The Surf, The Travel, and The Agta Tribe: On Discovering What It Means to Change Everything

I was sitting cross-legged on the sand, my hands cradling a full, heavy coconut, and my mouth busy drinking its sweet, filling juice. The view I was looking at was spectacular. Dark, enigmatic rocks scattered along the shore, with waves breaking, crashing with such intensity at its sharp edges, sending clouds of mist into the wind. Tall, towering coconut trees lined along the coast, backdropped by mountains that reminded me of Batanes. And the people. The local Agta tribe who inhabited the place, who welcomed us with us such warm, open arms. I can remember the sound of the children in laughter as they chased the drone we had brought with us, and their mothers watching with glistening smiles from the distance.

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.com

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.com

I sat there, just me and my buko, my gratitude and lust for life beaming and quietly overflowing. There was something powerfully endearing about all that I was witnessing.

And it wasn’t just that beach. Not just that moment. It was like a force, a gravity pulling at the center of your chest that makes you want to surrender yourself to the kindness of the wind. Which is exactly everything I can say about this entire experience with Freewaters, too.

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.com

Freewaters is a footwear brand from California, and they make casual (not to mention super comfortable) footwear perfect for travels, the outdoors, and active lifestyles. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The story lies beneath the very purpose of the brand. Every pair of Freewaters footwear made and sold is a step towards making a global change. One percent of the brand’s top line sales proceed to their cause of providing clean drinking water to communities around the globe who have no access to it.

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.comMartin Kim, founder of Freewaters

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.com

As a product of passion by founders Martin Kim and Eli Marmar who are both surfers, Freewaters is a project born from and revolves around what they love most—water. Since launching in 2012, Freewaters has already mobilized their clean drinking water programs in Kanya, Haiti, California, and most recently, the Philippines.

With the sole purpose of distributing water filters to remote communities in Casiguran, Aurora Province, the mission was clearly simple. But the journey was not.

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.com

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.comCosta Pacifica

It took us eight hours of land travel from Manila to Baler. I opened my eyes to people unloading luggage from our bus, very slowly realizing that we had already arrived at Costa Pacifica, our host for the three-day #FeelsGood mission with Freewaters. There, we were given nothing but comfort. Great rooms, comfortable beds, deliciously filling food, and even leisurely activities like surfing, yoga, and trekking to Baler’s famous Mother Falls.

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.comKiko Rustia, official host of Freewaters’ #FeelsGood mission

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.comSurfing lessons courtesy of Charlie Does Surf School

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.com

I spent most of that first afternoon surfing, and though I’m not particularly really good at it, it’s something I still enjoy and want to get eventually good at. Sure, the wipeouts can be tough sometimes, but it’s a small price to pay compared to the thrill and adrenaline of it all. Especially when you do get to ride a wave? Euphoria.

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.comCap courtesy of Grnd, rashguard from Freewaters

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.comTallgirl slippers by Freewaters

Day 2, we all got up early to set off to Casiguran, farther north than Baler, to distribute the water filters. We were making two stops, at Dipontian and then at Dalugan, where access to clean drinking water has been scarce since being hit by Typhoon Lando in October 2015. Both communities are inhabited by our indigenous Agta brothers and sisters.

It took us another four hours on the road (including a little road mishap) and a boat ride to get to the two sites. The waves were a little rough, the sun was hot, and the splashes of water strong and cold. One time we had to disembark with the water up to our hips. We were soaking. But despite all this, a wonderful thing happened. Our clothes might have been dampened, but our spirits were brighter, warmer than the day.

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.com

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.com

The Agta kids welcomed us at Dipontian with traditional dances—a display of their culture with the help of props, costumes, and makeshift instruments. And don’t forget their smiles; they always have that on. Their teachers were beaming with pride, while mothers cheered them on. They were extremely excited to have visitors, and it is easy to understand why.

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.com

Freewaters Philippines, Primer Group of Companies, Baler Aurora, Casiguran Aurora, Surfing, Costa Pacifica, Charlie Does Surf School, Agta Indigenous Tribe, Nicole Villaluz, WhenInManila.com

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