Mabuhay Magazine April 2008, Surfing the Philippines

"Surfing Philippines" article for Philippine Airlines In flight magazine April 2008 written and shot by Mark Dimalanta. (Opening photo displaying surfboards shot by Jake Verzosa)

The emerging Surf Culture in the Philippine Islands is still in its infantile stage. Editorials such as these are aimed at acquainting the young crowd with the booming subculture that is taking the country by storm, literally. Being a photojournalist, who happens to also surf, makes it all the more special to guide the young eager surfers on the who, where and what to do with surfing. Happy Surfing!

the original text and additional photos:
How surfing is rapidly changing our popular culture.
–the how, who and where of our sport.

Text/Photos By: Dr. Mark Dimalanta
All surfboards, products and clothing provided by Aloha Boardsports, Inc.

The idyllic life of a traveling surfer is never more quenched then through the experiences that may be found surfing the Philippine Islands. In the world of surf journalism, the Philippine archipelago is as intriguing as it is obscure, definitely a secret waiting to be unlocked. I’m from Huntington beach California, otherwise known as “Surf City, USA”, also the hub of the surfing world’s global 7.5 billion dollar per year industry. Despite having everything I need with regard to satiating my surf appetite (warm weather, close proximity to year round waves, bikinis galore), not a day goes by, where I’m constantly dreaming of returning home and surfing the tropical warm waters of the Philippine Islands.

My love affair with the country began more than 11 years ago after moving to Manila to earn my degree in Medicine at UERM MMC. I befriended a few local manila surfers, and together we explored these islands during our weekend breaks and holidays. The only other person who surfed with passion for the sport during those days just happened to be sitting next to me, in a hot and stuffy lecture hall. Neil Dumaran, of Kaneohe Hawaii. It had to be fate. In hindsight, what I realized was that we were a decade too early. During the 90’s no one sported tans, no one liked the beach, unless it was Boracay, and there was nary a bikini in sight. People assumed we were crazy to travel hours to reach the beach, brave the ocean to surf to our hearts content, and fry our skin to a golden brown.

the original manila crew in zamblaes 1998

Surfing, in this country, has traditionally been a sport of the ex-pat, or for the local surfers who luckily, lived within beach provinces that actually had waves. Back then, there weren’t too many resorts that catered to surfing as a lifestyle. For the island of Luzon, the most accessible beach town was Zambales and the most developed was La Union.

Fast forward 10 years later and the “surfing craze” here in the country has been further facilitated through the efforts of Onboard Philippines, a collaborative effort undertaken in partnership with the Philippine Department of Tourism. Onboard Philippines centers on the aligned initiatives of the local tourism sector and one of the country’s leading surfing advocates, Aloha Board Sports Inc. led by owner Freddy Gonzalez, to promote the Philippines as a premier surfing destination.

Freddy’s efforts solved the biggest problem (the non-availability of product) that stalled the progression of our sport. These days surf shops are sprouting up and the enthusiast now has local access to premium-imported products at more affordable prices. Brands such as Town & Country, Volcom, Lost, Channel Islands, Southpoint, 7S, Sector 9, Da Kine, etc. just to name a few, are all readily available through Aloha Board Sports.

Team Aloha Board Sports

So what makes surfing so special? To answer that may be an enigma in itself where a qualitative answer may only be found if you actually take the time to try surfing for yourself. From its outside appearance, surfers always seem happy and look healthy. The cardio vascular sport cuts their bodies into fine shape. The reality is that it is something more complex. It is a harmony with yourself and your environment. After all, our sport is dependent on Mother Nature; its weather patterns and our responsibility to ensure that the water we surf in remains clean and safe. We are so captivated by our sport that we often spend moments, if not hours staring at the grace and power of the waves and the picturesque beauty of the beach. A tennis player hardly can spend hours staring at his court with admiration like how a surfer adores his ocean. Maybe it’s the challenge in it all, from the initial ‘stoke’ of our first wave, until our last. It is always a dedication to improving our skill and celebrating each wave to its fullest. Maybe its because each wave is unique providing a different elation each time. So few things in life match the exhilaration achieved by “taking the drop, bottom turning, and setting your line deep in the tube”, especially in waves so scary that they can kill you. Maybe that is the definition, the respect a surfer must have for nature and his abilities in order to achieve his ultimate “high”.

Well times have definitely changed and what seemed like a rogue, anti-culture sport has now blossomed into a recreational revolution which will only prove beneficial to our country. If I were to name a few destinations to wet my appetite for surf they would be: Zambales, La Union, Baler, Pagudpud, Calicoan Island at Eastern Samar, and Lanuza of Surigao del Sur.

