By Bruce Curran
In the early morning light at the heart of Camarines Sur, stands the majestic Mount Isarog. This classic volcano towers some 1900 metres above the surrounding lowlands, and dominates the skyline as an altar of nature. It is the highest forested peak in southern Luzon and the lifeblood of the surrounding rice flat lands that feed the Bicolonians. After all, the Philippines is part of the active ‘Ring of Fire’, the volcanic chain that runs north through the western Pacific region and then bends down through the eastern Pacific rim.
A total of 165 volcanic peaks are part and parcel of these Philippines islands, and Mount Isarog is one of 27 ‘active’ volcanoes, although its last recorded eruption was over 350 years ago in 1641.
These days, there is an eruption of another kind that forms a blanket over the local landscape. It is active every day of the current human calendar, and boils regularly as a hive of activity. Soon after dawn, all day, and way after nightfall, a ring of water is the focal point for human forms from around the globe that step on to fancy flat boards that slide gracefully over the liquid surface.
Gliding, flipping, jumping and tumbling around a continuous circle of a sophisticated Germanic cable system are assortments of sleek, healthy, and fit male and female sporty types who have tuned into the massively popular wakeboarding culture, that is threatening to turn into an epidemic of fun and professionalism in the Province of Camarines Sur.
The local government has also tuned into a world sport that is spreading like wildfire within their own Philippine ‘Ring of Fire’. ‘Wakeboarding’ is the name of the game. The race is on, the scene is set, and The CamSur Watersports Complex (CWC) is the spirit and soul of water sports tourism. It is firmly placed within the mindset of a very ingenious and progressive local government. At the head of these floodwaters is the energetic Governor of the Province of Camarines Sur, The Honourable Luis R. Villafuerte. The driving force on the ground at the CWC is the visionary manager Mr. Richard Rivera.
Wakeboarding is definitively at the heart of all the action, and is a great crowd puller as a spectator sport, with lines of people gathering regularly to watch the antics on the water within the ‘Ring of Fire’.
The CWC may have Wakeboarding at its centre, but it is only part and parcel of a much wider set of popular activities and attractive offerings. Skateboarding is popular with the younger set, and the CWC Skateboard Park is managed by the charismatic, energetic, and friendly Canadian called Todd. But what’s it all about?
Take last week, when 3 students Alfie, Juler and Ford turned up after hitching a free ride for an hour and a half on a truck from Legaspi. These boys are keen! They slept by the road because their money is tight, and rolled up for a day of skateboarding early on the Thursday morning. They were sharing one skateboard between them, but before long the kingpin support failed and they were board-less. They decided to forfeit their food money to rent a board for 2 hours, but before long a foreigner with a larger pocket saw them right, and had rented them a board for the day – such is the camaraderie amongst those with a passion for a sport! Yes, it’s all happening at the CWC…
Around the Ring of Fire, the wake boarders are getting into their stride. Before long, Marvin the classy Filipino boarder is going round and round the circuit with ease and panache. Two Frenchmen, a Filipina, a Dutchman, a European girl, an Australian, and a couple of Canadians join the track. The spectators are treated to a pack of tricks as water spray, aerial loops, flying antics, and spinning turns dominate a feast of wake boarding excellence……with a body splash and a crash or two to amuse the watching crowd. There is a girl of five who wakeboards around here, but nobody knows the upper limits of the boarding fraternity, for, as a mark of respect, after 40 they are not asking!
One tale is particularly telling, as 3 of the local Filipino wake boarders used to work the rice fields before the CWC acquired the land on which their livelihoods then depended. They were invited instead to work for the CWC, and now 2 of them are excelling as top national competitors. Life is always pleasantly full of twists and unexpected surprises.
On the wake boarding front the CWC is on the world circuit, with the World Championships being hosted here, and championship and competitive events are a regular feature of this tip-top and sophisticated venue that runs like clockwork with its high-end cable circuitry and controlling metallic framework towers. It’s all an intricate network that needs to function smoothly 365 days a year, with Holy Week the peak of visitor numbers, when everyone works around the clock to keep the place running and the tourists happy.
Kayaking, boating, a full set of water castles, and air-filled water clambering playpens are all for grabs in one of the several man-made water parks. Novice wake-boarders have their own training water park before they take on the helter-skelter of the main fast track. Up for grabs is a swimming pool, a set of outdoor massage benches, a pro-shop with skateboards, wake boards, designer clothing and trinkets galore, and of course a kitchen with an all day food menu for reviving the energy levels before another session around the CWC. Picnic areas abound, and the locals turn up in droves in buses, jeepneys, and trikes, for a day out in their very own park.
Even the statutory pool table stands alone and ready for those in search of a gentler sport. Nevertheless it is a sport that is well known in the Philippines, in that there are more Filipino World Champions than in any other sport. Django Bustamante and Efren Bata ‘The Magician’ Reyes are but two who come immediately to mind.
Then there comes the need for a hideaway and a place to rest a weary head. It is here that the CWC has excelled itself, by providing a menu of accommodation that suits all-comers. Whether it’s a jacuzzi in your very own garden in an exotic villa, or a small cozy bamboo hut with a shower nearby, the CWC has the answer. The comfort seekers and the backpackers are all catered for, with tidy prefabricated wooden houses from China also on tap; or perhaps a classy cabana for those taking the middle road; or even a converted ship’s container with ideal accommodation for a night or three.
The CWC clearly recognises a new trend, and it is Niche Tourism that gives them their focus. After all, travellers and tourists alike worldwide are looking for new places and new experiences. Sensible prices to suit all pockets is a smart way to go, and at the CWC they have taken the bull by the horns, built a showcase arena with their Wakeboarding ‘Ring of Fire’, added in a veritable menu of other water sport choices and concocted a magic formula.
Friendly staff seems to be on hand at every corner. The chase for visitors and tourists worldwide is a fickle and a constantly changing game, and the CamSur Watersports Complex (CWC) is only one player on the global field. Every country and everyone is looking for a leading edge. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, and the marketing and sales pitches have been played, what is left in the pot? In the Philippines there is always one unique advantage – a people, friendly beyond compare.