Brandon Scheid heads to Asia and discovers everything isn’t quite as it seems, travelling in the east can be challenging, but if you are prepared to compromise the rewards can be endless!
"Sorry sir, that's not available." It becomes the phrase you dread the most after traveling around SE Asia for a few months.
Maybe you had your hopes set on that lovely cheeseburger on the menu. Or perhaps you need to fly out to make a connection, but your plane just doesn't show up. You get lost, or your precious scooter, your only form of transport, breaks down.
Some things just aren't always available at your beck and call. There are certainly going to be a lot of up's and downs when traveling, but that is where the adventure begins. No cheeseburgers? Try a delicious local dish. No flights? Hop on a bus through the night to a far off exotic destination. Broken scooter? I've never seen them fixed so fast despite how far we were out in the middle of nowhere.
To truly embrace adventure, you have to be able to roll with the punches, and open yourself to new, exciting and sometimes scary experiences. Of course, you could stay in an expensive posh hotel, eating "American" cuisine, and lounging poolside. But then why go on vacation at all? Traveling is about gathering unique experiences and enjoying the unknown, even if it pushes you outside your comfort zone.
I think what I'm trying to say is best summed up by the following two quotes from Yvon Chouinard(Patagonia Founder)-
"The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong - that's when adventure starts. So, it's kind of like the quest for the Holy Grail. Well, you know, who gives as shit what the Holy Grail is. It's the quest that is what's important."
Sensi and I have traveled to the Philippines before for other kite related events and this years return to the Blue Palawan Open would mark our fourth trip back the tropical island nation. We packed our bags, no easy feat when traveling to Asia for a month. Wakeboarding setups for two, six kites, boards, harnesses, and the like were crammed into four travel bags in our cold Hood River garage.
We also packed plenty of comforts from home. I would strongly suggest keeping 5-10 lbs of weight for tasty treats and food essentials. We pack beef jerky, fruit and nut bars, trail mix, good coffee, oatmeal, peanut butter and other snacks.
These things are hard to find, and help you get a little bit of comfort in a faraway land. Especially if you are spending lots of time on the water and in the sun, good healthy nutrition is key to top performance, and it's not always available. We also pack a fully stocked first aid kit. If you are going anywhere on a kite or active vacation, it is a must. Even a small one with bandages, ibuprofen, ear drops, anti-dehydration powder, antacid tablets, etc. Anything that you can think would come in handy.
We doled out plenty of supplies to unprepared kiters while on the trip, Ewan Jaspan especially. The more you prepare for the worst situations, the better you'll feel, and you will be ready if something does happen to go wrong.
Our first destination was the cable mecca of Cam Sur. There are several cable parks in the area: Republic (Manila), IWP (Phuket, Thailand), and TWP (Bangkok, Thailand) to name a few. Take your pick, they all offer great riding, but we choose CWC because of tradition.
We first came to the Cam Sur Water Complex in 2010 for the Wind or No Wind Jam. The cable, built by the previous governor and wakeboarding enthusiast LRay VilllaFuerte, provides enough tourism dollars to publicly fund the schools K-12 for the whole province.
We have seen the place transform from a shabby cable park to a top-notch facility during our four visits and we were excited to return. Unfortunately, right before we were set to arrive the area was hit by a massive typhoon. It leveled many of the living structures at the cable, destroyed many of the rails, and wreaked havoc on the surrounding local communities.
It is always sad to see such devastation in front of your face, especially when it affects the poorest people the most. But their resolve and joy in the face of adversity is awe-inspiring. In a matter of weeks, they had the cable features fixed, cabins rebuilt, infrastructure reinstalled, and were well on their way to overcoming the storm damage. It seems nothing can keep the happiness found in the Filippino people at bay.
Our days at the cable were filled with plenty of R&R, AKA riding and more riding. We met up with fellow kiters Craig Cunningham, Colleen Carroll, Ewan Jaspan, and Sam Light at the cable dreamland. It always helps progress your riding and stay motivated when you have other people pushing you on the water.
