If my younger self had been told that one day I'd live half the year on the other side of the great Pacific I would have probably cried. Not from excitement, but from crippling fear. A native Southern Californian, I was quite adventurous, but not when it came to leaving the comfort of my home and family for any length of time that included a bed not my own. By the time I was in my early 20's, despite still possessing some of those feelings of homesickness, I was determined to see and experience the world outside of my little blip on the map and began traveling to various hot spots on the map well known for surfing. While the waves ridden and memories made on these temporary excursions are still etched into my memory, I never would have guessed that years later I'd be immersed into a culture so different from my own.
My husband, Ian Zamora, was born and raised in the Philippines. He came to the States in his early teens and discovered surfing a few years later. Fast forward nearly a decade when Ian and I met some visiting Filipino surfers who inspired us to go to the archipelago. Our inaugural trip in 2011, while short, was super sweet. Filipino lifestyle brand, Coast Thru Life, arranged a meet ’n’ greet event in the big metropolis that is Manila, as well a beach clinic where I shared my experience and knowledge of surfing with a large group of eagerly attentive, new, Pinoy surfers. Knowing the Philippines was a developing nation, Ian and I were aware of the lack of access to clean drinking water that many Filipino citizens endure. We set up a Clean Water Courier project through Waves for Water that first year where we distributed just a dozen filters or so in an area on the east coast of Luzon known as Baler. Although we were only in the Philippines for 4 weeks, we instantly fell in love with the welcoming and friendly spirit, known asmabuhay, that lives within the hearts of the Filipino people.
The newfound love for this place across the Pacific struck Ian and I so greatly that we have since spent a total of 3 fall/winter seasons making a life in a little surf town known as San Juan. Positioned in the province of La Union, situated on the South China Sea, we relocated to a 2 bedroom house just steps away from the sea for a fraction of the price of anything we could find in LA. Throughout the years, we have continued our efforts with distributing clean drinking water filters, focusing on schools in various areas throughout our hometown of La Union, as well as in the needy areas in Baler, where we made our initial distribution. Miraculously, when Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Central Visayas, we were sitting on 100 filters searching for an appropriate place for their distribution. While I went to Cebu to meet up with mission leaders from Waves For Water to pass off some of our filters, Ian, along with some close friends, was able to witness firsthand the destruction that mother nature is capable of when they delivered filters to one of the first hit areas, Calicoan Island, near Guiuan, in Eastern Samar.
In addition to our humanitarian efforts, in 2013 I created the Philippine Wahine Classic, an all-ladies surf competition geared for women of all ages and abilities. In 2015 the event was honored to host a crew of lady longboard professionals from California and Hawaii, including Taylor Nelson, Rosie Jaffurs, Taylor, Bruynzeel, and Sophia Sarlo. Consistently pursuing a theme of empowerment, over the last few seasons I have organized a number of surf coaching workshops that offer my unique expertise, but where I also employ local coaches. Always wanting to give back to the community, I feel that offering the locals employment gives them the opportunity to not only make some quick money, but hopefully establish relationships with participants for additional money-making opportunities in the future. Additionally, we have participated in locally organized events including Team Surf, an event offering surfing to children with learning disabilities; and Time To Hang, a surf competition for the local grommets. This past season; however, Ian and I decided to change direction a bit and opened an ice cream shop. Positioned right on the main highway, Aloha Sweets & Treats is the only establishment of its kind in San Juan and is slowly becoming a popular hangout for residents and tourists alike. With a variety of toppings including french fries and popular Pinoy candy like Chocnut, patrons come to Aloha to cool their palates and satiate their sweet tooth.
While our time in the Philippines has been filled with rewarding projects and endeavors, the greatest gift that the tiny archipelago has offered Ian and I is not just a home away from home, but a family away from family. Disconnecting the cord between myself and my home terrified me as a child, but I am so grateful that maturity allowed me to overcome those fears because the relationships we have developed while in the Philippines are some of the closest and most important in our lives. A far cry from the young girl afraid to sleep away from home, the connection I have made with the Philippines is so strong that I often find myself homesick and longing for my life across the great Pacific.