PHILIPPINES SURF NEWS: Poks Esquivel; Philippine Surfing’s “One-Legged Wonder!”

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Poks and Mick Fanning: Bali Photo credit: Tim Hain

Dawn Patrol. That's the title and distinction bestowed upon surfers
who take to the waves before daylight. It's part compliment in that it
hints of resolve and commitment; no passion is too early for the
pursuing. Then too, it's part backhanded compliment in that it
whispers of old age and insanity; only geriatrics or complete nutters
get up even when the sun, itself, has the good sense not to.

Today, in particular, this sleepy oceanic crew, who have courageously
fought the leaden eyelids of the sleep-deprived, the remorseful 20/20
hindsight of the hopelessly beer-goggled, and the unforgiving cranial
poundings of one-tequila-too-many reap the largesse that only a
November Pacific swell can bring: glassy surf, head-high, long rides,
and only 4 surfers in the line-up. Christmas has come early for the
dawn patrol.

 It's a 5:30am wake-up call for the early risers at the Mona Lisa
pointbreak, and a formidable swell has blasted across the Pacific
Ocean overnight. Traveling in an east to west direction, the waves
slingshot counter-clockwise around northern Luzon squeezing through
the vise-like grip of the Taiwan Straits. The swell, then, charges
ferociously into the South China Sea, ultimately crashing
full-throttle onto a jagged reef a mere 100 metres from the La Union
coastline.

The first surfer of the dawn patrol catches the peak of the oncoming
wave -- it's a liquid monster, 8-feet on the face -- and plummets down
with unquestioned commitment. He whips a solid bottom turn,
effortlessly tucks himself inside the barreling wave -- the Holy Grail
of surfing knighthood -- and is spat out like a conscienceless bullet
from a semi-automatic.

Exiting the liquid cavern, the surfer relentlessly accelerates before
shifting course with a massive roundhouse cutback that draws a
spectacular figure 8 on the water. Unsatisfied with that impressive
manoeuvre, he continues his assault down the line and launches into an
aerial -- surfboard and surfer momentarily suspended in mid-air --
before landing intact as the wave hammers down onto shallow coral
thunderously. It is Poseidon's applause of approval…and admiration.

That entire display would have been rather banal work for the
immensely talented pool of today's surf tribe had it not been for the
fact that the surfer on that crisp morning was born with fused
fingers, under-developed toes, and only one leg. His name is Ronie
Esquivel, lovingly if mischievously given the delightful sobriquet
"Poks."

 On August 9, 1984, Poks Esquivel came into being in an impoverished
seaside town of fishermen and rolling surf that is charming only for
the literary image which it evokes and not for the harsh reality with
which it punishes. "Life has always been a bit hard for us, and it was
very difficult especially during the time my mother was pregnant with
me," says Poks, "so it wasn't a very good time for everybody. It
wasn't even a good idea to have me." Poks narrates the circumstances
of his birth almost matter-of-factly and with a commendable lack of
self-pity, his inflections shorn of melodramatics. This quiet if
assured approach is reflective of his surfing as well.

"Somehow, I made it through," Poks continues, "even if everything went
against me, and even if it wasn't a good idea to be born and with so
little at that. I guess I was already hard-headed even before I was
born cause I made it. I just came out with a few parts missing," he
quips. Besides cutbacks and aerials, devilish charm coupled with a
healthy and irreverent sense of humour are part of Poks' arsenal as
well.

"My life went on just like everybody else's." says Poks. "I hated
school much like most kids, I didn't attend class but hopefully NOT
like most kids, and I like chocolates, the occasional San Miguel, and
pretty girls," he sheepishly grins. "People always ask me if my life
is any different because of my disability, but I wouldn't really know.
I was born this way and wouldn't know what to do if given another
leg," Poks shrugs. "Although come to think of it, there's a couple of
people I wanna give a swift kick up the you-know-where, so yeah,
another leg could come in handy," Poks heartily laughs.

 What would have been just another underprivileged existence in a
forgotten rural town attained new meaning and direction when Poks was
introduced to surfing. "A few foreigners came here to surf, and it was
the coolest thing I had ever seen. I was 13 years old and my friend
Ian Saguan taught me how to surf. We had no money, so first, we rode
whatever bits of plywood we could find. We moved on to coconut trunks,
parts of an old bangka, and broken surfboards. Then, some Australians
left us their used surfboards, and we were unstoppable. It's all I've
wanted to do since. And it's all that I have done since."

 Years passed and Poks' surfing improved...and impressed. However,
Poks' recent, if modest, successes did not occur overnight. Reality
refused to conform to the convenient meanderings of fairytales, and it
took many years and more disappointments before Poks became a
teamrider of the prestigious StokedInc-Billabong surf team. "I'm just
a simple province boy, so I believed everybody's promises. Many people
promised me scholarships, sponsorships, and contracts. But nothing
happened. It was all talk. I was heartbroken at first, and after a
while, I just stopped believing," muses Poks. "I became a beachside
bum. I surfed, but not seriously and not well. I drank too much. I
just didn't know what to do with myself," reveals Poks. "Then a few
years ago, I met my now great friend, Australian surfer Paul
Stranner."

Paul Stranner had already seen Poks surf as early as 1997. Yet, it was
only during an extended La Union vacation in 2005 that he made Pok's
acquaintance. "I had a good chat with Paul at Surf Camp (The San Juan
Surf Resort) that summer morning, and by nighttime, Paul and I had
partied in all the clubs in town, " Poks recollects smiling.  Since
that time, Stranner has been an unconditional benefactor and, above
all, a compassionate friend with a guiding hand.

"Within a few weeks of knowing him, Paul gave me 10,000 pesos to
compete in the annual Siargao surf comp. He's pushed me to improve my
surf skills. But what I like most is that he has taught me how to be
helpful to my community in many small ways. We built the steps going
from the beach up the seawall. We fixed the footpaths so that the kids
won't slip while walking during the rainy season, and we try to clean
up the garbage around us." Somewhat randomly, Poks mischievously
interjects with a chuckle, " Oh, Paul Stranner also introduced me to
the great music of the Chemical Brothers and Tiesto. So my surfing
cutbacks are good, my dance moves are even way better." Upon seeing
Poks shake his booty with a skip here and a stumble there, there
appears to be some grain of truth to this playful declaration, even if
only in the admirable effort and fervour he puts into it.

On the increasingly busy weekends that characterise La Union during
the surf season, Poks hobbles down to the Billabong Surf School, at
the San Juan Surf Resort (known to all as Surf Camp), to shoot the
breeze with good friend and StokedInc-Billabong team mate Luke
Landrigan, and quite frankly, flirt with the bikini-clad hotties from
Manila. Luke is owner and head surf instructor of the Billabong Surf
School, and team captain of both the StokedInc-Bi

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