Surf's Up

Compared with other surfing destinations like Hawaii and Australia, which maybe at an edge in panache, the Philippines offers the cheapest packages, which the more pragmatic traveler would settle for.

By Gynna Gagelonia

With wave surfing now in vogue, local surfers are bent on riding the wave of growth on this very democratic aquasport, which transcends all socio-economic levels and professions, and even age groups. In this country, the surfers are the company top guns, the rank and file, students and children of fishermen - nature buffs all.


American visitors first introduced the surfing fever in the country. The sport reached a new high when board-toting Australians, French, Germans and Japanese sun and surf bugs followed suit. This breed of frequent visitors explored the country and found the best five surfing areas in the Philippines namely: Baler in Aurora Province, Daet and Catanduanes in Bicol, La Union and Siargao in Surigao del Norte.

Of these, Siargao is the most popular surf spot to both local and foreign tourists. In the Philippines, it is regarded as the home of surfing and justifiably so, with unparalleled (at least within the country) wave sizes from 20 to 30 feet. It has the famous "Cloud 9" waves surfers tunnel through and at any given season, one can see the face of waves or a series of waves roaring with variegated twist and turns.

In terms of appeal, Catanduanes strikes a semblance with Siargao. It forms horseshoe-like waves that are "powerful and more challenging" to seasoned surfers. Foreign surfers are seen to crowd La Union beaches as early as 5:30 am to take advantage of the "point break," or what surfers refer to as that part of the sea where swirling waves hit a flat reef thus pushing the surf up in the right direction. Aurora also has a point break.

With the other favorite surfing sites, the cycle of surges only measure eight to 15 feet high before and after the onslaught of a typhoon or tropical depression. The average height of waves is 12 feet in Aurora and eight feet in Daet. But in the low season, it can go down from three feet to an all-time low of 18 inches that is ideal for novice surfers and small competitions.


Small wonder, the best and avant gardes in this sport in the Philippines are the islanders. The frolicking children of the fishermen in particular have gone a long way. From the homemade boards carved from local wood they first used while trying to ape the antics of foreign visitors, these children grew to become connoisseurs who got to use the more modern boards left behind by the foreigners who loath lugging back their surfboards on their return flights. These would-be repeat visitors also taught the kids the correct surfing techniques, grace and discipline enough for them to muster courage to hurdle the waves.

Young professionals from Manila and other key cities finally caught on the popularity wave and there is a steadily growing clique who includes the surfing season in their calendar. Today, it is estimated that there are 1,500 active surfers although the official listed count is 500 who are members of five surfing organizations: the Manila-based SAPI which is the supposed umbrella organization of all surfing groups in the country; its only accredited Manila Surf Rider's Association (MASA); the Surigao Surfing Association (SSA); the United Surfers of Aurora; the La Union Surfing Association (LUSA); and the Camarines Norte Surfer Association (CNSA).

SAPI is the single organization that is at the forefront of the sport's local development. Recently approved as the latest member of the California-based International Surfing Association and the Association of Surfing Professionals, SAPI's target goals include promoting the Philippines as a surfing Mecca wherein tourists get to know the destination and setting up of a foundation wherein it adopts potential surfing champions from the rural coastal areas who cannot afford the sport. SAPI subsidizes their education as well as teaches them the conventional way of surfing and enhances their skills to be able to compete abroad.


Riding the waves is not just a sport but "a lifestyle." Enthusiasts claim they just cannot describe its compelling force towards the shoreline. "We're 'stoke' (addicted, in wave surfing parlance) to it though we just do it for fun and prestige and our love for the sport," says de Guzman.

Francisco Cebanes, MASA president adds, "Being right there swaying with the waves is like being in Dreamland. It gives a self-fulfillment the whole day. Our only goal is to develop it so that the local folk will have a sustainable income."

Thus, tourneys organized by the surfers who formed their own clubs have become more frequent. One example is the Daet Surfing Festival that has been held three years in a row since 1995. Last April, the Philippine Centennial Surf 1998 was launched. It is a circuit which started in Baler, then in Daet, with Siargao as the culminating point in December.

Profit-oriented surfing newbies should know that giving monetary prize to winners is a no-no in SAPI and in other various surfing organizations. Members usually compete to promote wholesome fun and genuine camaraderie and are content with the amateur-like set up.


Enthusiasts confirm that the Philippines has what it takes to become a surfing Mecca. Its plus factors include 10,000 kilometers of shoreline, pristine waters and rustic ambiance. The physical built of the Filipinos is an asset, making it easier for locals to maneuver the board. The fact that the Philippines is also a gregarious country makes it great come on.

Compared with other surfing destinations like Hawaii and Australia, which maybe at an edge in panache, the Philippines offers the pragmatic traveler would settle for. Sources note that the well-heeled, mid-range or backpacking surfing addicts are generally not finicky about posh accommodations, smooth transfers and all. For them, a Spartan-type lodging facility or nights in a tent and rough roads are part and parcel of the thrill and deal.

But while foreign and local surfers cum tourists may not be as discerning, the surfing authorities are also concerned that the government has to put projects in the area of infrastructure and transportation in the pipeline. Uichico takes the case of Siargao, which, while endorsed by the Department of Tourism as the most popular surfing destination in the country, still has undeveloped support infrastructure. Although accommodation is not a problem in Baler, there are facilities that are in bad shape. In Catanduanes, all land, air and sea linkage are efficient but boomtown Daet has an airstrip, which is linked to Manila only weekly. La Union is relatively developed with adequate lodging facilities.

These notwithstanding, all concerned surfing associations share the common dream of making the Philippines known as a surfing hub and a multi-destination, which offers alternative pleasures to surfers during off season.

As of this writing, SAPI is also in the process of working on an alliance with seven travel agencies, which will market tour packages to the famed surf spots in the country.

(Text courtesy of Sunstar Horizons, the Philippine Travelogue, Copyright 1998).