As I packed for Ultimate GT and prepared to step out the door, my mind raced with much uncertainty about my journey, but a dull familiarity with travel kept me relatively calm. However, it wasn’t like that all week leading up to my trip.
Counting down the days of my departure from Seattle to kick-off Ultimate GT, I started to look around my apartment and appreciate what I’d be leaving for two months. No more naps on that mini IKEA couch, no more wonderful mattress, no more admiring my tremendous black velvet Macho Man Randy Savage painting. A monkey part of my brain was already looking forward to my return to the familiar comforts of my home. It was as if I was plucking myself away from my fish bowl and doing everything in my power to hold onto the sense of control and comfort one gets from being able to call a place home. But as my trip, and Boracay specifically, has further proven to me, the gift of travel is to find comfort in the unfamiliar.
Upon touching down in Boracay, the unfamiliar was everywhere. To someone who has found himself mostly in cities and suburbs, Boracay is some surreal island Oz, filled with dirt streets crowded with shops, dancing chefs, delicious fruit smoothies, stunning beach fronts speckled with dive classes, fake sunglass peddlers and poverty, lady-boys offering sex from dark corners, and overall beautiful scenery that seems yet untouched by scheming corporate interests. But amidst the culture shock are layers of wonder that have revealed themselves as I’ve learned more about my temporary home.
Much of my trip has been colored and eased by my adopted family, the Boracay Dragons. The Dragons themselves wear welcome on their faces. In smiles and encouragement, it’s hard not to fall in love with a team that seems to take hard work as joy. Then again, with a picturebook setting like the Boracay beaches, it’s hard not to enjoy what you do.
Founded in 2002, the Dragons get their namesake from dragon boat racing, a prominent sport on the island in which approximately 22 people paddle a long boat across the water. To witness one at full speed is an amazing sight in propulsion and synchronism. Most of the original Dragons participated in dragon boat and many still do today. But after an unexpected 2nd place finish at the 2006 World Beach Ultimate Championships in Brazil, the Dragons were propelled to forefront of the beach ultimate world. They have since maintained their reputation as one of the fiercest, most relentless and unique teams in the world.
Prior to a tournament (and in this case the Boracay Open) the Dragons dedicate themselves to training every single day. Training consists of warm ups, drills, sprints, tons of playing on the beach, and an ironman circuit of more sprinting, water running, swimming and often push-ups or sit-ups. In taking part in a week of training, it’s no wonder that they’re one of the top beach teams in the world. The beach is their home and their domain.
Perhaps also a fitting surprise is the support the Dragons get from Boracay itself. Many members of the Dragons are business owners in town and find unique ways to support the team. We practice in front of Casa Pilar Resort — my residence for my time in Boracay — owned by one of our team members. The team will often hang out in the Resort pool after practice. Just down the beach is Summer Place Club, a frequent site for all-you-can-eat Mongolian team dinners and one of the island’s most popular clubs – also owned by another team member. Other members include kite board instructors, sail boat company owners, massage resort managers, and more. Even the mayor of Boracay is the brother of a team member and an avid supporter of the Dragons.
To say the fabric of the Dragons is Boracay could not be truer. Much of the footage we’re gathering for episode one of Ultimate GT has been hugely bolstered by this reality. Thanks to efforts lead by Karen Cabrara, who has coordinated everything from an overnight place to stay in Manila to kite-boarding lessons, we’ve been able to capture parts of Boracay that go beyond the ordinary and in turn have made my stay all that much more amazing. We’ve learned Filipino kali knife fighting technique, been treated to a world-class massage, seen a traditional cockfight and more.
While I’m certain that the small GT crew of a white American and relatively tall Venezuelan marching down back streets with a large video camera has become a familiar sight to locals over the last week, from motorized tricycle rides to beach sprints and sunsets at hidden tree house bars, these friendships and experiences have made Boracay a new home for me. And to find home in the unfamiliar, is the key to travel.
Follow Elliot’s adventure at ultimateglobetrotter.tv