Ewan, Sam, and Craig were riding really well, plenty of 9's and tech rail hits were thrown down. However, it was more impressive to see the girls progression. Both Sensi and Colleen were able to land TS BS 5's and Sensi even snuck in a few Blind Pete’s (something she landed before Ewan). It was amazing to see everyone stepping it up day after day and representing for our sport.
It seems that the wakeboarders are finally taking a bit of notice of kiteboarding and there were plenty of kite related questions on the dock. It's exciting to see our sport make an impression on our fellow boardsports enthusiasts, and know that kiting is finding its place amongst the others. Every time I go to the cable park I really remember how free we are when kiting, though.
To explore, roam, boost, and cruise, kiteboarding really is a one of a kind sport. Getting ready for a kiteboarding contest, however, is nerve racking, and that's why cable is such an excellent resource. It's on for twelve hours a day, and so long as your body can keep up, you can practice endlessly.
We had plenty of good laughs, hard crashes, fun times, and sore bodies. While it was awesome to catch up with our friends again and spin circles, we had a kite contest to attend, and the wind was beckoning. So, at the first real sign of wind in the forecast, Sensi and I booked our tickets over to the island of Palawan.
Getting to Palawan is a simple one-hour flight from the international hub of Manila. The island sits off the west coast of the main island of the Philippines, situated between the South China and Sulu Seas. Not famous for its windy coastlines, Palawan is best known for its incredible beauty, and its government is focused on tourism and ecology rather than industry to fuel the economy.
It has been voted most beautiful island by numerous travel publications, and it does not disappoint. Most people, upon landing in the capital city of Puerto Princessa, hop in a van and are whisked away to the far north of the island. It's there, in El Nido that the true beauty of the island shines.
Jagged limestone cliffs tower over lagoons filled with azure blue water. As beautiful as El Nido sounded, we were on the island to do some kiteboarding, so we spent our first two weeks in the capital city. Blue Kiteboarding, located on the seashore in Puerto Princessa, was originally built as a traditional beach resort. Relaxing vibes, luxury cabanas, and pristine beaches were the original lure for tourists.
However owner, Jojo Mitra, quickly began to get complaints that the resort was too windy in the winter months for amazing beach relaxation. It was then that he met Paula Rosales (event organizer), and the idea of turning it into a kiteboarding based resort was born. The windy days that once put a frown on the guest's faces now became an opportunity for the resort to attract a new demographic of tourist-kiteboarders.
Jojo and Paula collaborated to create the Blue Palawan Open, a kite park contest, to bring some attention to this fabulous location for our sport. What better way to get some much-needed publicity than to invite the sports best riders to the resort for a week of kite shredding. The event was a huge hit, and now we were back for the second time ready to enjoy park once again.
This year there were a few new surprises for the riders. The first was the addition of the Bamboo feature to the park. Kiteboarder, dreamer and gnar master Eric Rienstra had shown up early and began work on the bamboo structure. Upon everyone’s first inspection there was a lot of nervous faces and concerned riders.
The feature, although well built, was riddled with gaps and holes. Imagine a cheese grater ready to take you down bit by bit. However, once the riders had kites in their hands their reservations immediately vanished. The rail was a riot to ride and held up well in the wind and for the riding. It was unbelievable to see the potential that bamboo has for a building material. We usually only see it used to make single barrel rails, mostly up rails. To see such a significant structure made entirely of the material was really impressive and many kudos were given to Eric.
There were two magical sessions that went down on the rail, and I was happy to see everyone walk away from them considering the riding being done. I saw Sam Light, Eric, and Ewan make the step up to the handrail, which was quite a gnarly feat. The second surprise was the amount and strength of the wind conditions during this years event.
Last year, with a strong El Nino, the event was held in light wind conditions. Most of the time riders were on 17-15m kites, and there were several days without wind. With this year’s La Nina conditions locked in, the island was assaulted with weeks of never ending wind.
