Surfers and MBA

I squinted my eyes towards the distance in the hopes of seeing an impending wave when I heard singing from afar. I looked east of me and found two local boys 100m away, bobbing up and down their respective boards.

“Slow day, huh?”  I shouted.

I was with my surfing guide, and we’ve been on our boards, bobbing up and down the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea?) for a good thirty minutes in the hopes of catching a wave. I can feel the local boys on the same state of ennui.

The local boys paddled nearer my location and introduced themselves: one was called Miguel and the other called himself Janus. Shortly after we started exchanging stories.

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One of the boys shared that he just got a German girlfriend, a backpacker he met in surf school. The other boy just won his first local surf competition.

I told them I am currently in school and I was just five weeks into my MBA. I told them things I wouldn’t otherwise tell my family, or friends, or cohort-mates: that the normally cocky Rachel is having doubts of my aptitude, and whether or not I could survive business school.

Before I could go on in my litany of my frustrations, an impending wave approached us and the two boys caught it on time, while I was washed ashore.

“I’m done for the day,” I told my surfing guide.

I suggested we go have beer by the beach. The guys we met in the middle of the sea passed by, so we hollered them to join us–and they did. Soon after beer bottles were clinked, I didn’t lose time in continuing my tirade, taking advantage of my newfound friends’ curiosity.

“I feel like an oddball,” I shared. “I’m an island girl, and this whole corporate culture is completely alien to me. In the islands, there is no concept of time. My social circle is made up of artists, surfers and bohemians. Moving to Makati and going to business school–I don’t know about this,” I expressed my doubts openly.

“I wish things are easier. I wish I can just live by the beach and chase waves. I have no energy to rule the world.” I thought aloud, although I knew in my heart I lied. I was too bohemian for the city life, but too neurotic for the island life. Being too comfortable bored me to tears.

At 26, I had what felt like a quarter-life crisis. I felt stuck, like I’m not supposed to be part of this story. And so, I decided to go to business school (because that’s why everyone does their MBA, right?). After some eight weeks of GMAT self-study and a let’s-see-how-we-do attitude, I was suddenly whisked away from the island life to the corporate jungle of Makati.

Traded my surfboard for the keys to the boardroom

My arrogance thought I could just ‘wing it’, like I always do–I was wrong. I was completely stumped in business school. Everything was completely new to me. I was completely stumped, and would enviously look as my classmates breeze through Finance, Accounting and Business. The readings seem to me like they were written in Arabic.

I wanted some Rosetta stone to land on my lap and become magically fluent in this new, technical language. I was on the verge of giving up because my sheets just. won’t. balance.

The solo surf trips to the beach were what saved me from the point of neurosis. When the four walls of the case room started to shrink and close in, I treated chronic cabin fevers with a one-way bus ticket to San Juan, La Union so I can just stare at the endless horizon. Always worked for me.

The surfers were obviously completely clueless about everything I’ve been saying up to that point. One of them, Miguel, finally offered advice. “Hey, don’t worry. Everyone starts off as a beginner.” the other countered, “Even pro surfers look like awkward idiots when they first got on the board.” 

And just like that, we forgot about everything else.

rachel MBA life aim

That was the October of 2016; and I have since then graduated and got my MBA degree. Their words definitely saved me from my dark and doubtful place.

My new friends’ words were all I needed to come fighting back into the ring. I remember coming home relieved and ready to make mistakes. I was ready to stand on goofy; ready to be wiped out from my board.

The boys were right. Starting off a little behind everyone else can be discouraging. Most of us, after all, grew up where success, or being the best, is celebrated. We get brownie points from our parents when we excel, and school institutions reward the top students in academic excellence.

The problem with this mentality is that it can create an illogical fear for failure. The biggest victims are the overachievers. In high school, I equated my self-worth to my academic achievement–seeing my name on top of the list validated my being. Because of their anxiety in failing, overachievers tend to stick to their expertise and what they know best. This short-sightedness hinders their ability to broaden their skill set. They have scripted responses such as ‘I can’t dance’, ‘I’m bad at languages’, or ‘I have no sense of balance’ whenever they encounter something new. It’s always easier to say ‘that’s impossible’ rather than ‘that’s hard.’

I started to changing my mindset from being this anxious failure-phobic to learning for the sake of fun. Changing this mentality opened a whole new world for me: I learned to laugh at myself when my butt hit the floor, but I learned to dance. I learned to surf. I learned to speak another language. I learned to balance statements. I learned to do things I never imagined I could do before. Failure is part of life, so just enjoy the ride, and enjoy the learning process! 

My learning curve may have been longer than my MBA classmates. I might have studied harder and slept fewer hours, but my learning experience in business school was, I believe, more satisfying because of that.

In the end, it’s really not about getting the degree, it was all about the journey to getting to where I am now; and wondering how Miguel and Janus are doing now.



Siargao guide for non-surfers

This blog post was written on 2015.


The act of riding waves on wooden boards has been recorded as a human activity for thousands of years. The first surfers were the ancient Pacific Islanders and Polynesians who fish for a living, and discovered that riding the waves was an efficient way to get to shore quickly.

One of the First Known Photographs of a Surfer, 1800s. Photo from: Bishop Museum Archive
One of the First Known Photographs of a Surfer, 1800s. Photo from: Bishop Museum ArchiveSurfing and Siargao

Eventually riding waves transformed from a daily activity to a favorite pastime. There have been written records about people riding waves, from Capt. James Cook to Mark Twain. We can only guess how and when the modern form surfing was established, but one day some madcap decided it was a good idea to stand in his board during a swell and see what happens. The rest was history.

