With her hazel eyes, blond hair, and defined features, it's easy to mistake Nicole Pornan to be another foreign tourist making her way across the famous beach of San Juan beach, La Union. Until, that is, she opens her mouth to speak in shockingly straight Filipino. “Simple lang mabuhay, at dito ko nakita ‘yon,” Nicole Pornan, a longboard surfer residing in Urbiztondo, told SPIN Life.
Unlike most people approaching their quarter life crisis, at 24 years old, Nicole is pretty laidback, already taking the slower approach to life as a native in the surf town up north in the Philippines. She's been here three years, ever since she chose the sandy shores of Elyu over the concrete jungle of Calgary, Canada.
“Hindi ko alam, siguro probinsiyana at heart lang talaga ako. Mas gusto ko ‘yung ganitong paninirahan: simple lang, hindi kailangan ng maraming bagay, maraming iniisip. Para sa akin, ang real essence ng buhay ay ganito lang,” she said.
Ever since she was a child, she's had to stake out her homestead in various places. She grew up in Iloilo under the watch of her grandparents; both her Saudi Arabian father and Ilongga mother were already residing abroad.
“Growing up, ‘yun talaga yung wini-wish ko, 'yung sa tabing dagat ako tumira, small community,” she said. “May resemblance kasi ito sa buhay ko dati nung lumaki ako sa grandparents ko. ‘Yung magkaka-connect ba, dito lang tayo lahat sa baba, sama-sama, patas tayo."
At 14, she, too, moved to Canada, where her mother already was. Over the next 10 years, she found an eager drive inside her just wanting to wander in different places to experience unique cultures in the countryside.
“Dati mahilig talaga ako mag-travel. May times na nagse-search ako ng volunteer programs para makapag-travel,” she said.
Nicole continued, “Napuntahan ko na din dito ang Baler, Siargao, itong La Union. This is where I first learned how to surf in 2016. I’ve been joining volunteer programs para makapag-travel, sa Africa and sa Portugal before, nag-work ako sa surf hostels for free accommodation, at doon ako na-draw closer na ito pala talaga ang hinahanap ko.” It was only in La Union that she found herself most at ease with its tight-knit community. It is also where she found her current partner, who is a local surfer.
She didn't settle in the town right away, though. Nicole went back to Canada to work and save up money before she officially settled in Surftown in 2018. “Mas okay na talaga dito for me, sobrang welcoming, pamilya agad-agad ang turing sa 'yo. Like ‘yung family ng boyfriend ko, sobrang giving sila. Minsan nga, nakikita ko mga kapatid niya na bata, yang dagat ang playground nila. Mas lalo kong nare-realize na ito yung greatest richness that you can have in life, having this opportunity to connect with your environment,” she said.
Her dream is clearer than ever, because she's now living it. Now, she rides the waves with the local surfers, mostly male, with a goal of repping women in the sport too.
“Ang maganda dito, mas pinupush nila ‘yung mga babae. Support lang silang lahat. Kahit na mas maraming lalaki, naniniwala ako na kaya ko rin. Marami din akong idol na surfers na babae, [halimbawa] si Bethany Hamilton, so ‘pag napapanood ko sila, iniisip ko, kung kaya nila, kaya ko rin,” she said.
To sustain her island living, Nicole created a swimwear line for ladies suited for watersport activities like surfing, diving, and wakeboarding. She named her online shop Caparica Swim, after a coastal town in Portugal where she stayed in before.
“Sa tagal ko nang nagsu-surf, minsan naba-badtrip na rin ako sa mga swimsuits na hindi safe. Kaya, gumawa ako ng product para sa mga babaeng mahilig sa dagat tulad ko,” Nicole said of her swimwear line.
Beyond a love for the ocean that she professes, her heart also continues to beat for the inter-connected community surrounding it. “’Yung araw-araw ko simple lang, gising nang maaga, surf sa alon, andiyan lang kami nakatira sa kubo sa tabi ng dagat. Simple lang mabuhay, may ligaya. I am now the person I only wished for years ago,” she said.
*This story originally appeared on Spin.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Preview.ph editors.