at the same time)
I was just really that stoked with how my heat went. For the whole 15mins of the heat, I felt that the waves took me somewhere else to surf alone. When the waves brought me back. it like was I gone for eternity, and I was now unfamiliar to the world.
I topped my heat and advanced to the next round. I just managed to do enough to survive to the following rounds. The low tide and on-shore wind certainly provided a wave that just didn’t suit the skills and preparation. It was hard for me to adjust.
Miraculously I was able to reach the finals given my struggles.
In the finals I risked it all. I knew that I had to gamble for there was no chance I was going to beat my competitors who are more adept in riding the waves in the current conditions. I was in the finals anyway and I had nothing to lose.
I had to play to my own strengths of sharp turning and walling even if the current waves were not meant for such. I was prepared to wait the whole heat out in pursuit of “suitable” waves. The wave must be near to being perfect.
(Risking it all. Focused much??? hahaha.)
While my competitors were catching waves in bunches, I was patiently waiting for the TWO best waves suitable for me.
After a very long wait, the first of the two came into sight and I managed to catch it.
While standing up the board I knew that I must turn as hard and as fast as I never did before. I was trying to ignite fireworks.
It was all automatic and synchronized. Muscle memory took over.
Touched the wave face to aid my turn…
Applied heavy pressure to the back of the board….
Turned hard and fast….
Resisted the forces pulling me to fall….
(Nailing the sharp turn)
One more wave and ride like that and I would have a good chance to win the competition.
The second wave then came after what seemed like an eternity. Few minutes was left. I was willing to gamble everything on this ride.
Tried to the same maneuver just like the first but unfortunately the second wave closed on me and I fell.
(Sadly losing my balance)
I came in with no regrets having the belief that I gave it my best shot.I poured my heart out in the finals although odds and conditions were stacked against me.
I finished 3rd overall and managed to stand on the podium.
(Everyone appreciating the brand new board)
I had this great sense of achievement while standing over a large crowd, I guess not bad for someone who did not know how to swim just a year ago.
Thank you Lord. I know you wanted me to be hungrier and will give me the shot to do better next time.
BY THE WAY thank you for kissing me over and over again.
(Kissed by God)
Camille Nacpil– Thanks for the support and the photography.
Ar-Em Lampa– Thanks for the brotherly support through your financing.
James Asuncion- For your magnificent longboard Winona. She has a fighting heart of a champion.
Gene Villapando– Thank you and sorry for the leash that I snapped
Johanne Negre- Thanks for the fins and leash you let me borrow.
(Nicco Lampa has been visiting La Union Philippines to surf since 2009)