The region of Zambales provides endless miles of coastline with immeasurable amounts of surf. The benefit of Zambales is its proximity to manila, being only a short 3-hour drive. I can only imagine the improved travel with the expressway from Clark air base to Subic only a few years off. From Pundakit village in San Antonio to the extent of Iba, energy from the South China Sea sends waves for all skill levels. Beginner waves can be found at Crystal beach and expert reefs can be found only a short banka ride off the coast to the Capones Islands.

view of the Capones Islands from the coast of Zambales

La Union, which in some circles is the birthplace of surfing for manila based surfers, is the much coveted weekend getaway. From the historic Mona Liza resort, the soulful San Juan Surf Camp and to the posh Little Surf Maid, La Union provides varying accommodations to suit any budget. Wave quality ranges from beginner friendly to expert depending on the size of the swell. It’s a short 5.5-hour bus ride, and an even quicker drive. For lessons, equipment rentals or purchase visit “Lukie” Landrigan at San Juan Surf Camp.

Sadam Faraon backside snap at the beachbreak of la union

Baler, in the region of Aurora province is home to one of the best right hand reef breaks. Not by my words but through word of mouth, “Cementos” is a perfect barrel if swell size permits. Despite the rapid crowds that are forming the wave will take care of itself. When it reaches overhead size, it generally weeds out the crowds where most are left watching from the platform and only expert riders need apply. As a general rule of caution, I remind surfers new and old to respect the wave and understand their abilities. Baler offers so many waves from Sabang beach break, Charlie’s point (where they filmed the Coppola movie “Apocalypse Now”) Cemento reef, and many other unnamed breaks. The beauty of this destination is the scenic vistas available when going there by mountain route.

the viewdeck at cemento reef, baler philippines

Pagudpud to the far north is accessible best by a 1-hour plane ride with 3 hour van ride, or a 10-12 hour drive. There at Kapuluan Vista Resort one may find elegant amenities, world-class waves, and family styled hospitality. Its one of the few resorts where the owners Mike and Alma Oida will happily attend to your comforts as well as surf along side you. Be careful Mike is brilliant on the “shortie” as well as the longboard, so waves may come far and few between if he’s out in your lineup. KVR can provide the exhilaration of pounding surf out front, tranquility of its clear blue lagoon, or simply the serenity of the in house swimming pool. Pagudpud was the site for Onboard philippines’ maiden voyage, wherein team riders from both Aloha Board Sports and Town & Country Hawaii shared culture, waves, and friendship.

the view from Kapuluan Vista Resort, Pagudpud

“The Surf Camp” at Calicoan Island in eastern Samar is the “Amanpulo” for surfers. With 5 star luxuries amidst an elegant tropical landscape, it is truly a heaven on earth. Take away the wave out front at “ABCD” beach and you would still have a world-class destination. Thankfully for us surfers, this resort packs a wallop in sensory pleasure from the exotic architecture, breathtaking scenery, and perfect “A frame” waves of crystal clear water. It is also home to the “Philippine S.P.Y. academy” where one can book a luxury vacation to learn Surfing, Poi (a cardio vascular art form of “zipping” or fire spinning), and Yoga.

A sensory treat at Calicoan Island, Eastern Samar

Lanuza to the south in Surigao del Sur is a sleeping giant relative to its famous neigbor Siargao and “cloud 9”. The perfect right hand barrels at cloud 9 have been so over crowded these days to garner the new moniker of “crowd – 9”. When in that part of the country, Lanuza is proving to offer world-class waves with an almost non-existent lineup. Onboard Philippines surfed lanuza on its second stop of their tour with the gracious hospitality of Mayor and surfer Geri Irizari. Lanuza is the most remote of the list and that’s where it draws most of its charm. Dense tropical palms line the beaches that are packed with perfect unridden waves. Each day out, one can journey to find new waves. Remember to respect the locals; surfers hate crowds, and that is why we are always on a quest for an empty wave. If mutual respect is honored then we all can find peace in the lineups.

searching for waves in surigao del sur

getting shacked somewhere in lanuza

Surfing is a gift from our Polynesian ancestors. It was their sport of kings and it is truly an elevated life experience. Maybe that is why local surfers become territorial to their home break. For all the destinations I described, there is a pre-existing local surf culture with known waves ready to welcome your surf appetite. Onboard Philippines is not aimed at exposing the secret spots of our country, but rather invite you to the areas that are already catering to the surf lifestyle. Besides, surfers are exploratory in nature and I leave it up to your own initiative to find waves off the beaten path. We believe that secret spots should remain that, but our initiatives hope to bolster the local economy and usher in the art and sport of surfing throughout the Philippines.

Happy surfing…

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