Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Jay-R Esquivel: Life’s a beach to this local boy done good

With Jay-R Esquivel at Surf Town
This appears on

Jay-R Esquivel: Life’s a beach to this local boy done good
by rick olivares

If your idea of a surfer god is a tall, chiseled blonde Caucasian then you’ve come to the wrong part of the world.

Luke Landrigan is a local hero in Barangay Urbiztondo in San Juan, La Union, but upon first glance you know that the Australian genes in him make him a close cousin to Kelly Slater and those other surf stars who take mother nature for a ride.

Jay-R Esquivel is nothing of that sort. For sure he isn't tall, is reed thin and sports a hairstyle that Rick Astley would approve. ‘Rick who,’ you ask? Exactly, I answer.

Esquivel is 17 years old. He’s dropped out of school – only for now he claims – to strike while the iron is hot. He is the other surfing champion (aside from Landrigan) from La Union, the surfing capital of northern Philippines.

His home is located at the beachfront where all his relatives live. Local surfers or tambays know where he lives. “Yung bahay na blue yung bubungan,” they point.

I get the feeling that this is what Liverpudians feel when they point to the house where John Lennon was raised by his Aunt Mimi in Liverpool.

The house is a non-descript one. It’s small. Like a studio only with two partitions with a small sala that also doubles as a bed room with a small area that houses a one-burner kitchen. I used the word ‘small’ thrice in the last two sentences so you must have an idea of how small it is. There you go. I used it again.

The cabinet that houses the television is littered with over two dozen trophies that Jay-R has brought home in his young career as a surfer. “Meron pang iba,” he apologizes and he does look embarrassed while saying it. “Nandun sa isang bahay.”

Turns out Jay-R sometimes crashes in a cousin’s house that is a few feet away.

The wall of Jay-R's sister is also a shrine to their late brother, Poks, one of the elder surfing gods of San Juan, La Union.

Jay-R took up surfing because of his late brother Ronnie 'Poks' Esquivel who was one of the first champions to come from this formerly sleepy town in La Union that has since become a tourist destination.

What turned Poks into a legend was not only his prowess on a surfboard but because he had only one leg that he was given during birth. However, his disability didn’t stop Poks; it only made him more determined to rise above it. He became surf champion and helped his family earn money.

Unfortunately, the elder Esquivel suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 28 devastating the family.

Jay-R took up his mantle, his legacy, and the responsibility as a breadwinner for his family at the age of 14.

He does stunts and tricks that you see from famous surfers from the United States or Australia. Jay-R admits to watching surfing videos on YouTube to learn the tricks of the trade. But he also says that he improvises a lot once he’s out there.

For all his fame, Jay-R is far from the wages of a maximum contract PBA player or even a Phil Younghusband. He doesn’t make much when he wins surfing competitions. Once, he sold his prize, a longboard, for ten thousand pesos that he gave to his father. When he isn’t competing, he teaches newbies the finer points of surfing for about P400 an hour (he keeps half the amount while the other two hundred is for the rental of surfboards).

On bad days, he makes P400 but on good days, he can quadruple that amount. Good days for Esquivel and the surfers from La Union usually means bad weather for everyone else.

Those are days when the weather is bad and typhoon signals are raised. Jay-R and the other wave worshippers race to the beach, surfboards in hand, to ride waves of 15-feet or more.

Only when the waves begin to crash the seawall (one such partition also protects the Esquivel compound) do the surfers seek shelter. When the typhoon gets worse, Jay-R and his family retreat to the house of an uncle that is literally a jump away from their doorstep. Their uncle’s house has a concrete wall and stands two stories high. The seawater enters their home but is only about an inch or two high as the compound and the other housing nearby are about six feet above the beach.  I wonder if it gets frightening since the have a close up look at the fury of mother nature and the power of the oceans. “Sanayan lang,” grins Jay-R.

Now at 17 years of age, Jay-R says that surfing has been good to him and his family. Because of a talent for riding the waves, he has been to other parts of the country where he otherwise would never have a chance to visit like Siargao, Baler, Cebu, Davao, and Palawan. He’s also competed in Malaysia and Indonesia where he has won awards in his age group.

A few tourists come over and ask if they could have their photo taken with Jay-R. he looks at me as if he is asking permission and I assure him it is all right. He does so and smiles rather awkwardly.

There are three celebrities from Barangay Urbiztondo. There’s Luke Landrigan (you can make a case for a fourth if you add his Labrador, River, who also surfs and is featured in Surf Town’s adverts) who is said to be dating celebrity Sam Pinto, expatriated Manileño and rock star Marcus Adoro of the Eraserheads who purchased a home in the area so he could commune with the waves, and Esquivel. 

On a small strip filled with Barneys, Bettys, An Emmas, socialites looking for more than surfing action, foreigners and locals, it’s easy to miss Jay-R who hangs out at a tent where he awaits those asking for surfing lessons. He walks barefoot (the only time he wears shoes is when he plays hoops in a nearby court or goes out of town). He admits to being a beach bum and likes it that way.

“Life’s a beach,” I remark.

Jay-R grins broadly.

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