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  • Surf Instructor Describes Ideal Situation When a Child Takes Lessons

    This surfer has lived in Siargao for five years and has given children surf lessons.
    by Rachel Perez .
Surf Instructor Describes Ideal Situation When a Child Takes Lessons
PHOTO BY @elaineabonal and @iamkarendavila on Instagram
  • Over Holy Week, news correspondent and mom Karen Davila posted about her family's unfortunate experience in Siargao on Facebook. In case you missed it, here's the gist:

    Karen's eldest son David Sta. Ana figured in a surfing accident and wasn't given immediate and proper medical attention. There were no lifeguards on the beach nor emergency medical personnel to administer first-aid. When they did manage to bring her son to the nearest hospital, which was a 45-minute drive away, it had no medical supplies. Karen also said she found out that there was no required certification for surfing instructors. Karen, who told the surfing instructors that her son who was on the autism spectrum would need special attention, couldn't believe it when the surfing instructor disappeared. 

    Karen's Facebook post went viral, and netizens had a lot to say about it. While there were those who sympathized with Karen's ordeal, many criticized her for letting her son join a surf lesson in the first place, pointing out that David is a child with special needs. It should be said, however, that someone on the autism spectrum doesn't mean he cannot play a sport. (We've featured one who surfs here). And Karen has pointed out that her son "is sporty and trains regularly, swims quite well, boxes, and runs."

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    Teaching surfing to children with special needs isn't new, as Elaine Abonal, the owner of Surfista Travels in Siargao, pointed out in a blog post on her company's website.

    Elaine, who is an International Surfing Association (ISA)-certified instructor with 16 years of experience in surfing in and out of the Philippines, had entitled her post "Our Reality: Surf Instructors and Surfing Lessons in Siargao Island and the Philippines: My Reaction to Karen Davila’s Facebook Rant." She offers her opinion to each of the points Karen raised in her son's accident. 

    The blog piece is a long one but worth a read. Elaine had a lot to say about how Karen's post has helped shed light on the problems of the island, but she also felt it was unfair of the broadcast journalist to say "all local surfers are unprofessional."

    We felt, however, there were important takeaways for parents when Elaine described the ideal situation when your child, whether he has special needs or not, takes surf lessons. 

    She writes, "When we have children as students (especially children with special needs as I have done several times with my friend Luke Landrigan in La Union several years ago), we have 2 instructors per child. One pushes the board, and the other is a catcher as we are well aware of the limitations of the child compared to an adult. This is how we and other locals have done it for several years in the Philippines."

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    Karen's sons, David and Lucas, took surf lessons at the same time, but based on Karen's post it seemed each boy had one instructor with him. Elaine, who has been living in Siargao for the past five years, wrote that one of the instructors admitted their mistake of not having a catcher for each boy.


    Elaine writes it is the responsibility of surf instructors and resort owners to advocate safety first. Legit surfing instructors invest in life vests and soft top surfboards. Instructors and students should also have a safety signal to end the lesson in case the conditions become unfavorable for lessons.

    Elaine clarifies there are certified surf instructors in Siargao and other surfing destinations in the country. But she admits that "there are no strict requirements for the whole of the Philippines by resorts to have a specific certification to teach and push people into the water to learn how to surf." Surfing in the Philippines is still relatively new. Training and certification are done overseas, which makes it expensive.

    That said, "Surfing is an extreme sport," Elaine stress. Anyone who wants to try surfing needs to do their research and familiarize themselves with the risks involved. Accidents happen — Elaine shared bad ones during her watch that suffered from the lack of medical care. She agrees with Karen that much has to be done with the health and safety infrastructure in Siargao.

    "We need clinics, doctors, nurses, and volunteers," Elaine wrote. Locals make do with unequipped and understaffed hospitals and health centers that aren't even open 24/7. One has to go as far as Butuan, Cebu, or Manila for a proper hospital medical care — that is, if you have the money to spare.

    Karen's post was indeed a wakeup call for its local government leaders who have vowed to improve health and safety provisions in the island. It's also a wakeup call for tourists. "It is my hope somehow with all of this that someday, blame isn’t just pointed out when things go wrong, but [we also take] responsibility not only for our own actions or choices, but each other," Elaine wrote.

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