Recently, surf photographer Morgan Maassen travelled to the Philippines with good friend Chadd Konig to document an incredible effort by locals, surfers, fisherman and relief groups. Good souls from all around the world have come to the Philippines, working together to rebuild the community. Morgan captured this amazing photo journal and essay for Corona Extra Journeys.
We arrived to a fiery sunrise over snaking marshes and sleepy mountains, dotted with chaos and destruction that none of us could have ever fathomed. The Tacoblan airport was in shambles, and mosquitos attacked us the moment the airplane’s door was open. Tacoblan, the last airport of our journey, was in dire condition. Buildings lay collapsed, relief aid camps sat in flooded fields and debree riddled every free inch of ground. While the flags of a hundred countries dotted relief supplies and countless tents, nary a worker was to be found as we drove through the devastated city.
“If this was the condition of Tacoblan was in – one of the larger cities hit by Typhoon Yolanda – what were the smaller coastal villages like?”
We soon found out as our sweltering little taxi raced along broken roads, skirting emaciated dogs and reckless children. We passed countless fields of flattened palm trees, smoldering villages left abandoned, beached fishing vessels and so many displaced people sleeping in humanitarian-gifted tents. Yolanda had unleashed hell on this gentle land, truly showing her power with 350kph winds and 15 meters of storm surge. Aghast and exhausted from our incredible journey, we arrived in the sleepy fishing village of Sulangan to find a beautiful thing happening. While most relief aid had left as quickly as they came, a band of mismatched surfers had allotted their time and gathered their resources to help the small coastal town. While the roads had been cleared and they had clean water provisions to get the town back on its feet, schools and homes laid flattened, all buildings ran without power and water was delivered sparsely from a tanker truck.
“In every direction one could gaze, there was work to be done – but the village was alive with activity”
I found myself standing in the center of Sulangan sweating profusely, feeling very far from home and utterly speechless at the disarray that lay before me. I’m a lifestyle photographer and one of the greatest consistencies of my job is enjoying shoot locations as pleasurable as Tahiti and Hawaii. But when a dear friend from my childhood, Chadd Konig, had asked me to come document and help with the nonprofit Surf For Life efforts in the village, I couldn’t say no. Immediately, he hit the ground running, helping build a solid structure for the school to use for the elementary students and daycare. Despite minimal construction experience, he and his cohorts worked tirelessly under the scorching sun, moving materials, erecting walls and placing roofing. Working side-by-side with the local surfers, fishermen and any helping hand available, they built buildings fast and efficiently. Work only ceased to rehydrate and enjoy the local curries. Then, every evening as the sun set over the flattened forests of coconut trees, we would sneak out to an offshore reef and grab a couple junky windswell waves, relishing the cool water and golden sky.
I don’t think I have or will ever again travel on a trip where I was so oblivious as to what awaited me at my destination – I departed from the Philippines with a very different outlook on life. While the hours of labor and sweltering nights blurred into one, the moment of clarity to Chadd’s work came on our last afternoon. The locals silently led us through the jungle, down subterranean caves, across boulders and into a private waterhole. Crystal clear fresh water sat surrounded by eerie stalactites and stalagmites and the only light that filtered in came from the hole in the earth above us. We climbed, swam, relaxed and relished the small slice of paradise in what was once a way larger paradise. But as we left, we released that the beauty had not left the land, nor had it left the people – their determination and unity as a community was strength that was more magnificent than anything else.