The Island That Shaped Us: An Interview with Ikit and Aping Agudo
The view from the fishing boat was dreamlike: waves unraveled at the edge of the island and there were people riding them, disappearing into dark blue tunnels of water, and emerging on the other end with arms held high. They flew as fast as birds on boards with pointy noses. They were surfers, the sisters would find out later on.
As children born in Siargao Island, Aping and Ikit spent many days on their father’s fishing boat. They helped him sell fish on the streets on days they didn’t have to plant rice on their farm. At first, they were scared of the big waves that their island home had become known for, and for years, surfing was just a thought that lingered each time they stared at the sea from the shore.
It was their father and their four brothers who helped them get over their fear of the waves. They would go to uncrowded spots on their father’s boat and surf together as a family. At first, their mother urged them to stay hidden from the sun so their skin would stay light, but she soon realized that her daughters would start to change the standards of beauty and strength for many female surfers in the Philippines.
In this interview, Aping, 26, and Ikit, 22, share how growing up in a small island gave them the tenacity and grace to become champions in the world of professional longboarding today.
Everybody wishes they had your childhood. What’s it like to grow up in Siargao?
Aping: We had a very simple life. When we were younger, we didn’t have access to electricity and running water so we got used to waking up early and sleeping early. To get to school, we would walk for 20 minutes. Life was so simple then and we’re actually starting to miss that kind of life.
Ikit: Growing up in Siargao is like growing up in a dreamland. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to grow up in a paradise where everyone was kind and respectful to each other until I visited cities like Manila and Cebu. Now I don’t want to ever leave the island– not even if it’s just for a week!
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Times have changed fast. Tell us about some of your favorite childhood memories.
Aping: Looking back, I really enjoyed helping our parents plant rice in the farm. I also liked going fishing with my father.
Ikit: Yes, those are some of my favorite memories too! It was tough back then but I like looking back on those days now. We come from a big family– I have 4 brothers and 4 sisters– so my parents had to work really hard to feed us all. We helped them as much as we could; we planted and harvested rice, sold fish, and even harvested copra ourselves so we wouldn’t have to pay others to do it. Even if we had to go to school, we’d be forced to take an absence so we could help our parents out.
Aping: We also played with our friends a lot. Volleyball, patintero, bater2x, hide and seek.
Ikit: Yes, we were always playing and exploring. We also learned how to have diskarte or initiative so we could earn extra money for school. I learned how to sell all sorts of things, from old coconuts, bamboo guns, to spiders!
At what point did you start surfing? What did you think of surfing when you first saw it?
Aping: I started surfing when I was already 21 years old. At first, I thought that surfing was really scary! Most people then would ride shortboards so they really went for the big waves and barrels. I never imagined it would be something that I would do too– but on a longboard.
Ikit: I started surfing when I was 14 years old and I was using a shortboard. I only switched to a longboard when I was 18 and I just fell in love with it and started surfing more seriously. I also thought that surfing was scary at first but I got so curious and I wanted to know what it would feel like to ride a wave.
Some people try surfing and then they lose interest. What inspired you to just keep surfing?
Aping: The more I surf, the more I want to just keep surfing. It’s very addictive because I know that it’s the only way to improve. I’m very lucky to have people who inspire me to surf like my father, my brothers, and my boyfriend. It’s always fun to surf with them.
Ikit: My father and my brothers pushed me to surf everyday but it wasn’t until I saw Aping grace the longboard that I quickly had a change of heart and I learned how to longboard as well. I wanted to lead the change in being confident in my own skin, to love our own color and be proud of being a Filipina! That’s what inspires me to keep surfing.
Were your parents always supportive of your surfing dreams? How do they react now that you’ve gained international success?
Aping: My father is more supportive than my mom. He’s really the one pushing me to go for bigger waves and to surf more to improve. My mom is supportive but she just doesn’t want us to get so dark! I guess she’d prefer if I worked in a bank or in an office but I know that she is really proud of us now, especially since we don’t just compete nationally but internationally as well.
Ikit: Yes, they were so shocked that we gained international recognition! They had no idea what surf competitions were like. Once, my brother secretly recorded our parents’ reaction during the livestream of the REnextop Asian Surfing Tour (RAST). They were so excited while watching! Their reactions were priceless!
Everything’s changing– and you are helping send a message to girls all over the country that there are no limits to reaching your goals. What hardships have you overcome throughout your life and your career?
Aping: The expenses to travel and join competitions are really difficult to afford. I am thankful to Buddha Siargao and my other sponsors but I have to keep working hard and surfing better to show my appreciation for all the help that I get. Many surfers don’t have the same opportunities as I do.
Ikit: We’ve gone through a lot since we started. I’m happy that I get to help our family more now by joining surf competitions. There was a time we couldn’t afford many things– I remember getting my first birthday cake only when I turned 17! On previous birthdays, my mother would just make banana bread or pancakes. We grew up eating fish– prito, tinola, paksiw! Whenever we had spaghetti or chicken, it was a feast!
Aping: Hahaha, Ikit is really good at eating lots of rice!
Ikit: Haha! Yes, and I’m really happy now that our parents don’t have to stress themselves with work. My siblings have their own resorts, my mother has her own little shop, and my father would just take guests on boat trips. We have more free time to surf together and bond as a family now. We’ve just been through so much– and I can say I’m really lucky to have gone through all of them with such a supportive family.
How do you practice for surf competitions? What goes on in your mind during a heat?
Aping: Sometimes I practice on a slackline to improve my balance. I’m also thankful that we can now easily watch longboarding videos online so we can learn new styles and techniques. I always feel nervous right before my heat so I’m really training myself to stay calm and focused so I can just enjoy surfing in contests.
Ikit: I don’t have a training routine but I should start soon. I just surf every day and watch surf videos a lot. When I compete, I just remind myself that surfing is all about having fun. I don’t need to stress myself out because having fun out there is more important than winning.
Both of you have appeared in championship heats regularly and you will only continue to take home more wins in longboarding. What else do you want to achieve in life?
Aping: My dream is to travel to more surf spots and keep competing internationally so I can make a living from surfing.
Ikit: My ultimate dream is to be happy and successful. I want to be able to help people in need. I want to have a long life so I can see and support my nieces and nephews as they chase their own dreams. I also want to travel the world with my whole family.
Aping: Yes, that would be a dream.
The sisters smile at each other and hold on to the sweet thought of traveling the world with their family. They both know how different their lives would have been had their parents not allowed them to pursue a life of surfing.
Aping is more reserved and Ikit is more excited to share her stories but both of them learned the value of perseverance at a very early age. They’ve been tempered by time, and in the water, their elegance knows no limits. They epitomize what it means to be a woman in the lineup– free to express herself through dance and balance, daring enough to face the uncertainty of conditions, and always ever so radiant in the sunlight.
Many young surfers today are lucky to grow up with access to better gear and resources. But the Agudo sisters are far more fortunate to have been motivated by family, enriched by humility, and raised according to the values of a simple but wise island like Siargao.
Catch Aping and Ikit in action at the 16th Lanuza Surfing Festival this November 18-24, 2018. Check out the full 2018 PSCT tour schedule here.