The Philippines are an archipelago of more than seven thousand islands in the Pacific Ocean. But different to the South Pacific Islands, the ocean here is not as deep and the swells have to travel west ward. That’s the reason why waves are less powerful and not as consistent, at least simplified. But the Philippines do get waves from normal swells and from typhoons too. The ocean is tropical, with crystal clear, warm water and great waves that break over colourful reefs, but as it is such a fickle surf destination, it never got as popular as Indo. This doesn’t mean the waves aren’t as good, just not as consistent and way more difficult to score.
Most the waves are along the east facing coastline, but there are also some of the most amazing waves on the west side of the islands, in the South China Sea. But these waves are even more difficult to surf on the right day.
The country is split into three regions, Luzon home to the country’s capital Manila, in the north; Visaya in the middle and Mindanao in the south. Visaya is where most surfers go. You usually fly into Cebu and from there to the small island of Siargao where the most famous wave is located, named ‘Cloud Nine’ or ‘Crowd Nine’ a better match some would say.
The south is better known for terrorists and kidnappings than anything else, which might be based on facts but probable encouraged by the western fixation for bad news.
The Philippines are not what I would call easy traveling, and it’s even more difficult to make it to the rumoured waves. Imagine doing it with your own yacht, or on board of one of the boats from Quiksilver crossing or Rip Curl the search. But for the majority of us without this luxury, we have to stick to one or two areas.
People who go there and don’t surf probably visit such places as Boracay, a Party-island filled with beautiful white sandy beaches and people. There is a bit of wind- and kite surfing happening here, but you won’t find any waves. Others come here in hope to spot whale sharks and are often successful. Donsol, in the south of Luzon Island is the most famous place to go and snorkel with the gentle giants. They are usually around from November to May, but with the best underwater visibility from February to May, this would be the time to come. You won’t be the only one and probable swim most the time behind other tourists and not whale sharks. The so called Eco-Tourism here is questionable, so better do your research first.
This country is notorious for bad food, sex tourism, child prostitution, scuba diving, partying and of course surfing. As in most places, you’ll find what you’re looking for. In my case I was looking for local food and found that it really is as bad as its reputation; parties are as wild as you think and the surf is as fun as it can be, if you’re lucky. The whole sex trade is bad, especially the child prostitution, but we have to be honest, the only reason it exists is because there are people who are looking for it, not the other way around.
I flew to an airport north of Manila and went to the capital for a crazy weekend of partying. Probably the best and only thing to do in this huge city. From there, I went south to Cebu where I met up with a group of friends and took another flight to Siargao. I spent most of my time there and surfed around seven different breaks in the area, that’s all I know, seven breaks out of seven thousand islands!
We arrived in Siargao airport with a hangover, and without our boards. It was a one hour drive from the airport to where we stayed, just next to Cloud Nine. There were many people on the plane and most of them were surfers with board bags. The workers don’t seem to care about you (they aren’t as friendly as other Asians), they just throw as many bags in as they can and when the first guy claims it’s full, they’re done with their work! Come on, why should they put the board bags in a systematic way to make sure all of them fit in? We had already paid and they get paid at the end of the month if the boards are inside or not. Why should they work more that they have to? Why should they care to do a job properly? They don’t!
They get hit by typhoons every year, experience floods more often than they can handle and that’s just the beginning. They don’t really care about too much, they just fix it afterwards – kind of at least. So why should they care about some rich guys board bag they don’t even know?
There are three flights from Cebu to Siargao a week, so all you can do is hope your bag is on the next plane. Or in our lucky case, someone can call someone in his family who knows someone who works somewhere in the airport and can talk to someone to maybe get our bags somehow on the next plain! that’s the way things work here.
If there is another name for the town where Cloud Nine is, I don’t know, but here everyone knows Cloud Nine. There are a fair few places to stay, and something for every budget. You’ll find from super fancy Hotel with amazing Pizzas to a fairly cheap place on the other side of town. This is a decent place with great food, and in between these two places are many other Hotels covering the whole price range. To be honest, i can’t complain about the food on the island, maybe people in Manila just made me ate the worst possible things. After talking about bad food…fair enough.
In front here is a huge reef without any waves. It’s not the most beautiful reef I’ve ever seen, but the water is nice and as warm as in a bathtub, so why not snorkel a bit. Way out are some rocks, actually small islands and two surf spots, Stimpy’s and Rock island.
This is a really long left that break over reef. If it’s on, it has a steep take off and from there a nice barrel section. Than it flattens out a bit, but this is at the same time another take off spot for the rest of the wave. Because of that, the crowd usually splits in two, the ones who want to take the big drop and the barrel and the others who surf the rest of the wave. That section is smaller, but a great fun wave and long. You can usually make the whole wave if you want to, but a lot of the people surf one or the other. You often choose the crowd, as you have to get out there with a boat and the chances that yours is the only boat out there are pretty good.
