(SPOT.ph) "In every lineup, our surfers have their share of many good waves. At the same time, they have their share of difficult wipeouts. But, no matter what the wipeout, they get back on their boards and paddle out, ready to reconquer the waves."
What happened to the beautiful, teardrop-shaped island of Siargao in Surigao del Norte last December 2021 was—as First District Representative Bingo Matugas said in the aforementioned quote—one difficult wipeout.
Siargao is one of the “world’s greatest places,” said Time Magazine in 2021. True enough, the world-class waves, warm and fun people, and surf town culture of the “Surfing Capital of the Philippines” are just a few things travelers seek and end up coming back for. The surfer’s hotspot is the perfect escape should you want to take a breather from the toxic mess of the city—some have even planted their roots after falling in love with the island.
Accommodations were almost 100% booked until January 2022, with the area buzzing to welcome boatload after boatload of local tourists —until Super Typhoon Odette made landfall in December 2021. The storm wreaked havoc on the area, practically obliterating parts of the island. Picking up the pieces was a slow process, but a few months after the devastation, tourism sites and activities around the island—like the Sugba Lagoon and its much-photographed diving board—slowly welcomed tourists back with limited amenities and services. Flights from Manila to Sayak Airport, one of the establishments destroyed by the typhoon, also resumed.
Fast forward to almost a year after, October 2022 found the island at about 65% recovered. There is a low hum of activity once more, with a promise of getting back to the height it was once at.
"One of the most notable things that happened after Odette was really how the whole community came together. And when we say come together—these are the people that organized themselves, mobilized manpower, distributed raw materials to build their homes, medication to people that were needing it in terms of first aid," Gino Canlas from the United Philippine Surfing Association shares in an exchange with SPOT.ph.
There was little to no clean water, food, power, and communication around the area for days, weeks, and even months following the typhoon. Infrastructure was flattened and help from across the waters was slow-coming. Canlas adds: "The first thing the community did was make sure any of the survivors account for where everyone is. Once we knew where everyone was, if they were safe or missing, the next thing that was mobilized was immediate supplies for everyone on a day-to-day basis."
Local government units had to rent planes to deliver tonnes of supplies to the island while ships couldn't come near after a week after the storm due to dangerous currents. Surfers all over the country also came together for relief operations to help Siargao’s surfers and their families.
"Then, they started rebuilding the community."
Renovations around the island are ongoing, including rebuilding the original Cloud 9 tower. The famed boardwalk, which was also completely washed out by the typhoon, was reconstructed six months after.
There's also going to be a regional-sized hospital on the island soon.
"We are recovering well," Matugas says. "Everybody's been excited to stand up and get back on our feet." One sure sign of the steady recovery effort is the recent 26th Siargao International Surfing Cup, where local and international surfers gathered to do what they do best: ride the pumping waves of Cloud 9.
The international surfing event was held to "show the world that Siargao has started to recover"; it was the first run of the global event after a two-year hiatus. Not only was the tournament a big “Hello and welcome back” to tourists, but it gave local surfers a hand to conquer even bigger waves, a.k.a. the Olympics.
“We hope to inspire Filipinos to ride the waves again with us. May we have the mettle and spirit of the surfers in all that we do,” Matugas concludes. “May our Bangon Siargao story make ripples and waves of change in our island. Our country. And all over the world.”
No one expected the typhoon to be so powerful as to have left everything in a state of ruin: Roads were impassable, countless lives were lost, trees flattened to the ground, and infrastructure shattered and severely damaged. The heavy rainfall and brutal winds left nothing unscathed and washed out almost everything. Almost—because the resilient surfer’s spirit to "get back on board and paddle out in difficult wipeouts and re-conquer the waves" remained unyielding.