SUP trip in the Philippines

I met Tommy in 2011 on Bali. That was the beginning of the Fool Moon SUP project. At the time I needed a good photographer living on the island who could shoot some pictures for my first SUP collection. Tommy is American and had been living there for many years and was, as I discovered from his website before meeting him, an excellent surf and underwater photographer.
Tommy and I share the same love for colours and ocean activities. I liked him from the start, when we met in Kuta at the Balcony, the restaurant of the famous Un's Hotel. Tommy is not only a good photographer, he is also a great traveller and pretty familiar with South East Asia. Before settling down on the island of the Gods, he worked for several years in the Philippines as a peace corp volunteer.

In 2012, we did another successful shooting in Bali and that’s when Tommy told me about the potential of the Philippines and that we should try to organise a trip there for the next shooting.
Being a big traveller myself, I am always ready for the next trip or new adventure. So I kept the info in the back of my mind, thinking that when the time was right this could be an excellent destination.
In 2013 and 2014, we tried a few times to organize something but the timing was always off for him or for me. Tommy became quite successful and was always on an assignment in some exotic destination for Patagonia, the National Geographic, Surfer Journal or another cool client and as far as I was concerned, the development of the brand kept me quite busy. There weren’t many opportunities for me to jump on a plane when my goods were fresh from the factory and not yet shipped out. I could never find time between quality check, product development and brand promotion.

Bea, Ramon and Baker on their way to Sumilon island.
At the beginning of 2015, we saw that we finally had a window during the third week of March and started to organize THE trip.
After we exchanged a zillion emails, Tommy and I finally decided to meet in Dumaguete on Negros Oriental. From there we would do our first warm-up day of shooting on Sumilon, a little Island surrounded by Turquoise waters, an hour off Dumaguete by boat. The next day, we would drive down Negros to the small fishing village of Zambouangita and from there we would catch a public boat to Apo Island.
Frankly speaking for me who had never set foot in the Philippines before, it was difficult to know if it was a good plan or not but I decided to trust Tommy and to follow him.

From my office in cold Switzerland one month before, all I understood was that with its’ 7000 islands the Philippines looked like a dream place for any ocean lover, but I also understood that transport would be an issue as you can't get anywhere without a plane or a boat. Another challenge was the fact that we were looking for real surfers or supers to model for our shootings and we wanted people who lived on the spot. This is quite easy to find when you’re shooting on Bali but a bit more complicated when you decide to go on some small island in the middle of the Philippines.
But with Tommy’s help, his many contacts and with the aid of Raphael my Fool Moon distributor for the Philippines, we soon found six promising models.
For our first day of shooting on Sumilon, we booked Bea and Ramon, 2 young Filipino surfers from Dumaguete, as well as Jof, Paula, Charlie and Tony for the Apo trip.

Jof is an artist-designer-mermaid from Manila who, during her spare time, likes to paint whales and turtles with her activist friends on the walls of 5-star resorts. Paula and Tony are both American and live together in Dumaguete. He works as a chef in a culinary school and she studies in one of the many town universities. They can both talk for hours about healthy-bio-MGO free food or how to make the best mayonnaise ever without using a single egg and both dream of retiring on an eco farm, as far away as possible from any human being. Charlie works as a peace corp volunteer in a fishing village. He is the only white guy for kilometres in a round and helps the fishermen to preserve their natural resources. What a perfect group for Fool Moon. Each profile was pretty interesting, foreboding a good start to an exciting photo shoot.

On the evening before our departure for Apo, we all met at the HayHay bar club and restaurant in Dumaguete, invited by Sande the owner and local surf celebrity to enjoy local Dumaguete sushi, grilled fish and San Miguel beers. Tommy grabbed a guitar and surprised us all by climbing on stage. He entertained us, as well as the HayHay crowd, until 2 am with classic Tom Petty, Guns and Roses and other Jack Johnson tunes. The same evening we convinced Baker, Sande's right arm, to join us for the trip.
So the next morning Tommy, Baker, Raphael, Paula, Tony, Charlie, Jof and myself loaded our boards, bags and cameras in one of Sande's pick-ups and headed down to the fishing village of Zambouangita.
Nobody really talked during the one-hour drive. Some of us where trying to recuperate after too many San Miguels the previous night. Tommy for sure was still on stage thinking about the string he broke while strumming "Paradise City", and I was trying to realize how lucky I was to be with such an amazing crew but at the same time I was feeling a bit stressed about the journey ahead, wondering if everything would turnout well during the next days and if we would return with the pictures I wanted.

