Pinoy At Heart

Californian Surfer & Filmmaker Returns to the Philippine Sea


Christa De La Cruz
Christa De La Cruz | Nov 23, 2015

First-gen surfers in the Philippines claim that the surfing culture in our country has been around for roughly four decades. Contrary to popular belief, the local surfers in Baler—the birthplace of Philippine surfing—were already riding the waves of their home break way before the semi-surfing movie Apocalypse Now (1979) used Sabang Beach as its set. Down in southern Luzon, the Camarines Norte Surfing Association has been in operation since 1968. Further down, all the way in Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte, two foreigners discovered the barreling waves of General Luna, known today as Cloud 9, in 1980. Our whole archipelago is dotted with many beach breaks and reef breaks that any surfer in search for the stoke can just transfer from one province to another.

Even Californian surfer-writer-filmmaker Michelle Watson can't help but experience this Philippine paradise herself and share it to the rest of the world through her project "Return to the Sea". Choose Philippines was lucky enough to have a conversation with her and find out why a storyteller from the other side of the world would choose the Philippines.

Michelle Watson, creator of the film series "Return to the Sea", arrives in the Philippines

"Return to the Sea is a film series about the various female surf cultures found throughout the world. Episode One was filmed in the Caribbean on the island of Puerto Rico, Episode Two was filmed throughout the Philippines, and I am currently preparing for Episode Three which will be filmed on a small group of islands off of Europe. The locations chosen thus far are all unique and culturally different.

I chose the Philippines for Episode Two for a many reasons. The Philippines have only recently made its way onto the map for surf travel destinations. The name itself when said has a very interesting ring to it that automatically screams adventure and mystery. Last year, I had the opportunity to come to the Philippines to compete in the Philippine Wahine Classic. I instantly fell in love not just with this country but with all the beautiful people I had met while here. When I created my series, I knew that the Philippines was a must.

I came here to film the same time as the annual Philippine Wahine Classic so that I could meet up with all the girls I had met last year. Surfer girls from all over the Philippines head to Baler to attend this event and Baler is a beautiful destination to go in the Philippines to spend a week and surf." 

Michelle joins local surfer girl Gladis Villareal in a surf session in Baler.


The Philippine Wahine classic is an all-female surfing cup held in Baler every October. It is the brainchild of Southern California-based professional surf coach Carla Rowland-Zamora.

"There are many surf spots that all have their own exotic feel to it. Black sand beaches, beaches that require you to hike through mangroves to get to, surf spots surrounded with such jaw-dropping beauty that you find yourself taking a million panoramic pictures with your phone to take home with you. The way to get around is cheap and fun. Just hitch a ride on a trike and for a few pesos you can go anywhere. The town is still simple, only a tiny portion caters to tourists and this adds to that special feel. You really get to experience the unique culture of the Philippines here. 

After the event, I headed back to Manila and took a plane to the island of Siargao where the famous Cloud Nine surf break is located. The clear water and unique island vibe was awesome to film. Siargao has been on the map for awhile so the lifestyle around General Luna is defiantly geared more toward tourism, but the scenic beauty and great waves quickly shows why."

Cloud Nine, General Luna, Siargao


"I only wish I had more time in the Philippines!"

"There are so many places that are still on my list to visit! Next time I go I plan to visit and surf with my good friends in Daet and Sorsogon and I wouldn't mind just getting lost anywhere here. The Philippines is huge and you could spend a lifetime exploring and finding adventure in this beautiful country."

Michelle is now back in California, putting together the voices and videos of the locals she has captured during her Philippine adventure. We can't wait for the trailer of “Return to the Sea: The Philippines”!


(All photos courtesy of Michelle Watson, taken by Ardiel Jimenez.)

Foreigners Who Chose the Philippines:
1) Spanish Guy Leaves Madrid, Finds Happiness in the Island Born of Fire
(Photo courtesy of Fermín Álvarez.)
2) A Californian Girl's Mission: Cleaning Philippine Waters One 'Timba' at a Time
(Photo courtesy of Carla Zamora.)
3) Plush and Play: A Frenchman Helps Filipino Families with Fun & Toys
(Photo courtesy of Plush and Play.)
4) Swedish Girl Finds Happiness in a Tear-Drop Shaped Island in the Philippines
(Photo courtesy of Sanne Sevig.)


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