Reef x WWF: Free the Sea Movement 2 in Baler, Aurora

The skeptic in me was asking if what we're doing is actually worth it. If this one-hour beach clean-up would actually make an impact. I still didn't get an answer as I scoured the shore for things that doesn't naturally belong to it. But after seeing the eager eyes and thankful smiles from the locals, I knew that we're igniting an initiative that would spark to something for this beach community in Baler.

I once joined a volunteering effort four years ago on the conflict-ridden area of Patikul in Sulu. We took photographs of school kids and handed them a printed copy afterwards. It may seem simple, yet the odds to get our mission done were so great that we needed three military escorts wherever we went.

The finished product was fulfilling though. The kids and I spoke different languages, but seeing their reserved smiles after receiving copies of their likenesses made my heart melt. I wasn't really into volunteering as I am usually more focused on my day job as a public school teacher, but this trip made me realize that I could do more.

Sabang Beach Baler Surfing
Surf Babies | Baler, Aurora
Last weekend, I, together with other media friends, were invited to participate in an initiative movement by Reef, a surf and lifestyle brand that promotes responsible travel and environmental conservation, in partnership with the World Wide Fund (WWF) Nature for the Philippines.

Now on its second year, Free the Sea Movement was an exciting three-day event that took place last September 29 to October 1, 2017 in one of the top surfing spots in the Philippines, Baler in Aurora. Guests were treated to fun activities that let them experience the thrill of riding the waves while helping to preserve the beauty of Sabang Beach.

Nalu Surf Camp Baler
View From Our Bungalow At Nalu Surf Camp
At three in the morning, we left the still sleeping Manila and went on a six-hour journey to our home for the weekend, Nalu Surf Camp in Sabang Beach.

The sky was grey and it started to drizzle as we were having breakfast. Me, I just wanted to go straight to my assigned bed and cocoon all day; I had trouble sleeping during the bus ride on the way here. But no, we didn't come here to simply laze around.

Reef Free The Sea Movement 2 Baler
Free The Sea Movement 2 In Baler
The sky cleared up and our group was asked to be ready for the beach clean-up. After settling on our assigned bungalows, we went out in uniforms of white shirts, Reef flip flops, and Reef caps. My spirit was revived when I heard the youngsters holler in excitementhappiness is really contagious.

We were grouped into four and were given sacks and data monitoring sheet for the activity. There was a short briefing on what to collect and what to leave on the shore, taking note that what's from nature should be left with nature.

Reef Free The Sea Movement 2 Baler
Coastal Clean-Up Briefing
Together with the guys from Reef and with supervision from WWF, the volunteers were assigned to their areas, prompting the start of our mission.

The task looks easy at first, but after seeing loads of trash along the coast, I knew right away that it would be a challenging one. From broken glasses, plastic wrappers, to used diapers, and rubber slippers--the shoreline was full of unwanted items washed ashore.

Reef Free The Sea Movement 2 Baler
Sabang Beach, Baler Coastal Clean-Up
In the middle of everything, I was asked by a local guy where we all came from and why we're doing this. After informing him of our objective, he thanked me for the help we're giving out to their community. Cleaning the beach for one hour may not totally eradicate the trash around the area, but starting an initiative like this can totally inspire the local people to do the same.

Reef Free The Sea Movement 2 Baler
Reef x WWF x Volunteers
After an hour, Free the Sea Movement participants collected more than a hundred kilograms worth of waste. Cigarette butts topped the list, adding up to more than a thousand pieces, followed by plastic trash.

The result saddened me. But after seeing the collective effort of the volunteers, it kindled  hope that somehow we have conveyed the message that a simple effort can help conserve our seas.

Later that afternoon, a one-hour free surfing lessons from the guys at Nalu Surf Camp kept the participants busy. After spending much time on post-clean-up discussions, my friends and I realized too late that the surfing schedule was already full, we opted to join the next day's batch instead.

Sabang Beach Baler Surfing
Free Surfing Lessons By Nalu Surf Camp
What we did instead was spread our beach mats on the sand and do what we do best; have a beer sesh while people-watching. A fiery sunset with a pinkish purplish afterglow capped our day, but not our night.

Sabang Beach Baler Surfing
Pinkish Purplish Kinda Sunset
Come evening, roundie beach towels and fluffy throw-pillows were scattered around the resort's lush garden. Free-flowing drinks were offered, as well as bowls of pica-pica. A night of chill acoustic jamming followed afterwards.

Reef Free The Sea Movement 2 Baler
Acoustic Jam Night
At half past ten, a beach party began. We witnessed how this new generation of kids groove. We sportingly joined them and somewhat relived our younger years.

Reef Free The Sea Movement 2 Baler
After Party
The next morning was action-packed. The sun was up and everyone's excited for the main event, the Surfari Beginner's Competition

My mind was set on simply watching the participants while they compete with fellow surfing newbies. But then, with the urge of some friends, my name was included on the last heat of the competition. But I'm always ready for an adventure.

Sabang Beach Baler Surfing
Surfari Beginners' Competition
I could still vividly remember how I first hit the waves back in 2012. It was in Baler as well, and it made me realize that I’m not into water sports. I could balance myself while on the board and ride the waves with the help of an instructor, yes, but I get tired easily—it just wasn't into it. 

So there I was, joining the group with thoughts of just enjoying the ride and ignoring the fact that I'm in a surfing competition. With the help of my instructor Alvin (who was really nice), we conquered the game and advanced to the semifinals. Yes, us, it wasn't just me who won that round, it was both of us. 

Sadly, I didn't have the energy to carry on to the next round and forfeited. Looking at Alvin's sad eyes, I knew that I failed him. I had to actually console him that it's okay, that we did well and I'm more than happy with that. All I really wanted to say was that there's a time to know when to fight some more and there's also a time to just simply savor your own little triumph.

That afternoon, the finalists did a superb showdown of balancing skills. I love their energy and resilience in spite some bad falls. In the end, a young girl emerged as the winner; everyone’s cheering for her win.

Nalu Surf Camp Baler
Nalu Surf Camp
Everyone gathered at the resort's second floor dining hall for the after party later that night. Free-flowing booze and games were lined up and I even joined a lambanog drinking contest which I almost snagged. Haha.

Party music went on as I left the crowd at midnight. The tita in me couldn't keep up with these kids' raging hormones; they were actually just the same age as my students, five, or even three years ago. But it was all clean fun. 

Nalu Surf Camp Baler
Nalu Surf Camp
Seeing these young volunteers balancing things out by working hard at the coastal clean-up, battling at the surf competition, then partying hard at night made me believe that we still have a bright future ahead. They know that we're facing environmental problems and they do their share in addressing these issues. With the help of Reef, I'm also looking forward to the third installment of Free the Sea Movement with yet another set of fresh young bloods next year .

Reef’s Free the Sea Movement: Baler was sponsored by Juan Light Studio, Bike King’s Kitchen, Madison’s Café Baler, La Patricia Hotel, Baler and The Shack, Baler with music partners Ann Clerigo, Banna Harbera, Eazyhead, DJ Domes Badwolf, and DJ CC.


  1. Replies
    1. Salamat po! We can do beach clean-ups din sa personal travels :)

  2. Love to discover some beautiful sea moments. Nature care us and we need to care nature. Good job!


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