Just a short paddle from here, or a quick ride, is the next surf spot called Rock Island.
This one is a right over a nice reef and so close to Stimpy’s, you can easily take your boat out there and have a look at both waves to descide if it’s gonna be a goofy- or natural-footer session.
This wave is at least as beautiful as its neighbour, but the take off point is really shifty and it gets shallow towards the end. Same as it’s neighbour, it has some barrels and some fun open faces, but is shorter.
If you come here and you score only one good session in your whole trip, but it’s on one of those two spots, it was worth to travel for! These waves are how they have to look on Isla Utopia! perfect waves, warm and cristal clear water, barrels and a big rock in the background to make it look more dramatic and only you and your friends in the water!
There is another wave between here and the mainland that is called ‘Bombies’. As far as i know, it only shows of if it gets really big and is nothing for the faint-hearted!
That’s the weired name for the next wave. It’s a right hander, but more of a longboarder wave. And even it’s one of the really few waves you don’t need a boat to get to, no one surfs it. This is actually not that much of a surprise as it is the side of the same big reef as Cloud Nine, but couldn’t be further apart wave wise. It’s surfable on a shortboard, but definitely more fun with more foam under your feet. Great on a longboard, SUP or fish, but that’s not really the kind of wave you come here for.
Another weired name for a special wave. This is like the little sister of Cloud Nine, and only meters away from it. But this one is much smaller and more forgiving. A lot of little local kids surf here and it’s not only a good wave, but also a good training to get used to the real deal. But don’t be fooled, the reef here is sharp and it shallow.
The crown jewel, not only of Siargaos waves, but of Philippine surfing. There is a long, picture perfect pier that is build on the reef to walk out to some platform with perfect view over the two waves, Quiksilver and Clowd Nine. You go down into the water over some ladder and paddle out between the two.
Clowd Nine has two take off spots, depending on size and direction, and both of them are packed with locals and good surfers from all over the world (until it gets really big and only a hand full of brave ones are out). But there are so many waves coming thru, if you know how to act in and within a crowd, you’ll get your wave. And as it is such a incredible beautiful and perfect wave, your smile should stay pasted across your face long enough to get another one.
The reef here is at least not super sharp, but it’s close, specially when it’s small. I remember a wipe out where I hit the surface of the water and immediately the reef, not like in other places where you hit the water and have a split second time to get prepared to hit the reef.
The name Cloud Nine comes actually from a Chocolate bar you’ll find in the Philippines, but after you had one good wave out there, you’ll agree with that name anyways.
This spot has its name, because you have to find the cemetery between Cloud Nine and the town of General Luna and then do the 20-30 minutes paddle out, or you pay a boat to bring you there. You’re most likely to be alone out there, but even if there are other people, it is a reef with many different peaks letting you get out of each others way. Here you’ll find rights and lefts, short and long, steep and flat. It’s a perfect spot to surf with friends on all different levels of surfing, as there is something for everyone. It’s a unique place and you have a good chance to get away from the crowds, but at the same time not as epic as other waves around here.
The next town towards the airport is General Luna. Here there are a couple or boats waiting in the water and if you find the captain, or at least a guy who can manoeuvre the boat and has some petrol, you’ve found your ride to Dako.
This surf spot get blown out really easily, so go early and hope for the weather to stay calm. If the wind comes up, stick around for a while, it might change again after thirty minutes. It’s a long and really easy to surf right hander that sometimes offers a short barrel. As with all the other surf spots here, the water is gorgeous, but here, you have a palm covered island in the background. Perfect to have your surf shot taken out of the boat, and see your friends back home jealous! There are often a few boats with surfers here, but it’s not as crowded nor heavy as Cloud Nine, and still much easier and more mellow than Stimpy’s and Rock Island. The perfect wave for intermediate surfers in the most possible exotic looking backdrop.
There are more waves in Siargao and more islands in the Philippines, this is just a tiny bit of it. This is just what is closest to Cloud Nine and easiest to get to. If you have more time and are ready to ruff it, you’ll be rewarded. Best time to come is October to January, but even in these months, it can get flat for quiet some time. I was there in September and got lucky, never know.
Bring everything with you, you might need. Such as wax, spare leash, spare finns, spare board… It could be difficult to find such things here. And bring a bunch of friends as well. This makes it more fun to drink the fantastic Red Horse Beer during flat spells and you can share the price for a boat to all the surfspots you want to go and don’t have to find a group first.
If you like Asia, its culture and people and have some time and want to go somewhere else give it a go. It doesn’t always have to be Indonesia. And if you can handle sitting in Surfers Paradise without any surf for some days, only for the possibility of perfect warm water waves with a background that makes you feel like you are in a Rip Curl advert… you probably should go.
And if you’re up for some exploring or real surf adventures, this is it.
some more shots: