Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Writing about lesser known surf spots can bring one to a tipping point: will nudging tourism toward these destinations disrupt their natural charm or will it elevate the quality of people’s lives through livelihood?
Local surf towns like Siargao, La Union, and Baler are blessed and troubled by the waves of development. One hand promises opportunities while the other clutches problems.
This article hopes to tip the scales in favor of preservation through progress. If future guests and businesses could be more mindful of their impact to a place then perhaps these seven homebreaks could also swing their doors open to surf tourism.
Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte
It’s no secret that the surf in Pagudpud is world-class especially during the transition months between July to September. Vista, which is across Kapuluan Vista Resort, delivers delicious left-handers that are perfect for longboarding but are equally fun for shortboards too.
A few meters beside Vista is a more advanced A-frame aptly called Heartbreak because of its fast and hollow waves breaking on the shallow reef. These two spots are almost always empty and must-visits for their wave quality.
How to get there: If a 12-hour ride from Manila does not sound enticing, you can choose to fly to Laoag Airport and Pagudpud will only be an hour and a half away. However, if you’re up for a long drive — plus a stopover at the Bangui Windmills — you may consider first surfing in San Juan, La Union before driving all the way up to the Blue Lagoon of Pagudpud. Hit two surf spots in one trip!
Guiuan, Eastern Samar
Pacific swells rise to their glory as they wrap around the coastline of Samar. If you happen to be in the town of Calicoan in Guiuan from September to October, you will find some of the largest waves you’ll ever see in your life. If you are not an intermediate to advanced surfer, it is best to give this scenic town a visit in the dry months of April and May when fine, longboarding waves abound.
Trace Samar’s coastline all the way to Leyte to discover many empty surf spots that will thrill any stoke-seeking adventurer. Here’s a friendly reminder: don’t geotag any of your photos because the local surf communities work hard to protect what could be the country’s final frontier in surfing. Ask nicely and they might just show you their most coveted spots — just leave your social media tendencies behind.
How to get there: Fly to Tacloban and take a six-hour van ride to the town of Guiuan. From there, you can take a pedicab going to ABCD Surf Camp in Calicoan. You can also check out Linao Cave for some natural pool swimming and the old church in Sulangan, which remained structurally intact despite Typhoon Yolanda’s ravaging impact in 2013.
Lanuza, Surigao del Sur
If you think the island of Luzon is blessed to have so many quality surf spots, wait until you spend time along the coastline of Mindanao.
Surigao del Sur — not to be confused with Siargao, which is in Surigao del Norte — is home to Lanuza, Cantilan, and Tandag, all of which are small villages with an ethereal charm and endlessly dreamy waves. If you want to switch the vibrant nightlife for peace, quiet, and plenty of good waves, then follow the allure of Surigao del Sur.
Lanuza offers a wide variety of waves within a small radius. From the fast and barrelling waves of the Punta breaks to the long and peeling ones in Doot Poktoy, Lanuza’s famous pebblestone rivermouth, this place has waves for all types of surfers.
Any surfer in search of the soul of this sport may want to devote a year for a Great Mindanao Surf Trip. However, rampant mining activities in the area threaten this wild and beautiful dream. If more surfers could raise awareness about the many world-class surf spots in Surigao, perhaps these places could be preserved and ultimately saved.
How to get there: Fly to Butuan, Surigao, or Tandag. From there, you can rent a van to take you to Lanuza or any of the other surf spots along the way.
El Nido, Palawan
From its northern tip to its southern parts, Palawan is one incredibly long coastline that lights up with waves depending on the time of the season. During the amihan season (November to March), Duli Beach in El Nido is your best bet for long and clean rides. Perfect for surf lessons, the two-kilometer long white sand beach break has fun lefts and rights.
If you are feeling more adventurous, you can rent a motorbike and follow the dirt roads to surf spots hidden from plain sight. Wherever the waves take you in Palawan, you are guaranteed the grand view of deep green mountainscapes, the tallest palm trees, and an infinitely clear ocean.
How to get there: Fly to El Nido. From El Nido, rent a van or motorbike and drive 25 km north to Brgy. Bucana. If you can’t fly straight to El Nido, you can fly to Puerto Princesa and take a 5-hour drive to El Nido by bus or van. Locals say that if you want to surf Palawan during the habagat season (June to September), you can stay in Puerto Princesa and start your surf trip in Nagtabon.
The Bicol Surf Region: Bagasbas Beach, Daet; Gubat, Sorsogon; and Puraran, Catanduanes
There is no better way to talk about the next three surf spots than as one loud and proud Bicol Surfing Circuit. If there is a place that is ready for a surge in surf tourism, it is the Bicol Region. Bicol has the infrastructure, the locations, and most of all, the leadership of bright young minds inclined toward sustainability.
Locals say that surfing in Bagasbas Beach, Daet in Camarines Norte is among the earliest ever recorded in Philippine history. Its expansive shoreline is home to multiple beach break peaks that make a fine training ground for aspiring national surf champions. Other spots in the vicinity are the San Jose beach break and Mercedes, an outer reef reachable by boat.
Sorsogon is around five hours away from Daet and here you will find a young and energetic surf scene comprised of many talented juniors or surfers who are 18 years old and below. This is because the Buenavista Surf Camp in Gubat has invested in proper training and sourcing the right surf equipment for the local kids. Gubat has a vast beach break that could rival Bagasbas or Sabang Beach in Baler. Drive a few kilometers to the town of Barcelona and you’ll also chance upon challenging reef breaks — most probably crowd-free.
Puraran Beach in Baras, Catanduanes is the prized jewel in this Bicol surf trilogy. It is the home of a world-renowned right-hand barrel called the Majestics. For a wave to deserve such a name, you must imagine how good it gets especially during the months of September and October. Professional surfers from other countries have traveled all the way to meet this gem and their stories always end with fanatical enthusiasm. Aside from surfing, you can also follow nature trails up the hills, camp out, and simply enjoy inner peace. Some people even call Catanduanes “the Happy Island.”
How to get there: Daet and Sorsogon are 8-10 hours away from Manila but fortunately for those who don’t want to drive all the way, there are premier transit lines such as DLTB that offer deluxe bus rides with spacious seating. Meanwhile, getting to Catanduanes will require riding a ro-ro from Tabaco Port or San Andres Port.
While there are notably more surf spots around the country that deserve to be highlighted, these seven locations paint the potential of widespread surf tourism from Luzon to Mindanao.
With so many islands and so many spots to choose from, it becomes evident that the ultimate surfing pipedream is not to live in a single surf spot. Instead, it is traveling the entire country from coast to coast, in search not only of beaches to surf but also of new places to protect and call home. Along the way, we inevitably pick up the life skills to survive long days. We are humbled by the waves we chase. That alone makes it worth the journey.
Erratum: An original version of this piece was not able to credit the photographer Ikoy Valles for the Puraran Beach photos.