On the wake of the success of the H.K. Festival Water-Ski Show, our team were invited to attend the South East Asian Water-ski Championship in the Philippines. A letter from the Philippine Water Ski Association was sent to our schools and employers requesting our attendance and thereby securing a leave of absence for the duration of the trip.
Leave approved, flights and accommodation were booked, the trip became a reality and the excitement began to build.
Carting all our equipment- skis, discs, ropes etc., was an interesting exercise which necessitated allowing a significant amount of extra time for managing this ancillary cargo.
We were to perform our show as part of the entertainment and displays put on for the Water-ski Championship. The boys, Frank and Lis also decided to participate in some of the individual events, competing against teams from Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan and of course the Philippines.
President Ferdinand Marcos, who was in office at the time, was a very keen water-skier himself and had an avid interest in the events about to take place. Marcos later became infamous for his corrupt and undemocratic regime, living out his last years in exile in Hawaii but we were unaware of any of this at the time. By late 1973, the Philippines had been under martial law for just over a year. Although conscious of the military presence as we arrived in Manila, it didn’t really impact on us. In fact at the invitation of President Marcos, we were to be given special treatment.
What was the actual championship, took place over a weekend. The event was officially opened with a ceremony – a speech by the President of the Philippine Water-ski Association and a display of Philippine folk dance and music. The members of our team taking part in the competition did extremely well, securing the overall team trophy and our water-ski show was once again well received. As a finale to the Championship, and for no partcular reason, it was decided to do a marathon ski – 48 miles for the boys and what should have been 20 miles for the girls. However, the girls boat ran out of petrol and a rescue boat had to be sent out so the 20 miles was never completed!
At the conclusion of the competition, the participating teams, alongwith the two water-ski celebrities – Lesley Cockburn from Australia and Mike Suyderhoud from the U.S.A., (both world class skiers who were attending the event as ambassadors of the sport), were invited to spend the next few days as guests of President Marcos aboard his yacht ‘Ang Pangulo’ (which translates to ‘The President’). Once we were settled in our designated cabins, ‘Ang Pangulo’ cast off, traversed around the breakwater and out of Manila harbour into the sparkling, deep cerulean waters of Manila Bay.
The first night on board was a presentation dinner dance hosted by President Marcos who also awarded the trophies.
In the ensuing days, whilst we cruised around the islands, stopping to anchor periodically, we were treated to sumptuous meals aboard the yacht – mouth-watering fresh fruits and succulent seafood; we skied just for fun, but also at his request, put on our show for the President. He too displayed his proficiency at water skiing and we were amused at the number of bodyguard ‘frogmen’ who appeared in the water encircling his passage through the bay. What exactly they would have done in the event of an attack on the President from their watery lookouts, I’m not at all sure.
On day three of the voyage, we anchored off the Bataan peninsula, best known for being the site of the World War 2 Battle of Bataan – one of the last stands of Filipino and American soldiers before they succumbed to the Japanese Forces. The President had a holiday retreat on the peninsula to which we were taken and introduced to the game of Pelota – similar to Squash but played on two walls, with a bat and gas filled ball.
Whilst at the holiday retreat, President Marcos regaled us with tales of his time during the war when he led an elite guerrilla unit. He was, we were told, single-handedly responsible for delaying the fall of Bataan by three months but once captured, he vowed if he ever got off the peninsula and survived the war, he would return one day to build a shack there.
He did indeed return to build the shack – somewhat grander than first imagined, but some years later, all his stories of an elite guerrilla unit were refuted. Most of his war time stories it turned out, were complete fabrication.
However, we were captivated by them at the time and honoured to be in the presence of not only a world leader but a man of such great valour.
Day four heralded our return to Hong Kong but as we were still anchored off the Bataan peninsula, there was insufficient time to get us back by sea, to Manila. So arrangements were made to fly us by helicopter to Malacañang Palace – the official presidential residence from where we were spirited by limousine to Manila International Airport and thence onto Hong Kong.