I was met by a slender, almost fragile looking man with wild beach blonde hair and eyes the color of the ocean on a cloudy day. He wore a shirt that demanded “Respect the locals.” I called him Richard but he said,

“Call me by my Hindu name ManDeepo or Deepo, it means light of cosmic being”.

Deepo is an Australian surfer who had come to the Philippines in the 80’s in search of surf and bamboo. He had found both and much more. He says, “I stayed because of the warmth of the people. The smiles on their faces. I’ve felt like a fish out of water in my own culture. And when I came here, I felt I was in calm waters. The Philippines is like a smorgasbord- a melting pot of different influences. It has the ability to digest incoming immigrants.”

Lanuza Seawall

It’s a curious corner of the Philippines that Deepo chose to be digested in. When Filipinos hear of Surigao, they often think of Siargao Island, the country’s premier surfing destination known for its barreling reefs and giant swells. Deepo had initially lived onthat island but his search for bamboo and more raw materials had brought him to the lesser known but equally captivating surfing village of Lanuza in Surigao del Sur, a boat ride away.

Lanuza Surfer

Surfing is bait for this small town.

But I felt there was more to this place than the lure of stoke. We watched curiously as a family of 6 fit into a motorcycle with wooden “extensions”and sped through town in all smiles. Children danced and played by the sea like it’s their first time to get splashed by ocean spray. By sundown, the entire town would congregate along the seawall to exchange the day’s stories and wait until the ocean had spat out the last thoroughly sunburned surfer. The locals lived in such sublime contentment that can only be understood as joy.

For them, every moment is as it should be.

Deepo Matthews

Deepo believes that the Philippines is the origin place of surfing- where the beach culture began. This coastline is actually an ancient laboratory, he says. This is where the first waves were understood. And now, this man aims to understand how the indigenous bamboo can make boards fit for these world class waves.

Bamboo Surfboard

“When I first told my wife I would start making bamboo boards, she thought I was crazy! But today, these boards are world famous. I’ve been sending Philippine culture to the rest of the world. Here, we use this colored weave which is an indigenous design to this island. This is my message for tourism: If you want to buy one of these boards, you have to come here and experience the culture, meet the people. We don’t export boards per se. If someone comes here and orders a board, then I ship them out. But not until they’ve actually been here.”

Deepo Matthews group

Surfing is the bait that entices us to leave our little bubbles. Deepo and I have taken the bait.

The Bamboo Surfer Lanuza AsianTraveler Magazine

Note: This post features edited excerpts from the article I've written for the June 2012 issue of Asian Traveler Magazine. This is reposted with permission from the editor. Read the full article when you grab a copy of the magazine at your local bookstore or magazine stand today!

My gratitude to Tanya Hotchkiss and Harry Kawanda who have taken some of the shots. And to Tatit Quiblat and William Hotchkiss IV who have made this interview possible.
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One Response so far.

  1. Good day. Do you have any contact details of sir Deepo? I also need to feature him for a magazine. Thank you very much!

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