Monday, June 24, 2013

THE NEXT WAVE

Cloud9 Siargao

FROM THE TOWN of General Luna, on the south-eastern tip of Siargao Island, you can easily espy where the waves naturally break in the sea, forming a white line of splash in the distance.

In the days before the island made its mark on the map as a prime surf spot, this natural reef barrier that serves as a marker between local waters and the mighty Pacific Ocean was where hardy fishermen would catch incredibly small fish. These fish were then fermented into ginamus, a dark, briny condiment that remains a staple on many Surigaonon dining tables.

Now those breaks are world famous for something else: surfing. The past 20 years have seen the island be defined by its famous swells — many of those who come and sing the island's praises are initially drawn to the big waves , only to later discover that there's so much more. Siargao's charm has landed it on must-visit lists around the world and all this attention is creating a subtle stirring, similar to the first ripples of what will soon develop into something big.

No surprise, then, that more establishments are popping up — from resorts, restaurants and bars, to rental shops. While most of the business owners who actually live on the island are excited about recent developments, many of them are also visibly wary of unwieldy growth, mindful of the way some idyllic beach destinations have fallen to ruin in the name of commerce.

"You can't say you've surfed the Philippines if you haven't been to this island," says Elaine Abonal of Surfista Travels, a surf tour outfitter. "Surfers, bodyboarders, adventure seekers from around the world travel all the way over. Still, while it's hardly a secret, it's not overcrowded and the vibe is generally chilled and relaxed. You can still experience simple island living — going barefoot."

Gimme a break!

Siargao Surfing

So you want to surf? Elaine Abonal tells us where and how to have a swell time in Siargao

Cloud 9
People visiting Siargao want to first see the perfect barreling wave then try to surf it themselves. The wave can go from three to 15 feet and even higher, depending on the month and season.

If you're looking for huge, challenging, oh-my-goodness-I-hope-I-live-through-this, adrenaline-pumped waves, go between September and January. The wave also breaks under sharp coral reef, so unless you really know what you're doing, best to save this for when you've skilled up.

Quiksilver
Quiksilver is right next to Cloud 9 and is a right-hander wave (it breaks to the right), though there are short lefts sometimes. It seems like a similar wave but is usually smaller but faster. Many students have their lessons here if Cloud 9 is too daunting. Don't be fooled though, when there are big sets, they can be massive. It's best to surf this wave during mid to high tide, although some surfers prefer to surf during low tide when there are fewer surfers — better wave shape also means it can be more dangerous.

Dako break
Just off the island of Dako is a short break that's perfect for beginners. Like other breaks in the island, the wave breaks over deep coral reef. It's a fun and gentle wave with a spectacular view when you're taking a breather in between sets. Most people go there by boat and it's best to surf there only when the tide is high. The swell can be small but can also become big during the peak/big-swell season.

Cemetery
A little bit further east of Cloud 9 is Cemetery — it's right in front of the General Luna Cemetery, thus the name. It's usually accessible by boat but others prefer to paddle or stand-up paddle all the way there (15 to 20 minutes, depending on how fast and strong you are). There are clean left-and right-hander breaks there when the winds are just right. It's usually a gentler wave and is good for beginners when the size is right. However, it can become as big as Cloud 9 and has bred some of the top surfers of the island. There are also fewer crowds here as it takes more time and effort to get there.

Jacking Horse
It's a fast right-hander wave and is called the jacking horse because it jacks at the peak really quickly. That wave reforms on the inner reef and becomes another great wave for beginners. This breaks on shallow reef and is best surfed during medium to high tide. It usually breaks right and there is a short left.

Siargao beyond surfing

Graphic designer and island mainstay JM Libarnes, who spends a good chunk of every month hanging out in Siargao, suggests a few interesting alternatives to catching a wave

Island hopping, of course 
Hire a motorboat (at Isla Cabana, it's PHP1,800) and head off to Guyam, a tiny shape-shifting islet — the entire circumference of which you might be able to walk in under five minutes. It's uninhabited and only has a daytime caretaker who charges anyone who drops anchor PHP10 per head. If you want to park yourself in a hut, it'll cost you PHP300. From Guyam, head to the neighboring island of Dako: here you'll find a fishing village, beach huts for rent, small sari-sari stores, a surfing break that's perfect for beginners. Want more? A third island offered on regular island-hopping packages is Naked Island, a large sandbar in the middle of the channel. Book for a morning of island hopping at Isla Cabana for PHP1,800, which covers all three islands. The best time to set sail is around 6am until noon when the seas are flat.  