Surfing is now a sport and lifestyle that has taken a life of its own. Surfers travel around the world to catch the ‘perfect wave’. This is how the story of Siargao happened. Twenty years ago, two pro-surfers came to the Philippines to catch the fabled waves on a tear-shaped island called ‘Siargao’. Now known as ‘Cloud 9’, Siargao is acclaimed for her large, smooth and hollow-tubed waves that bring an international crowd of surfers every year. Siargao is now known as the Surfing Capital of the Philippines, and is the 9th Best Surfing Spot in the World (according to CNN).

But Wait! This Post is NOT for Surfers.

However, this post isn’t about surfing; I have no idea why I started my intro like that, but whatever. Of course, without surfing, Siargao wouldn’t be what it currently is now. Many surfers came for the waves, and fall in love with the island. Some never leave. The waves and the wonderful community is irresistible–making Siargao a little piece of paradise on Earth. I personally found the allure Siargao so seductive that I ended up booking another ticket to come back just a few days after I left!

In Siargao, surfing can be done all year round. There are different swells from different parts of the island, depending on the time of the year.


So What if I don’t surf?

Siargao is paradise for surfers— and non-surfers, too. If you don’t surf, there’s more to Siargao then just surfing. Of course, I would highly recommend that you make ‘learn to surf’ a top priority on your itinerary, but if it’s really not your thing, here are some activities you can do beyond surfing.

1. Magpupungko Tidal Pool

Magpupungko is named such from a unique rock formation in the area. The large boulder looks like it’s sitting on top of another flat rock. The beautiful pool only unveils itself during low tide.

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Be careful when you jump! The rocks are razor sharp!

siargao magpupungko

There’s also a beach right next to the pool with massive waves that will wipeout any entity who dared swim in it!

Photo by Chester Baldicantos. Yes, this really happened to John.
Photo by Chester Baldicantos. Yes, this really happened to John.

From General Luna, it’s a 40 minute car ride to Magpupungko. Entrance is 50 per person.

2. Island Hopping

Go island hopping and check out Siargao’s three nearby islands: Naked Island, Daku Island and Guyam Island. Depending on your negotiation skills, you can rent a boat to visit the three islands from P1,000 to P1,500.

Naked Island is just what you would expect–naked. On this island you would not find any trees or vegetation, just a stretch of fine white sand. Daku Island is, ‘dako’ or big, in terms of the other islands we visited. Daku even has its own barangay. (The ancestors were very literal and not very creative with naming their locale) We had our lunch in Daku Island before we went to our last stop, Guyam Island.

If you have the time, you can also check Sohoton Lagoon. Sohoton is famous for its jellyfish sanctuary and enchanting caves. Sohoton is three hours away from Siargao though and is closer to Surigao del Norte, so we decided to reserve Sohoton for another future trip.

3. Food Trip!

Food is affordable and good in Siargao. General Luna has quite a few restaurants and cafes that are good, interesting and not cheesy. Locals like barbecue, and they have barbecue stalls even in their disco bars! You can get great comfort food at Pleasure Point Cafe, three-layered pizza at Aventino’s, sushi at Lux Siargao Sushi Bar, great coffee and view at Cafe Loka, barbecue at Mama’s, and more.

pleasure point
Food at Pleasure Point Cafe

Locals like barbecue, and they have barbecue stalls even at their disco bars! Siargao is not as touristy as Boracay, so you can’t find any big restaurant establishments here like fast food joints and international food chains. Heck, you can’t even find an ATM machine around GL!

Fresh seafood here abounds (it’s an island, duh). You can go spearfishing if that’s your thing and roast your catch, or if you’re more mainstream  just go to the local market and purchase their freshest catch and pay someone to cook it for you.

You can check out my blog post on some of Siargao’s Best Eats here.

4. Party

So you don’t surf–but you can at least hang out and party with fellow surfers and look the part! Surfers are among the most unpretentious bunch I know and will befriend just about anyone. Siargao parties here embody the vibe of the island–laid back and friendly. You can’t expect any EDM or hardcore parties here. They have great parties in Pagoda Beach Bar especially on Mondays (named appropriately ‘Monday Fundays’) so be sure not to miss that. Other local disco bars are Jungle Bar every Fridays and Stowaway Bar every Saturdays.


Other bars around the island include Reggae Bar, Nine Bar, La Luna Surf Buddha Resort (they also have acoustic nights on Thursdays). There are quite a few places to chill and drink around Gen. Luna especially around Cloud 9.

5. Explore the Island!

Aside from surfing, there are plenty of water activities you can do in Siargao. You can go diving, snorkeling and paddle boarding.


A fish out of water can find abundant activities on land, too. Hire a motorbike or bicycle and explore the island itself. I read that tarsiers are also present here, and unlike Bohol, these small primates still roam free in Siargao forests. Saltwater crocodiles exist in parts of Siargao — Del Carmen, Siargao is home to the largest mangrove forest reserves in Mindanao.

There’s so much more to discover–General Luna is just one municipality! Fellow traveler and colleague Radel strongly insist I come back to Siargao and explore Siargao’s west and north side.

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Motorbike rentals are typically Php 500/day.

6. Caving


7. Relax

Relax! Don’t try to push in too many activities in one day. Tomorrow is another day in paradise. So yes, you deserve an afternoon’s rest in a hammock by the beach.

Relax! Tomorrow is another day in paradise.
Relax! Tomorrow is another day in paradise.
Kona is chillng like a German Shepherd boss.
Kona is chillng like a German Shepherd boss.