Dark horse: Paulo Hubalde’s tattoos tell his story of determination

Ceej Tantengco on Jan 24, 2017 04:40 PM
Paulo Hubalde’s tattoos tell his story of determination
The 35-year-old’s growing collection of body art acts as a living document of the philosophy that defines his life.

Paulo Hubalde’s career has been a roller coaster of ecstatic highs and tremendous struggles—from carving his own legacy apart from that of his father, to fighting for minutes in the PBA’s powerhouse teams, to finding a home and the long-awaited chance to play to the best of his abilities.

The 35-year-old’s growing collection of body art acts as a living document of the philosophy that defines his life. Here are the stories behind his tattoos.


Hubalde was born on January 24, making the water bearer his zodiac sign. This tattoo can be seen on his right forearm.

Koi swimming against the sea

According to Asian tradition, fish swimming upstream teach us that struggles make us stronger. “When you have adversities, you have to get through it,” says Hubalde.

The Japanese admire the koi for its determination to fight its way up waterfalls; in China, there’s an old myth that says if the fish can climb the rapids of the Yellow river, it will become a dragon. 

“What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.”

As a young athlete, Hubalde was always compared to his father, PBA legend Freddie Hubalde. Although he was the sole draft pick for the San Miguel Beermen in 2005, the younger Hubalde struggled with the expectations of being Olsen Racela’s replacement and not being able to play to his own strengths.

Over a decade later, Hubalde speaks openly about the setbacks he faced. Eventually, he realized that following his father’s footsteps doesn’t mean treading the exact same path. He’s also thankful to have worked with coaches who let him play his own game, like Coach Yeng Guiao and currently, Coach Mac Cuan of Alab Pilipinas.


Dark horse

“Ni-label ko sarili na I’m a dark horse as a player,” Hubalde says—underestimated, yes, but poised for victory.


For his family

Hubalde honors his family with several tattoos. Apart from his family name tattoed across his back, he sports one star for each of his brothers and sisters, and a rose that he had done on his father’s birthday. “It was supposed to be na lahat ng brothers ko, sabay-sabay kami, pero nauna lang ako,” he says.


A tribute to the Lord

“Sa buong left side ko, I want it for Him,” he says. On his upper arm, Hubalde has a cross and the script “King of Kings, Lord of Lords.” His favorite verse, Philippians 4:13, has a home on his forearm: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”


K for Kariza

In the place of a wedding ring, Hubalde has his wife Kariza’s initial tattooed on his finger. “Whenever we play or train, we have to take off our rings. So I said, why not tattoo it na lang?” he explains.

The couple has been together for over a decade, and Hubalde says she wasn’t too keen on him getting tattoos. “This one was the start for me,” he says, pointing to her name across his right arm. “Sabi ko, ‘I’ll tattoo your name, so can I have a tattoo?’”



Dedication and motivation

Twin scripts are splashed across Hubalde’s collarbones in a red-and-black gradient. “I want to play until I can,” he shares. “I know I’ve aged, so for me to play two to three more years [is the goal.] I have to prove to myself that hanggang kaya, sige.”

He hopes his journey can serve as a motivation for younger athletes. “[Playing for Alab Pilipinas] means to inspire young kids, as well as college and high school players who are striving for a dream, na hindi man nakapasok sa PBA or sa ibang competitive leagues, here at Alab you have a chance to play,” shares Hubalde, who also trains kids in his free time. “I love giving back to the kids who really want to learn basketball,” he says.

Though Hubalde’s approach to tattoos is organic—these weren’t entire sleeves planned in advance—the different designs come together because they draw upon the same themes of determination and a belonging to something bigger than himself.

As his journey continues, Hubalde looks forward to adding to his (literal) body of work: “I’m planning more, so just wait for it.”




Ceej Tantengco is a reporter and writer for S+A. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.




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