The length of the Philippines in 88 days... by kayak

Buzzy Budlong picks up a paddle and kayaks his way from southern Mindanao to Ilocos Norte, covering more than 3,000 kms. He recounts his epic journey to Ces Rodriguez

Erwin Glenn “Buzzy” Budlong, Jr. is known in the kayaking circuit as the other half of a pair who covered the length of the Philippines by kayak, passing 50 provinces and paddling 3,205 kilometers in 88 days.

Buzzy Budlong, third from left in white shirt, and expedition partner Khoo Swee Chiow, braved the Philippine coasts kayaking for 88 days. Screengrab from Buzzy Budlong Facebook page
He and Singaporean Khoo Swee Chiow set out by kayak in 2009, paddling from the coastline of Sarangani province in southern Philippines to the windswept shores of Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte.

Buzzy and Khoo covered the length of the Philippines by kayak for 88 days. Screengrab from Buzzy Budlong Facebook
Needless to say the journey was a challenging one – battling typhoons and massive waves, but both Buzzy and his partner made it, 12 days earlier than their 100-day target.

While partner Swee Chiow went on to publish a book called “Across the Philippines in a Kayak”, Buzzy has never quite told his end of the story. 

It’s been a few years since the epic journey, but to Buzzy it is all so fresh that his retelling catapulted me back with him out in the Philippine seas.

Quiet kayaking during the expedition. Screengrab from Buzzy Budlong Facebook page
The locals all happy and proud of the duo. Screengrab from Buzzy Budlong Facebook page
“The route was from the Southern tip of mainland Mindanao, which is Glan, Sarangani. We experienced a lot of breaking Pacific waves and swells, especially in Surigao del Sur to northern Surigao. We had lots of stops, covering at least 40km a day and sometimes more with the current pushing us. The sights were beautiful – high sea cliffs, coves, bays, lagoons and uninhabited coastlines,” Buzzy recalled.

“At one point, near Placer in Masbate, we experienced two huge squalls in less than an hour and a total dead reckoning. My body was in total pain, but my mind luckily was alert.

“It was a strong squall. You cannot see the shoreline, you cannot even see like 100 meters away. So you have to rely on your compass and your GPS. Dead reckoning is when you cannot see anything. Usually a squall lasts one, hour but we were battling winds the whole day and we were talking to the wind, yelling ‘When are you going to stop?!’”

When the squall died down, the two found themselves close to the shoreline of Placer, nearing their 5pm estimated time of arrival.

Managing the rough seas. Screengrab from Buzzy Budlong Facebook page
“We were smiling like, ‘Hoo, finally!’ after a whole day of struggle. So we were very close, maybe on to our last four or five kilometers, when suddenly the mountains beyond the coastline were covered with thick clouds and the first wind struck right in front of us and we were in another squall, then got rained on, a fog engulfing us 360 degrees.”

Buzzy said they were whipped in separate directions. It took them two hours to cross the five-kilometer distance.

Another challenging episode involved an encounter with armalite-toting men, somewhere in Mindanao. A storm had tossed them off course and they drifted to a coastline that wasn’t one of their scheduled stops. “There was a community there. We asked permission to see the barangay captain (village head). They pointed to a place close to the river,” Buzzy said.

“We were having a dip in the water, bathing, when a guy came out of nowhere from the bushes carrying a baby armalite. ‘Hey, what are you doing here, my friend?’ he asked. But he was pumped, you could see it in his face.”

Buzzy froze. “I told myself, no sudden moves. We had to be relaxed. I tried to introduce my colleagues, my paddling buddies. Then from my peripheral vision, I saw another group of men behind us with guns. So I told myself, ‘Oh, Lord, it’s up to you now.’”

After explaining their situation, they were led up the hill to see the barangay captain. Buzzy and Swee Chiow convinced the locals they weren’t treasure hunters but paddlers. It turned out there were tribal issues in the community and the armed guards were around to make sure the area was kept free of interlopers.

Locals cheer the kayaking duo. Screengrab from Buzzy Budlong Facebook page
Days at sea were not always as stressful. They were episodes when the waters were like glass, the sun hot, and dolphins swimming alongside.

Screengrab from Buzzy Budlong Facebook page
When the expedition ended 12 days ahead of its 100-day target, Buzzy was left feeling victorious, but bereft. The dream was over, he thought. He felt like he wanted it to go on forever.

Buzzy now organizes kayaking tours and lessons. Screengrab from Buzzy Budlong's Facebook page

For kayaking and stand-up paddling lessons and tours, contact Island Buzz Philippines, email [email protected] Island Buzz’s latest tours include a stand-up paddling and kayak adventure tour (P3,000 or about US$67 per person, minimum of four), exploring the quieter parts of the coast of Lapu-Lapu in Cebu. For more information, visit Island Buzz Philippines Tours.

Erwin Glenn “Buzzy” Budlong, Jr. started kayaking 18 years ago and owns and runs Island Buzz Philippines. His company also organizes firefly tours of Bohol. A mountaineer for four years, Buzzy swapped the peaks for the seas because “unlike the mountains, the sea is always moving”.

Follow Buzzy Budlong on Facebook. Visit Island Buzz Philippines SUP & Kayak Adventures on Facebook. Read about the firefly tours in Bohol

Originally published in InFlight Traveller December 2013 to January 2014 issue. Updated March 2016