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Surfing in the Philippines

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The below article by Ted Lerner was featured in EXPAT PHILIPPINES February 25, 1995. I have several friends that visit every year from Australia and New Zealand to enjoy the surfing in the Philippines. As a non-surfer, I welcome your inputs.

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SURFERS are unquestionably a hardy lot. Awkward and heavy surfboard in tow, they will travel anywhere on the globe, put up with conditions you would wish only on your worst enemy, eat strange food and stay in substandard accommodation all for one reason: riding the perfect wave.

It does not matter where this wave might be, for at the mere mention that a wave is breaking somewhere, you can bet your last peso that some surfer will drop whatever he is doing --- including his job --- and travel to the farthest place on the planet just to give it a ride. It's the nature of surfing, they will tell you, and if you haven’t riden a. wave you just would not understand.

One of the problems surfers encounter, however, is that there are so many people who will traipse, anywhere to find good surf. And word travels fast in these circles. People like to talk. Once a good break is discovered it is very difficult to keep it secret. Soon those hardy travelers from everywhere will descend upon this new wave like vultures. Whole communities will spring up to cater to the throngs of wave riders from around the globe. The secret and secluded spot becomes crowded and with crowds come problems, foremost of which is people fighting over waves. What was once idyllic now becomes a nightmare. Surfing is a sport of the soul. Where you can become intimate with the awesome forces of nature. Fighting over a wave, one of Mother Nature's most beautiful creations, just does not seem to fit.

This is why if you are thinking about doing any surfing, then the Philippines just might be your ideal spot. The country boasts some nice surf breaks and no matter what level you are at you can find a challenge. One of the nice things about surfing in the Philippines is that the waves are rarely crowded offering you the chance to enjoy the sport without the accompanying problems of crowds.

With over 7,000 islands and endless miles of reefs, one might be tempted to assume that the Philippines would be considered a world class destination. While the country does boast of some nice surf spots, the amount of good waves that break consistently is nothing compared to places like Hawaii, Indonesia and other spots around the globe. But places such as Hawaii and Indonesia also draw the crowds and the problems that come with too many people in the water. It is a sort of catch -22; if you want waves everyday, go to Indonesia, but be prepared to be aggressive to get the wave you want.

To many surfers, however, especially those over thirty years old, surfing and aggression mix as well as oil and water. They come to enjoy the ocean, the camaraderie with other surfers and laid back lifestyle that revolves around the sport. They do not need to strut and compete like many of the younger crowd. According to the surfers here I talked to, the fact that the Philippines is not as great a spot for surfing as Indonesia is actually a blessing in disguise. For with a little patience you can still find what you're looking for right here. "The key in the Philippines," said one Japanese surfer, "is that it is not so crowded with surfers. It is just not that well-known compared with other places. There are many empty big waves. When waves come we really enjoy it." Said a British surfer, "I'd rather have a second rate wave to myself, than a first class wave with twenty people on it."

Here then is a brief guide to some of the more popular surf sports here in the Philippines. Of course there are many more good surfing waves than listed here. There are loads of surfers out there who are known to have their own secret spots where they ride the waves in wonderful solitude, and are not letting on as to these spots are. If are new to the Philippines surfing scene the following should get you going. Soon you are bound to others who just may you on to their own surfing heaven.

San Fernando, La Union

Located about five hours of Manila on the South China Sea, San Fernando approximately nine surf breaks, most which are suitable even intermediate surfers. The most popular of the breaks called Monaliza which is about three kilometers north of San Fernando. Monaliza is a right hand breaking wave which takes a rolling shape, making it for long boarders. The wave generally rises to two to four feet. When it gets bigger it can be a bit dangers as the shape of the wave a barrel on the inside. Monaliza is a reef so if you fall you may hit the reef below. One of nice things about this wave is its proximity to the shoreline, so it’s not difficult to get in and out. Monaliza generally breaks from October through February. The wave is particularly good when there is a low pressure system in the South China Sea. The other good waves are up and down from Monaliza and any of the surfers on hand can offer you directions. San Fernando is known for its abundant resorts and accommodation is no problem. Those of you looking for places that cater to surfer should go north of San Fernando to where the Monaliza wave is located. Several nice, reasonable places there include Brian's Surf Camp as well as the Monaliza Cottages.

Catanduanes

Located in the Bicol region off the coast of Legaspi City, Catuduanes is a rather out of the way island, but when the surf is happening, it is worth the effort to get to. If you look on the map you will see why. The island sticks out into the Pacific Ocean like a sore thumb. The best known wave on the island is called Majestics, located off a gorgeous beach in the village of Puraran, which is in the middle of nowhere, two and a half hours from the capital of Virac. Majestics is a powerful and fast right hand breaking wave that gets raves from surfers. It can be extremely dangerous. In fact two years ago a British surfer was killed there. All this really means is that only those with experience should attempt this wave. The reason the wave is so dangerous is that the reef is actually a shallow ledge. This means that the wave jumps out of the ocean very quickly and instead of rolling like Monaliza, it forms a fast moving bowl, which slams down into the shallow reef below. If you make a mistake on this wave you'll have one majestically big headache. If not I'm certain you will be very happy.

While Majestics is considered world class, the problem is that it does not come around that often. The best months to surf there are July, August and September. Many surfers hive trekked for days and weeks to reach Puraran only to sit around looking at a flat ocean for days on end. There are several cottage style places to stay on the beach which offer package deals of meals and nipa huts for reasonable prices. A lesser known surf spot on Catanduanes, located in the village of Baras is called Moning. Moning can only be surfed at high tide and only from September to January. You may need to hire a fisherman to take you out to the break as it is quite far. Accommodation is available on the beach at Fred and Nora’s place.

Surigao Island

Surigao is located just north of Mindanao and in the very southern part of the Visaya. There are many surf spots on this island that offer left. hand and right hand breaking waves. The most popular spot is called Cloud Nine. One surfer described it as "the perfect reef break." Cloud Nine is reputed to be the best in the Philippines when it's happening. The months are June, July and August. The wave is considered difficult.

There are many ways to get to Surigao but whichever way you will have to take a ferry boat to step on to the island. Accommodation is of the basic variety, although I've heard that an Australian recently opened a surf camp there which should raise the standard a bit.

Baler

Baler is located on the northeastern coast of Luzon. Information is difficult to come by on this surf spot but the town and how to get there is written about in the Lonely Planet Guide Book.