You know that proverbial trip countdown in which you put up a calendar in every corner imaginable and mark a big fat X on each day as your holiday/vacation draws closer and closer? And, to quote that Expedia.com commercial starring Meredith Bishop from 7 years ago, for this “you need a half-inch-wide stripe of permanent red ink, visible as far away as the mailroom, and smellable to anyone within a 20-foot radius,” and using a pencil and/or a ballpoint pen is out of the question? Well, I’d never had to do that sort of thing before, not even for my trips to California or New York, and much less for my short-haul trips, like, say, to Boracay or Manila. For my escape to Siargao two months ago, however, I couldn’t resist the urge to break out the Sharpies and put them to good use! I mean, how could I, when this was a trip that had been more than a decade in the making!
The earliest enthralling stories about Siargao that I’d heard were from Malate rave club owners/promoters back in the late ‘90s, who had claimed to own private beach retreats in the island for “when we feel the need to get away from it all”—their evocative accounts about waking up early to catch rose-colored sunrises and about floating weightlessly in covered hammocks by the beach on rainy afternoons had left me spellbound. And then there were the Manila-based magazine folk (stylists and creative directors) from back in the early 2000s, who’d told me about how the place’s limestone cliffs had made for glorious backdrops for photo shoots. Around the same time my friends and I had started hanging out with Aussie backpackers/transients at the old Kukuk’s Nest Bed and Breakfast (down Gorordo and Escario, now the site of KOA Tree House), who’d rambled on and on about their Siargao gastronomic adventures—“Freshest and tastiest seafood ever!” they’d gushed—and who’d started the rumor (unverified up to this day) that one of the guys from Silverchair—Chris Joannou or Ben Gillies, not Daniel Johns—had been spotted vacationing in that very island. And then there were these dudes that I’d met in Malibu in the summer of 2010, who wouldn’t stop raving about how Siargao’s Cloud 9 was in their bucket list; one of them had even asked about the cluster of beautiful islets—Dakô, Guyam, and Naked Island—located southeast off the main island, and I remember being very ashamed that I couldn’t tell him anything about them. I could go on and on, but suffice to say that, yes, it had been close to fifteen years that I’d been regaled with testimonials and tales (some of them tall) about this island, which meant I’d literally spent half of my life itching to see the place but just never getting the chance! Well, not until now!
But this little trip of mine wasn’t exactly a vacation or anything like that. I mean, people have been asking me what I was doing in Siargao after seeing my posts on Instagram and Twitter, and I wish I could say something cool, like, “Oh, surf camp!” or, “I just needed to get away from it all!” But the truth is it was work that brought me there. Yes, I was there to photograph (and style) Lawrence and Estifanny, a young, adventure-loving couple engaged to be married. They both loved to surf, and so that was what they wanted their engagement photos to show. Of course, I was down for this! Surfers and surfboards just happened to be two of my favorite things in the world to photograph—I’d realized this after spending one whole day some two summers back riding up and down that stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway between Pacific Palisades and Central Malibu just taking the pulse of their surf culture with my then brand spanking new Nikon D90. I’d even done a surfer-themed engagement session already, some four months before this shoot, for a Singapore-based couple—we’d packed a bunch of surfboards (and longboards!), hopped on an old Jeep (we could not find a van), and hauled our asses to the neighboring beach town of Argao in order to “recreate” one of their laid-back surfing trips.
Lawrence and Estifanny here, though, made it very clear from the start that they didn’t want their photos to come off as staged—they wanted them to be as authentic as possible. And the only way to achieve that was for them to go on an actual trip, and for me to tag along with them! Although stoked has the right amount of surfer connotations to describe how I felt when the couple announced that they were booking me plane tickets to the “Surfing Capital of the Philippines,” I feel it’s too polite a word to depict how I literally foamed in the mouth that day, so let’s just go with delirious this time. The very millisecond I boarded that Cebu Pacific aircraft that was to take us to the island, I knew that my life was never going to be the same!
Longest shoot of my life to date! Three days, three nights! The average engagement shoot only takes a little over 5 hours to finish! But I’m not complaining—I mean, even you wouldn’t have it any other way. A few hours or even one day just isn’t enough to uncover the most breathtaking facets of a place like Siargao—or the most intoxicating parts of an incredibly romantic institution that is a surf trip shared between daredevil lovers. (And even if you could do it in one day—let’s just say you got 20 pairs of eyes, 20 pairs of hands, 20 pairs of legs, and a hundred cameras at your disposal—there was no way you could leave in a hurry, anyway, especially since flights in and out of the island are only three or four times a week.) Thank God the couple chose a shooting schedule that coincided with the long Thanksgiving weekend!
It wasn’t all work for that entire 72 hours, though. Of course, I was stuck with the couple like a clingy third wheel for most of the time, and I had so much fun following their trails as they made their way to their favorite spots, old and new, and chasing them around as they did their thing—yes, I even got in the water chest deep in an effort to take pictures of them paddling out, and I almost got my camera wet in the process! So awesome, because although they’d only been here a few times before, they knew the place like the back of their hand, so there was virtually no need for us to ask for directions; and in the rare occasions that we needed to, well, we had it all too easy because they knew so many locals! I joked that they should consider just moving out here to become tour guides! And just when I thought things couldn’t get better, they went and did something pretty insane: they gave me some time off so I could explore the place on my own!
The whole trip turned out to be worth all that X-ing in my calendar, after all! Now, let’s go over my checklist to see if I missed anything. Did I get to wake up early everyday for three days to revel in the fabled Siargao sunrise? Check. Did I get to take relaxing siestas in covered hammocks by the beach while waiting for the afternoon rain to pass? Check. Did I get to see and take a couple of photos of those beautiful limestone cliffs? Check. Did I get to feast on the freshest—and cheapest!—seafood in this part of the world, each time with a side of local color? Check. Did I get to see the reef breaks that the place is famous for, and did I get to photograph a couple of folks (including my subjects) riding them? Check, and check. Did I get to see the islets named Dakô, Guyam, and Naked? Well, half check, since we never made it to the latter, although I caught a glimpse of it from afar. So, you see, I had it well covered! In fact, the only thing that remains unticked in my list is the fabled rock star sighting—no Chris Joannou or Ben Gillies, I’m sorry!—but, you know what, I should just tick that one off right now, because weren’t Lawrence and Estifanny here like rock stars in their own right, not only in the way they carried themselves in front of the cameras, but also in the way they showed me a rad good time?
I wish I could post more photos than what you see here right now, but I can’t do that until the days leading to the wedding. I’m sorry, but I know better than to ruin the surprise element—if you’re a photographer who does a lot of these engagement shoots, you will understand where I am coming from. I know that Lawrence, especially, is dying of suspense, because he can’t wait to see everything, but what can I do? Let’s just say that it’s his turn now to put up the calendar, break out the Sharpies, and start counting the days! I mean, he should really be doing that anyway, because he’s about to marry the surfer girl of his dreams!
Lawrence Gochoco and Estifanny Sevilla | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon in Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte, on November 23-26, 2012 | Hair and makeup by Alex Nicole Lorenzana | Special thanks to Hippie’s Surf Shop and the staff of Ocean 101 Beach Resort | Graphic tees and surf jams, Aframe Surf Company; lavender jacquard henley, Koto, Urban Outfitters