One-legged surfer’s death saddens villageBy Marla Viray
Inquirer Northern Luzon
SAN JUAN, La Union—The surfing village in Barangay Urbiztondo in this coastal town is a picture of gloom and it is not because of the relentless rains the past days.
Ronie Esquivel, the country’s one-legged surfer who inspired surfers and nonsurfers alike, died after a heart attack on July 21. He was 27.
Born with only a right leg and with deformed toes and fingers, Esquivel, in the late 1990s, became the country’s poster boy of surfing for overcoming his physical disability as he pursued the call of the waves right in his backyard. He also helped put San Juan on the list of the country’s best surfing destinations.
Esquivel, who picked up a board and rode the waves when he was 8 years old, became a legend of sort in the surfing circuit for excelling in a sport, which is already difficult and risky for most people.
He was first featured in an Australian surfing magazine in 1998 as a 13-year-old boy, when he started to compete locally. After which, countless publications here and abroad followed the inspiring story of the “young Filipino surfer on crutch.” The Inquirer first featured Esquivel in a front-page special report on Dec. 13, 1998, calling him the country’s “Prince of Tides.”
“The Philippines became a part of the world surfing map partly because of his amazing and inspiring feat,” said Japanese surfer Kazuo “Aki” Akinaga, Esquivel’s first surfing coach.
Professional surfer Rey de Ala, 28, said Esquivel’s story made their coastal village known, boosting tourism here.
The death of Esquivel left his family and the surfing community in the country and abroad mourning and in shock. “It was unexpected. I hope he could have read all those messages from people he had inspired,” said Luke Landrigan, a close friend of Esquivel and fellow surfer.
Residents here said for the past two weeks, it has been raining intermittently. There were no good waves and the tide went up so barely anyone went surfing.
However, on Saturday, the weather improved and Landrigan received a text message from Esquivel at around 5 p.m., saying the waves were good in his part of the beach. Landrigan replied, asking if he would like to surf, but he got no answer.
Later that night, Landrigan was informed that Esquivel died while being taken to a hospital in nearby San Fernando City.
Esquivel was born on Aug. 9, 1984. He shares the same birth day as his father, Rogelio, 57, a carpenter.
“We have the same birth day and we always celebrate it together. Now that he is gone, things will change and everyone will miss him,” Rogelio said.
Esquivel is the second of five children. Their mother, Thelma, died in 2004, and since then, their grandmother, Elena, 66, has been considered as their second mother.
Esquivel’s only dream is for his younger brothers, who are also into surfing, to finish school. He finished only third year high school because he focused on surfing, as he competed in tournaments here and abroad.
Older residents in the village attribute Esquivel’s death to the lifestyle of many surfers here. They said when there are good waves, they hit the water. But when the waves are not there, many of them who do not have other jobs aside from being surf instructors, usually get together and drink.
Esquivel’s father said his son was in a drinking spree with friends on the eve of his death. He said his son avoided seeing a doctor and never complained about his health.
Esquivel’s favorite short board, which is worn out from constant use, his crutch and the black cap he always wore, were placed beside his coffin. He will be buried on Aug. 4.