We were on our way back to Jakarta from a tea plantation in the neighboring province of Bogor, West Java, when my friend Dong looked up and saw paragliders dotting the late afternoon sky. Baka SEA Games 'yan, he said. True enough, we passed by a ridge that had a crowd of onlookers, plus vehicles and banners announcing the games. Here in the Indonesian interior, we just had to go up there and see if there were Filipino athletes around.
And there were. Meet the Philippines' official paragliding team (from left to right, below:) Richard Osal, Randell 'Buko' Raymundo, Spencer Mateo, Ernesto 'Jun' Flores and Mike Whittington. Two others weren't around for what turned out to be a practice run for the paragliding event, which would commence the next day.
Richard, Spencer and Jun are all Singapore-based. In the last year or so, they've been hopping over to Indonesia on weekends and holidays to para-glide, all for fun. Mike is a Pinoy-American based in Palawan. Buko, Manila-based, is the president of the Philippine Paragliding and Hang-gliding Association, besides running his own ad production house.
They're in Jakarta, by the way, as official Philippine delegates, but on their own, not on government sports payroll. It's the first time paragliding has been included as an official event at the SEA Games, largely at the insistence of the Indonesian team which has, said Buko, become close friends with them and have been most gracious hosts. Despite the lack of Philippine government support at this time, the team is happy enough to have the chance to compete for the flag. "We're really here for fun and our passion for flying, and we'd like more people to know about the sport," said Richard, an IT professional in Singapore.
I've not kept up with the news, and can't say right now if our paragliding guys have notched any medals. But whether they do end up victorious or not, on that hill with them we were the proudest Pinoys there were.