The Philippine islands boast world-class waves and beaches that offer casual surfers the stoke they’re constantly searching for. Find out which spot fits you and get ready to hang ten.
The island that arguably put the country in the international surfing map: Siargao. Its white sand beaches, unpopulated islands, and excellent year-round waves from the Pacific are incomparable.
“Regular days offer shoulder to head-high waves, but when the swells kick in, the water can go all the way up to 18-foot faces,” says surfer Mika Santos. The most famous spot is Cloud 9, which gained international fame when it was first published in a US surfing magazine in the 1990’s. “Since then, intrepid surfers have made the long journey to Siargao for its perfect right hand barrel,” Santos adds.
For Elaine Abonal, owner and founder of Surfista Travels Philippines, Siargao is where time seems to stop. Most likely because there’s always a surge of thrilling things to do. “The whole island is full of adventure with rock pools, dirt roads, empty beaches, island hopping, and caves,” says Abonal.
When to go: September to November
Big event: September and October is competition season for Siargao, which holds both national and international events backed by big surf brands such as Quiksilver and Billabong.
When not surfing: Go to Magpupungko Tidal Pools, Kaob Lagoon, and Sohoton Caves; take bike rides down the highway, and take a boat out to Naked Island.
Want waves for both beginners and advanced surfers? Just six hours from Manila lies Baler in Aurora province. Raw, laid-back and no-frills, it still offers creature comforts for city rats looking for a quick escape. That, and the beach never gets too crowded.
“The waves are quite playful and can be unpredictable at the beach break, depending on the tide and wind,” says Vic Gamboa, entrepreneur and long time surfer. “It’s the best place to practice for both beginners and advanced surfers—reef breaks are powerful and consistent and beautiful barrels await those willing to wait.”
The approach towards Baler is scenic, with a drive through the Sierra Madre mountains, the Pantabangan Dam, and rice fields, culminating right by the Pacific Ocean, where dolphin and whale sightings are frequent.
When to go: March to September for gentle waves; October to February for competition season for head-high to triple-overhead waves. “During high season, Baler runs out of accommodations quite quickly, but local families gladly end up hosting tourists for the weekend,” shares Adi Zarsadias, former corporate exec who traded in her briefcase for a surfboard and yoga mat and now owns a waterfront property in Sabang Beach, called Secret Spot.
Big event: Aurora Surfing Challenge
When not surfing: Museo de Baler for a peek into the country’s Hispanic heritage, Ermita Hill lookout point for a hilltop view of the bay and the Pacific Ocean, Millennium Tree (reportedly the oldest tree in Asia), and Ditumabo Waterfalls.
Those who like to stay away from crowded beaches can head north of Manila to Liw-Liwa, one of the region’s unassuming, provincial towns in San Felipe. “It’s a small barrio (rural district), so the vibe it offers is quiet and simple,” says surfer Janaka Ordonez.
The number of surfers attracted to this barrio is steadily growing, peppering the town with new faces as surf season rolls in and out each year. According to Ordonez, “The only change to Liw-Liwa is the number of surfers that come in each time—it’s always great to see new surfers getting stoked, with big smiles on their faces.”
When to go: June to January, depending on south or north swell reports. “If the waves aren’t good on one side, you can always drive to another barrio or hop on a boat to chase the waves. The search is the best part,” adds Ordonez.
When not surfing: Head off to the serene coastline of Pundaquit, a fishing village nearby; from there you can take a boat to Camara Island for the scenic white sand bar.
Where to stay: The Circle Hostel. The two-storey inn is a frequent pit stop for surfers, offering ambience similar to what one would expect from the 2000 Leonardo di Caprio flick, The Beach.
Another nearby surfing spot from the capital (just four hours away) is La Union. It gets crowded with both beginner and advanced surfers, both local and foreign tourists. It’s no wonder that a slew of surf competitions, music festivals and concerts are held in the beaches of this Northern Luzon province throughout the year.
“La Union’s beach break is beginner friendly, and its point reef break is for intermediate and advanced surfers,” says Noelle Hilario, co-owner of Flow: SurfYogaSamba Weekend Retreat and blogger at wanderlustdrifted.blogspot.com. “When the waves are big and messy in the beach break, we head to Bacnotan where it’s more mellow, or to Carille—a point break known for its clean right handers.”
When to go: September to February, peak season in December. “There are usually waves all year long, from the rainy season to summer so you can enjoy a variety of wave conditions. From small, beginner friendly waves at the beach break, waist to shoulder high peelers at the point ideal for longboarding, all the way to double overhead freight trains perfect for shortboarding,” advises Buji Libarnes, architect, surfer and co-founder of lifestyle brand Coast Through Life.
When not surfing: La Union is just three hours away from the historic town of Vigan, a UNESCO World Heritage site and an hour away from the mountain city of Baguio.
Where to stay: San Juan Surf Resort, Kahuna Beach Resort, Little Surf Maid