Siargao Stand-up paddle boarding

Stand-up paddle boarding 
One of the latest trends of things to do in the water looks deceptively easy to do, but stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) is not the breeze all those Cameron-Diaz-on-vacation-photos make it out to be. For starters, SUP requires the concentration to maintain your balance on a board that's just about 2 ft wide and 6 ft long, while paddling from one point to another. The sport also gives your arms, back, core, thighs and legs quite a workout. You can rent paddle boards in Buddha's Surf Resort for PHP700 for 24 hours and at Sagana Resort for PHP600 for the whole day plus PHP300 for a lesson.

Pool jumping in Magpupungko 
In the municipality of Pilar, in the mid-east of the island and about 45 minutes north of General Luna, the limestone tidal pools called Magpupungko will appear only during low tide, so any visit will require that you first check out the tide time. The name Magpupungko comes from the Surigaonon phrase "nagpungko ang bato", referring to the place where the rocks are on top of each other. You can get to Magpupungko by arranging for transport with your resort or renting a motorbike (for an average of PHP500 a day exclusive of gas), or a multi-cab (a local passenger van). What to do here? Make a splash and jump into any one of the clear tidal pools.

Game fishing in Pilar 
You can also go for big game fishing in Pilar, where the annual National Gamefi shing Tournament has been held for the last six years. The country's biggest game fishing tournament (we don't know of any other, actually) has drawn anglers from as far afield as Japan, France, Hungary and the UK, but if you love fishing — billfish, tangigue or dorado — you too can get in on the action thanks to a little help from the local fishermen, who double up as adventure outfitters. Just approach any of them.

Spelunking in Burgos 
In the municipality of Burgos, head over to the Duhay-Puerta Cave (Two Doors Cave) and drop by the town hall to hire a guide. As with most cave tours, it's best to do this with a local who knows the area. Locals also believe in unseen beings that reside in nature, especially in uninhabited forests and caves, and anytime you venture into these places you must politely acknowledge the spirits that live there (otherwise, there will be consequences that range from broken devices to a severe skin rash or worse). If you also fancy a ride on a local water buffalo (kabaw) after the cave adventure, contact local resident Cynthia Bourne.

Swimming in Katipunan 
Just a quick 15-minute motorbike ride from GL is Katipunan, where you can then hop aboard a pump boat for a five-minute ride to the cold spring where you get saltwater during the high tide and fresh water during the low tide.

Mangrove kayaking in Del Carmen 
You don't get many opportunities for this. Head over to the municipality of Del Carmen on the western part of the island and kayak what's been documented as the largest mangrove forest in Mindanao. Just 15 minutes from the Sayak airport (and an hour on motorbike from GL), Del Carmen also has a 300-year-old grotto in the church called Our Lady of Mt Carmel. Heads up to history buffs: the church holds records of missionaries dating back to 1571, or just 50 years after the Spanish docked in the archipelago.

Surf's up!

Long-time Siargao resident, surfer and events organizer Gerry Degan lists a few things you can look forward to in the coming months

The next few months in Siargao are very exciting. Most people don't realize that June to November is the dry season here on the east coast. While it's raining in Manila, it's all about beautiful hot sunny days here on the beach. It's also surf contest time — here are a couple you shouldn't miss.

The 6th Annual Siargao International Girls' Cup June 11 to 15
This contest will see girls surfing at their best, competitors from the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, the US and Europe all vying for the title. It's a long way to come and it will be hard to unseat the local favorites Nelvie Blancada and Manet Alcala, but there will be many who try! This year's competition will be sponsored by Surf Angels, a local company committed to women's surfing.  
Article Courtesy Cebu Smile

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