Pinoy surfer rules the waves
GENERAL LUNA, Siargao Island, Philippines — John Mark Tokong feels like he’s in heaven and indestructible when riding the big waves. And it’s understandable.
“Surfing is life, bro. Feels like heaven and I can do everything as long as the waves will agree,” said the curly-haired Tokong, whose sunny demeanor endears himself to his fans and competitors alike.
Tokong, 23, is now the country’s most popular name in surfing after besting an array of world-class surfers in the recent 25th Siargao International Surfing Cup at the iconic Cloud 9 here.
Called “Marama” by fellow Siarganons, he won the same event in 2015 before finishing second to American ace Skip McCullough last year. McCullough failed to advance in this year’s semifinals.
Tokong wowed the cheering crowd at the Tower to dominate Oney Anwar in the quarterfinals before ousting Tomas King of Costa Rica in the semifinals. The Filipino surfing legend actually had eye-popping scores of 18.75 and 19.05 out of a possible 20, in the quarter and semifinals, respectively.
He continued to bank on his home advantage to repulse the challenge of Hawaii’s Noah Beschen in the finals and crown himself champion anew in this international event sanctioned by the World Surf League (WSL).
To the delight of the jam-packed crowd, Tokong launched nearly flawless air reverses and was unbeatable doing the tube to defeat the young sensation Beschen, who ended the fairy-tale campaign of Indonesian Bronson Meydi in the semifinals.
Will Hayden-Smith, WSL official and tournament director, described the Tokong-Beschen one-on-one as the best final ever. Tokong narrowly won, 16.80-16.75 in the minds of the judges.
“I work hard for this. This is a sweet win and I would like to thank my supporters, partner and Representative Bingo Matugas and the late General Luna mayor and father of Siargao surfing, Jaime Rusillon,” said Tokong during the awarding ceremonies at the Boulevard here.
The WSL Qualifying Series 1,500 event was presented by Globe and supported by the Philippine Sports Commission and the Department of Tourism.
Smith also praised the hosting efforts led by Matugas and the provincial government.
“It was fantastic,” said Smith, who expects a grander 26th edition of the Siargao Cup in 2020.
With the win, Tokong, whose father is a fisherman, pocketed P250,000 ($5,000) and other incentives. He also received the first Jaime Rusillon trophy from Communications Secretary Martin Andanar and Matugass.
Not one to hide his humble beginnings, Tokong said surfing had given him the chance to improve his life and help his family. “I want to continue improving by joining more international tournaments abroad,” he said.
Wilmar Melindo, another popular surfing figure here and an accredited international judge, praised Tokong’s work ethics and focus. “Marama’s going to achieve more and he’s living proof that Pinoy surfers can compete in the world stage.”
Surfing has been included in the sporting calendar for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics although no Filipino surfers are competing for lack of world-ranking points.
At the moment, Tokong wants to rest and savor the sweet taste of victory before plunging into action in the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) surfing competitions to be held on the first week of December in La Union province.
“Winning the gold in the SEAG is a fresh challenge. I’m ready and willing,” he said.
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