The crossing

There are many things that are different in the Philippines: drivers honk more than they signal, policemen whistle more than they direct traffic and kiters, well, they don’t stick close to shore. Instead, they fly their kites to the next island. I don’t know why, they just do it.

One Thursday morning I’ve got an invitation to join the Philippine Kiteboarding Association from Isla Verde to some wild beach between Puerto Galera and Calapan. I have studied the maps, about 10km in a direct line, 15 to 25km in diagonal. I checked the wind estimates – a bit too light for my equipment – and asked the locals for advice. They said “Get a bigger kite and a bigger board”. “I might also need bigger cojones”, I told myself, and rented the equipment anyway.

Saturday morning found me on a beach of whitecrushed coral, pumping an enormous 18m Cabrinha Velocity and mounting a large door to serve as my board. I knew the big kite would fly differently, because it was designed for racing not for relaxed cruising. But the call of the wind 🙂 was too strong and my Pinoy friends overly supportive. Plus a boat and a Jet-Ski were assisting us all the way. Sassan sounded encouraging: “You know there are sharks there, right?” But his crooked smile told me the opposite. Another kiter joined in: “Relax, I know the doctor that treats the national basketball team.”

I started on the wrong foot, launching the beast before the signal. Ashamed, I took off on the second try and tried to figure out the aerodynamics of my 18m; but the Jet-Ski came immediately close to point me in the right direction: “Don’t spend any time, just go there.” I memorized the shape of the destination, dark grey and far in the horizon, and I started my journey towards it. I knew the rest will reach and overpass me with higher speed. So I kept going, happy that the waves were not that big and the kite’s response was not as slow as I had expected. The Jet-Ski came by again and said to keep my bearing. “Make sure you don’t fall in front of that boat!” I looked to my right, quite far, there was a huge container ship that did not appear to move at all. But, as I was drifting and surfing across the blue surface I could notice the slow move of the container ship and that our current courses would clearly intersect. The navigation rules state that the smaller vessel has to yield. Also, the container ship was most likely chugging along on autopilot and me falling in front of its nose would not be such a good idea. However, it was still far enough and, with this extra motivation, I kept going and felt very happy to see more bow and less port with every minute.  Noticing the algae in the water I could tell I had good speed and making serious progress. Looking back to the considerably remote starting point was also encouraging. But the destination did not appear closer at all, not even after I passed the invisible line that was marking the course of the container ship.

It was a beautiful day too, stable wind at 10 knots and acceptable waves. From time to time, schools of small flying fish joined me, probably scared by the noise of my board slashing the water. I could see the group as well, the boat and the Jet-Ski. I knew each member of the group from previous trips. They had adopted me despite my beginner level and assisted me all the way since January. Jay had a foil kite and was riding a directional surf board. Sassan and Lynn, Peter, Carlo and his daughter, plus a 12year boy were riding with inflatable edge kites and large boards. Three kitesurfers were keeping watch on us from the boat and Jet-Sky.

The platoon moved a bit to my port. The Jet-Ski was always between us, watching like a mother hen. As I crossed the middle of the strait the waves have increased too. By now, both the starting and destination points appeared remote. My target was now less grey, more greenish but still faraway. My right leg muscles were quite protesting from going for a long time in a single direction. And I fell. Not once but 3 times. Got back and kept going but each time less than before. The waves covered the board behind me many times and body dragging was different with the large kite pulling me. By now I was a bit upset and desperate I’ll lose it. But the mother hen appeared, with my board under its wing and gave it back to me. I covered more distance, then my right leg refused to cooperate anymore. Fell on my face, lost the board from my feet and dropped the kite. The wind was constant so I was able to relaunch but I was not strong enough for getting back to the board. By this time I knew I could not finish the crossing. Not enough experience, not enough power in my legs to act as springs on the beating waves.  Just then the Jet-Ski came back and this time SBoy was in its back seat. “Do you want to switch?” It was a rhetorical question 🙂 I was visibly struggling to keep the kite up while body dragging and coordinating my breathing with the fast waves. “Oo, salamat”, I said, and SBoy jumped next to me; we switched hooks in the water and he took off in a few beats. As I was climbing the Jet-Ski I could notice that only my left leg pushed me up to the seat. I thought that’s something to work out before my next crossing and almost fell asleep. The Jet-Ski was now moving at full power over the waves yet barely recovering the distance to the flying SBoy. I wondered then if my previous speed has been the same. Probably not, as he was lighter and way more experienced than I, but still in the same range as a Jet-Ski loaded with two persons. I smiled, impressed this time with my achievement as a rookie.

The destination was a beautiful wild beach. A grill was already up, a picnic table set. Grilled fish and meat, rice and other pots and fresh coconuts expertly collected by a few kids. The kites were parked on the beach, the palm trees as exotic as they get. Laughter and stories around the table. “So, did you see the sharks?” Sassan asked. I smiled back but didn’t say anything. He then continued “Have some chocolate” and pointed in the direction of a pot. I could recognize the ‘chocolate’ as dinuguan, pork entrails boiled in blood, a local dish. I took a bowl and loaded it with a serious face. All the eyes on the beach were on me. I slowly took the first sip while only the wind could be heard in the palm trees. “Very good, chocolate, indeed” I said loudly and laughter returned around the table. Life was good.

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