We had inflated the boards 2 days before when Sande, Tommy, Raphael, Baker and myself did our first warm-up paddle to the end of Dumaguete airport's runway. We thought that it would be cool if we could take a picture with one of us "wearing a Fool Moon logo" under a landing Cebu Pacific A320. What we didn't realize though is how low the plane would fly just before touch down. I was the first to chicken out, seconds before the plane landed on my board. After they all made fun of me but when I checked the pictures a week later, I realized that except for the wheels of the plane inside the picture frame, none of my companions had made it standing up and smiling.
I was really exited about the three new Fool Moon inflatable boards we had with us. Five days before I was still in the factory somewhere in between Shenzhen and Guangzhou helping the workers to pack them up before shipping them by DHL to Manila. I selected two All-around 10.0 and 11.0 as well as our new Touring 12.0. They where made with our new stringer technology which provides better stiffness and much lighter weight. Initially I had plans to take extra good care of them, I wanted to clean and deflate them after each use, but I guess that when you are on a surf-sup paradise trip under the hot sun you become a bit lazy and even though it was easy to transport them packed from Manila to Dumaguete, once there, they remained inflated for the rest of the trip. I also thought that it could be a relatively good way to test their resistance.
Wednesday morning was market day in the small village of Zambouangita. It was an enriching experience for us. All surrounding villages had gathered and this really was the happening place to be. There were so many colours, smells and sounds - dried fish, colourful spices, inviting vegetables and tasty looking fruit. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the gathering except maybe the poor chicken and pigs. Many were attached head down to the back of motorcycles or carried as if they were grocery bags, squealing and cackling on top of their lungs with definite unhappiness. I guess that for most of them this was unfortunately their last market.
In the village, we didn't find anything that looked like a harbour or at least a pier however instead we spotted a long sandy beach where local bancas and dugouts were berthed. We found one to take us to Apo Island and climbed in with Apo villagers returning to their island with bags full of purchases from the market. Lucky for us no chicken or pigs on this trip!
From the start we could see Apo, a tiny Island on the horizon line. Tommy had told me that this was a small paradise without roads, cars or wifi. Cellular connection to the mainland worked every other day depending on the weather and percentage of humidity in the air. Apo has a population of about 300, two small resorts with approximately 10 rooms each and some electricity during the day mainly to recharge the oxygen tanks, but the whole island is turned off and it’s pitch black after 9:30 pm.
No electricity also meant no aircon or even a ventilator at night. This simplicity made the island really attractive for a group of ocean lovers and SUP-travellers like us, but could become a nightmare for most tourists. Perfect, it was going to be even quieter during our shoots and we’d be able to enjoy the unique experience.
On top of its peacefulness Apo is famous for its’ marine life.
The Apo Island reserve, which spans 25 hectares, is among the oldest protected marine reserves in the Philippines and is home to 650 species of fish and 400 species of corals. Unfortunately some years ago, a powerful typhoon destroyed the most beautiful part called "the sanctuary" situated on the east cost. So now most of the snorkelling and diving takes place just in front of the village and usually after only 10 meters in the warm tropical see, you are surrounded by sea turtles, parrotfish and little nemos.
When you arrive on the island you first spot a small orange hotel on the left of the village. It’s set in a little cove that looks like something straight out of a photoshoped post card. It’s only when you climb a bit higher that you get to Liberty's place, another dream, terraced place with an incredibly peaceful view down onto the village and the sea. Liberty’s place was our choice. Not only is she a great host, but she also happens to be the mayor of the Island and a great nature activist.

During the two following days we produced a lot of really good pictures but we slowly started to loose track of time and reality. Was all of this for real? Were the colours and beauties gliding underneath our boards really true? Were we working or dreaming? Jof became our mermaid and spent countless hours swimming with her friends the turtles. We were SUPing on gardens of turquoise water, stunning corals and flying turtles. We would take a nap after lunch and would wake up a bit later sweating, not sure if we were leaving or entering a dream. The warm mid-afternoon sea helped us regain consciousness and we would then paddle until the warm colours of a burning sunset would send us back to shore

Around 7:30pm we used to gather around some delicious Apo style grilled fish and for the next few hours, would exchange our impressions about our favourite Paul Theroux or Pico lyer book, or we would listen to Tommy telling us about his encounter with the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala. At 9:30pm, at nightfall, we would go down to the beach to listen to the sound of the waves and admire the Milky Way above our heads. It felt like Apo was a big boat floating in the middle of the ocean, following the North Star and rocking our peaceful night.
Ten days later, while sitting at my desk in my Swiss office, I can't stop looking at all the amazing pictures we shot and I know that the Apo magic will stay with me for a long time, if not forever. I wonder what Jof, Tommy, Bea, Ramon, Paula, Tony, Charlie, Raphael, Sande and Baker are up to....
Before saying goodbye we had started to talk about our next destination. Will it be Palawan, Siargao and Cloud 9 or Apo again?
The islands in the Philippines are countless, and I am ready to go back and paddle each single one of them...

Pierre-Yves Hocké
Fool Moon founder
Manila - Dumaguete - Apo island 2015

All pictures by © Tommy Schultz

Keep in touch with Jof & Tommy > visit their website

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