No X to Mark the Spot – Belinda Baggs in the Philippines

From Cooler Issue 44.

A river home you can only reach with a machete, with fast-flowing rapids that take you to an almost-perfect reef break... Belinda Baggs and her young family take the phrase “road less travelled” to extreme new heights on a surf trip to the Philippines

A salty haze fills the morning sky. A smooth ocean surface reflects a pink glow from the few clouds above. A welcome change from the tropical heat as a cool breeze blows out of the jungle, feathering the top of an approaching swell. A light spray throws back in my face, the ocean’s welcome.

Paddling hard into that first wave nerves fly about in my tummy as I make the steep drop; the reef boils and becomes visible below. Leaning into a rail and bottom turning around a section, what seems like an infinite wall of joy tapers out in front of me. Toying with the lip, I turn and look back to an empty line up.

There’s something about the lure of seeking out and finding that perfect wave, on the perfect day. To be

in solitude with nothing dividing you and the sea. It’s those moments paddling back out to an empty line up that make me feel alive, knowing that you have gotten the wave of your life, but no one was there to see it. 


Following adventure and living a life others only dream of seems like an easy task, but all roads get rocky at times. When these adventures started landing me in more and more remote destinations, I found the rocky road to be just as rewarding as it is challenging.

Having travelled a good percentage of the earth, following in the footsteps of others, staying on the dotted line leading to the X literally marking the spot, with the support of my surfing soul mate and my son’s father, Adam it became time to seek beyond what we’ve come to know as successful surf tripping and take the roads less travelled to fulfil our passion to surf the best unsurfed waves in the world.

It was also important to find out for ourselves what it means to be the one making the map and filling it with Xs, while immersing ourselves in the cultures, learning to work with people, places and discovering what it means to have a healthy experience in the midst of accepting the reality that there’s a reason these stretches of coast aren’t being surfed.

While I was packing for my eight month old son for a trip to the Philippines, I knew there would be a whole new set of challenges awaiting us on this trip, so I started asking travellers for some insight on the country. Every response provoked the same answer, “Just don’t go to Mindanao.” My heart sunk a little as I read the address of our new home for a month… Surigao del sur, Mindanao, Philippines.

But my mind found peace as we flew over brilliant blue water and picture-perfect islands while our son slept soundly. Before I knew it, Adam, Rayson and I had the familiar feeling of stepping off the plane, instantly feeling the weight of the humid tropic air that seemingly puts you into a spell that makes you head for the sea instantly if not sooner…

Down the rickety stepladder onto the tarmac just in time to watch our overweight boardbags and luggage get tossed out of the plane as a barmaid would toss a skinny barely conscious drunkard onto the streets. We quickly collect our precious belongings, relieved the insides are ok.

Our means of getting to a wave, sounds too good to be true, an old WWII Jeep simply known as The Zebra, captained by a sea-salted, pioneering, pipe smoking captain Ian “hockey stick” Hockey.

He understands what we’ve done to get to this remote area, his anxiousness masked by his intent to show us that, although we’re among the first to take him up on his offer of sharing his “surfing pot of gold,” he’d finally add that missing piece of a successful surf explorer’s mission…having someone to finally hoot him as he exits barrels of waves.

In the darkness hopes of an easy, one-hour drive to our destination faded as it turned into a six-hour romp in the jungle, crossing mountains and catching glimpses of uncharted waves, only to turn inland again. Finally, with a sore bum and rain seeping through every seam of our jeep, the lush green of the jungle gave way rather abruptly to a river that wound its way through a valley of rice farms and led the way to the sea.

We navigated the rest of our way with machetes in hand and headed towards our river home for the next month. It was a simple little home built using native methods, and it was all we needed.

Nestled on the shore of a strong flowing river, it was just a stone’s throw away to hop in the current of the river and drift out to a point that peeled almost perfectly. We were greeted with familiar, welcoming smiles everywhere we went in the small town.

Although the journey by jeep soon felt like a distant memory, it was a great indication of our upcoming trip: nothing like I expected but packed full of natural beauty, raw wilderness, and just the right amount of reality thrown in.

Interview taken from COoler issue 44.

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