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Australian surfer gets roughed up for dissing Siargao competition

Surfing in Siargao. Photographed by Michael Eijansantos / My Life On Board
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines - An Australian surfer who disrespectfully refused to get out of the water while an all-Filipino surfing competition was underway in Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte, got roughed up on September 21 by locals when he returned to shore.

Professional surfer Brent Symes, 36, complained to the publication Gold Coast Bulletin that he was "assaulted physically" and that he had his "surfboard destroyed" during the incident. He added that he sustained "many cuts" on his feet from "defending [himself] in the water."

The story, posted Saturday, said he "narrowly escaped with his life in the Philippines after being bashed in the surf by five men before a World Surfing League event."

But, according to the organizers, the competition – the 17th Siargao National Surfing Cup – was a local qualifying competition toward the 21st Annual Siargao International Surfing Cup.

Janice Talosig, the commentator during the 17th Siargao National Surfing Cup, told in a telephone interview that the Filipino competitors had been taking a 10-minute break before the incident unraveled.

Before the final heat of the open division, the organizers allowed non-competitors to surf in Cloud 9, the surfing spot where the competition was taking place.

Symes had been among those who went freesurfing during the break.

But, when the 10-minute mark was about to end, Talosig began announcing that the final heat was to begin, and requested that all freesurfers to clear the area and move to the other surf spot next to Cloud 9.

All freesurfers acquiesced, except for Symes.

"We weren't able to start right away because of him.

"It took us a few minutes because everyone left already, and him, he was just there," Talosig said.

"I called his attention. Another guy also told him to get out. A lot of people were announcing, were telling him. We even told the competitors in the water 'cause our reasoning was, he might not be able to hear our announcements, the microphone (at the shore). We told the competitors who were paddling out to tell him to get out too."

Symes reportedly still stayed put. After the incident, Talosig was to learn from one of the competitors, he told the competitor that he would just stay at the shoulder and if the competitor did not get a wave, he would be the one to get it, instead.

"So it was kind of rude, because, in a surfing competition you don't do that. He's a professional surfer, and he's been joining these kinds of competitions, especially international ones," Talosig said.

Symes continued to surf even during the 30-minute heat, and once he almost got the wave of one of the competitors, she related further.

Because his surfboard was not attached to his body through a leash, the board drifted to the shore and Symes swam after it.

"That's when the guys started going to him already," Talosig said.

She added that she saw at least four men go after Symes, but could not concentrate entirely on the incident because she had to focus on the competition. But she did notice him using his board to shield his body.

An image published online by the Gold Coast Bulletin is screen-captured below.

The Gold Coast Bulletin report quoted Symes as saying he thought he was going to die and had been locked inside his room for three days, "scared they're going to come after me."

He claimed to Gold Coast Bulletin that he had been allowed to be "a water spectator" during the all-Filipino competition, the 17th Siargao National Surfing Cup, and had been watching from his board "in a spectator area when he drifted into the competition zone."

"During this heat I found myself out of position and caught an inside wave to reposition out of the way of competitors. Soon after, hearing something on the PA, I decided to come into shore and exit the break. Upon my return to the beach I was mauled by local guys with bats and bottles and had to defend myself until I could safely exit the situation," Symes was quoted as saying.

Talosig insisted that she does not condone the violence, but stressed that the Gold Coast Bulletin report was one-sided.

By the end of the altercation, Symes' board was broken, Talosig acknowledged.

"People are saying, 'We feel bad about what happened, but it was very disrespectful, what he did'," she further explained. "First, to the locals, because it was a national competition, and it was disrespectful to the sport itself because what happened was, the spectators no longer watched the competition itself. They were watching the man instead."

She added that it was not the first time that Symes had disrespected other surfers, and was in fact in Siargao last year.

But she stressed that she and the organizers of the surfing competition were not justifying the violence. Nor did they condone what the locals did to Symes. content partner and Filipino boardsports web site My Life On Board quotes surfer Elaine Arbonal, who also witnessed the altercation, as saying, "He was given numerous and clear warnings to get out of the contest area, and overhearing his reasoning out to one of the contest organizers, he said he didn't think what he was doing mattered because the (competition) wasn't WSL- (World Surf League) sanctioned anyway."

She agreed that was never an answer, but stressed that she had "never seen more disrespectful conduct" towards "locals who gladly share their waves to people who visit."

Surfing Life quotes local Dencio Dizon as saying it was "unfortunate" that the incident happened.

"We have always looked forward to pro surfers coming here. We have always been proud to share our home break with everyone else. The national competition was our trials – the chance for our top surfers to qualify for the international event – so our top guys can compete with the best international surfers coming here. And Brent Symes just ruined the day.

"It was only 30 minutes. He could have waited. But his total lack of respect and arrogance got in the way of the finals, and possibly even influenced the outcome.

"Formally, we have already sent a petition to the WSL to ban him from the event, and hopefully they will approve it," Dizon said.