We had wind every single day during the ten-day holding period, and we even had a few days of 7m mega looping wind. While it was not ideal for running a park contest, we were all super happy that our long days were filled with plenty of kiteboarding. With the consistent windy conditions, we were able to get the contest done and over within the first three days of the event window. This left the rest of the time to be used to collect beautiful images, video, and explore all that Blue has to offer.
The contest was run as the first stop in the KPL Tour and thus was governed and ran with the KPL guidelines. This means that the men and women were broken down into manageable heats, with riders seeded from their previous year's standings. When all the heats were set, the riders poured over their possibilities.
The top two men would advance to the finals, third, fourth, and fifth would be put into a second chance elimination round, and sixth would be out of the contest. The ladies would essentially be run as two final rounds; then the scores would be averaged for a comprehensive final result. Each rider would be given three hits on each feature to score their single highest hit; they were also given one ride by, in case the wind wasn't cooperating.
In the end, a perfect score would be a sixty, as the rail features and kickers were ridden both ways. The judges were looking for perfectly executed tricks, with style and speed. It became very apparent after the first rounds that execution was key and riders were being rewarded for locked in presses and big kicker hits. This forced all the riders to re-think their hits and really focus on perfect technique moving forward into the finals.
After the first rounds and the dingle (second chance elimination rounds) had been run, we were left with the cream of the crop. Sam Light, Eric Rienstra, Craig Cunningham, Noe Font, Ewan Jaspen, Christophe Tack, Aaron Hadlow, Axel Tack, and I all made it to the final round. We awoke on finals day to howling wind and sunny skies.
Most of the riders were powered on 9m kites and happily warming up for the days riding. During the warm-up the wind shifted directions ever so slightly, making the wind rather gusty. The wind was manageable on the sliders, but it really hindered the riders on the kickers. Most riders walked away with a 540 variation as their highest scoring trick, and this left the door open for people to move upwards in the ranking.
As the day progressed, the standouts became very clear, executing proper hits with speed and style. Due to gusty, high speed, winds, and nervous competitors it was decided that we would switch the North rail around rather than include and score the bamboo feature in the final. The day was concluded with the last slider hits, and when the dust settled, it was Sam Light who came out on top yet again.
It goes to show you that consistency is king and taking the win is all about landing your medium level tricks no matter the conditions. The ladies also finished out their last round in the park; standouts include Annelous's TS BS 540, a first in competition, Sensi's regular and switch HS FS 5's, and Colleen's technical speedy rail hits.
The women's level has come up a ton in the last few events, and it's good to see them pushing each other harder than ever. In the end, Annelous's 5 was too much to overcome so she took home the top spot, followed by Colleen and Sensi in 2nd and 3rd respectively. After a few long days on the water, the competition was over, and all the riders were left to free ride in the park or explore the pristine waters of Blue Palawan.
There is so much to do on the water from mangrove slalom runs, to roof jibs, and even kite island hopping. There certainly was no lack of activities for the competitors, and it was good to see everyone taking advantage of the long windy days.
Sensi and I spent the rest of our week enjoying the comforts of the resort, riding in the park, and planning our trip to El Nido. We ended our month long jaunt with a relaxing trip to one of the most beautiful places on the planet. If you're venturing to the island of Palawan, it's something; you cannot miss.
Pristine reefs, swimming pool like water, and empty beaches await you ready for exploration. I highly recommend taking a boat trip to the surrounding islands, and if you want the top-notch experience, hook up with Skippers Charters. Unlike many of the tourist trips, Skipper uses speed boats and visits ten islands instead of the four visited by most tourist companies. I will certainly never forget the places we visited while traveling around the Philippines and I hope we can return next year for another trip to the island nation.
Traveling is always such a great experience; it gives you a fresh perspective on your life and makes you really appreciate all that you have. I think it’s the best way to make your life richer and leave you feeling more fulfilled. So next time you're on a trip, and something goes wrong, embrace it, maybe it's just the start of an incredible new adventure!
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By Brandon Scheid