The Old School Surf Paradise : Siargao Island, The Philippines
It's the dream for every surfer - an untouched tropical paradise, with turquoise blue waters, white sandy beaches, a local culture that is pure and unadulterated with western philosophies... and of course plenty of uncrowded waves. This once was what you would find on Siargao Island in The Philippines. However, as with most perfect places, word has spread and tourism is now on the increase. But, as I discovered on a recent trip to the island, elements of the bohemian surf culture can still be found.
Siargao Island is situated on the southeastern aspect of The Philippines. It's a bit of an effort to get to, but as the tiny plane approaches the island and you gaze upon the lush green landscape bordered by turquoise perfection, the weariness of the long journey quickly fades away. The landscape is tropical. The beaches are rugged in places, lined by reef stretching out to the clear blue water. Inland there is dense vegetation, with waterways intertwining.
The local population is very small. The people are fishermen and farmers. They are not wealthy, but they are calm and happy. Travel inlands away from the tourist hub, and you'll find little makeshift houses scattered along the roadside, children playing and people going about their daily lives. It is the magical simplicity that is evident in these remote places, where one does not need or want for material goods, and the simple life is enough.
Visit the island in September and you'll be welcomed to take part in the annual "Fiesta", a celebration of the patron saint of the island. You will have no choice but to join in, as local families welcome each other into their homes for 2 days and nights. Each family will prepare a feast of local dishes consisting of pork, vegetables, rice, all to be washed down with the local rum. Eat, drink and be merry and immerse yourself into the heart-warming sense of community that is present on this tiny island.
The main hub of the island is in the region of General Luna. Still fairly rustic, but getting busier it seems with travellers looking to escape the noise and pressure of the cities. There is plenty to do to stimulate the senses. Island hopping to explore the surrounds, venturing inland to check out rock pools, natural caves and beautiful lagoons. Experience some of the most spectacular marine life diving beneath the surface with one of the certified dive and free dive centres.
Away from the central tourist hub is Pacifico - a pure and untouched haven. So perfect I almost didn't want to write about it. Here there are only a couple of places to stay, its quiet and peaceful. Just surf, surf, surf... and then sit back, relax and absorb one of the many gorgeous sunsets that you will witness here.
The surf is exciting, varied and challenging. Reef breaks in general, most were working and rideable even when the conditions were not perfect. Many of the breaks are accessible by local dug-out canoes. The vibe in the water is fun and friendly. Super happy locals, willing to share their waves and often encouraging you into sets with eagerness and enthusiasm. It only remains for the tourists to keep the vibe mellow...
The local surf scene is raw and the talent is immense. There is a growing team of young surfers, supported by local veterans, and local competitions keep raising the bar. Even more exciting is the number of local women in the water. These females are strong and beautiful and they surf with confidence and grace. The local surf sisters Ikit and Aping Agudo talk about the female surf culture on the island:
"Our father is a fisherman. This is our home. We didn't start to surf until we were in our teens. Young girls did not used to surf, but now there are many more and it is exciting" Ikit Agudo
The local surfboard shaper "Coco Surf" is a reflection of the dedication to the sport on the island. Surfboard shaper Din Din's story is unique. Din started surfing when he was very young. As there were no shapers on the island to repair boards, he learnt from travellers and started to carry out his own board repairs. As his surfing improved, he wanted a smaller board but could not afford to buy one. He took his existing board, stripped it and attempted to modify the board to make it smaller. He learnt his trade from DVDs brought from foreign friends, information on the Internet and foreign visiting shapers. Equipment to fabricate surfboards is expensive and not readily available in the Philippines. Din has worked to create his own makeshift tools (a wire cutter hot wired by an iron, for example). Using these tools, in his own studio, he crafts some of the most rideable boards available. Coco Surf now has 9 team riders. Each rider receives 3 boards a year.
"Seeing our boards ridden by good surfers makes us proud and makes us determined to make our craft better" Din Din
The impact of human activities on our natural ecosystems and environments is well documented. Living in big western cities, we continue our daily lives and are often oblivious to the damage that is occurring out to sea. It is when you visit these seemingly perfect destinations that the effects of iatrogenic damage to the environment become evident and real. The Philippines has been documented as one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. The islands' climate, dense rainforests and extensive coastlines make it home to a plethora of birds, plants, animals and marine life. As part of our trip we ventured out one day to explore the surrounding islands. Naked Island - a tiny island with no inhabitants. We carried out a beach clean and filled 2 bags with plastic waste - brought primarily from tourists having picnics on the island (plastic cups, beer bottles, plastic cutlery etc). There are no words to describe the frustration and disappointment. Locals and expats campaign regularly to make ministers aware of the impact of economic and tourism growth on the environment, and to try and ensure sustainable growth. It remains only to say please travel responsibly, at home and away.
"Siargao Island offers an escape. Step back in time, slow down and just be. Take time to have real conversations with both locals and travellers who are open and willing to share their stories. Immerse yourself into nature on the island and in the sea. Lose yourself, and find your true self again." Deepa Shah
Deepa Shah & Amy Cavender travelled to Siargao Island with Ticket to Ride www.tickettoridegroup.com
Special thanks to Gwilym Thomas www.gwilymthomas.com