The Filipino Way
A Surfer's Paradise, And Why You Should Visit Now
If you’ve grown travel-weary by encountering one too many disappointing tourist traps, this idyllic island in the Philippines will rekindle your wanderlust.
Located in the province of Surigao del Norte, Siargao is a teardrop-shaped island glimmering with white sand and swaying palm trees, but it’s the waters that make it special. Intense winds and currents from the Pacific Ocean, intensified by the island’s location at the edge of the Philippine Trench, create the epic swells that make it the “surfing capital of the Philippines.”
Temperate waters and year-round waves have made Siargao one of the world’s best-kept surfing secrets for decades, and in recent years, direct flights to the island from Manila and Cebu have made it more accessible for adventurers and nature enthusiasts to come bask in the untamed beauty of the island. It’s a place perfect for those seeking a place that’s under the radar. Internet connection is spotty. After you’ve posted that #beachgoals selfie, Siargao will make you want to disconnect with the world, and lose yourself in paradise.
Surfing Spot to Island Paradise
“I’ve lived here all my life, and the people here are really friendly and respectful, as long as you are the same to them. And this place is just beautiful and magical,” shares surfer and Siargao Inn Resort owner Nildie Reitenbach. Warm and unassuming, she turns fiercely regal on the monstrous waves, earning her the title “Queen of Cloud 9.” Her younger sister, Nilbie Blancada, bagged the Asian Surfing Championship in 2016. “Surfing means life; when I’m in the water, it means everything to me,” Nildie attests.
Surfing means life; when I’m in the water, it means everything to me.
Cloud 9, the island’s most popular surfing spot, was brought to the world’s attention by traveling surfers in the 1980s. (The urban legend is that it was named after the only snack to be found in the island at the time.) The glorious hollow tubing right hand reef break is ranked as one of the best in the world, making it an ideal site for surfing competitions like the annual Siargao Cup.
Beyond the thrill of watersports, visitors inevitably discovered the island’s many charms—from virgin beaches, stunning rock pools, massive coral reefs, and thriving marine life, to a secret lagoon and country’s largest contiguous mangrove. Affordable accommodations, awesome eateries, bars, and ubiquitous karaoke joints have cropped up through the years, offering the ultimate tropical island getaway that won’t break the bank. (On the other end of the spectrum is the divine, exceedingly luxe resort Dedon Island.)
The Dream Island Life
They say that when you visit Siargao, you’re bound to visit again, or even extend your stay indefinitely. Surfer Elaine Abonal has been coming to Siargao since 2005, and finally decided to drop her anchor here last year. “I started the surf camp Surfista Travels Philippines five years ago and I was doing it around the Philippines, but it got exhausting moving my life from one place to another. Out of all the surf spots, I found Siargao to be where I could fulfill my dream beach island life.” She is joined by her boyfriend Oli, whom she met while training to be a certified international surf instructor in Bali, Indonesia. “I told him about Siargao and even if he knew nothing about this place, he packed his bags and now lives here! We are exposed to nature everyday, which is beautiful.”
Out of all the surf spots, I found Siargao to be where I could fulfill my dream beach island life.
Even on busy days, the vibe is chill and the island uniform consists of bikinis, beach dresses, board shorts, and the occasional raincoat for monsoon weather. “In the morning, we wake up super early and check the weather/surf/wave/tide conditions and plan our day around that.” Like many locals, Elaine begins her day with a morning ride on the waves, and everything else—running errands, holding surf lessons, hosting island hopping tours—follows.
Even if you come to the island with zero surfing knowledge, you can count on learning from instructors like Elaine, whose personal mission is encouraging people to get out of their comfort zones. “I had a student once who joined a week-long surf camp but didn't say she'd never been in the ocean and was terrified of the water, but she conquered her fear,” relates Elaine. “I saw her again a few months later, and she was a completely changed person—toned, tan, and confident. Surfing changed her life and it was amazing to be a part of that!”
As a child, artist Jof Sering would spend her summers in Siargao, and so it seemed like destiny when she revisited the island a few years ago and met her soulmate. “He’s a surfer and loves the island so it was a very happy decision for both of us to move here together.”
Jof runs the delightful artisanal gift shop Felice, which doubles as a workshop space and a kitchen where she and her husband serve fresh fruit juices and homemade ice cream. Customers come from all over the world—“Australia, Europe, the States…everywhere!”—tell her that they love the happy, laidback vibe of her store, which pretty much captures the joy of island living.
Honor the Island
With tourist numbers rising and new developments popping up, locals have taken the initiative to create the SEA Movement (Siargao Environmental Awareness Movement) to protect their paradise. “We try to raise awareness, educate and talk to government officials to help and push for a proper solid and wastewater management for the island,” shares Jof.
“Siargao is absolutely gorgeous and I am proud to call it my new home. I just think that people who would like to come visit should be reminded to be respectful of the local people that live here, to be respectful of the ocean when it comes to trash or leaving their belongings,” urges Elaine.
Siargao is absolutely gorgeous and I am proud to call it my new home
“Siargao is a surfer’s dream with waves around the island all year round; it’s also so photogenic and beautiful with crystal clear water and white sand,” shares Elaine. “Siargao is now at the time where it's convenient to travel while not being too inundated with tourists or outside influence.”
What makes Siargao different from regular island destinations? “The hospitality of the local people, the community, and of course, the beauty of this place,” Nildie attests. Siargao remains blissfully uncommercial, at least for now. Jof adds, “There’s really something about this place; a lot of spiritual people come visit and say there is a lot of energy.” Perhaps it’s the island’s stunning landscapes, mystical mangroves, powerful undercurrents, or welcoming vibe; whatever it is, Jof herself reports experiencing lots of “movement, healing, and growth.”
Siargao will teach you to let go and let nature take over...
Whether you’ve come for surfing, soul-searching, or simply lazing around all day on virgin beaches, San Miguel Beer in hand, Siargao will teach you to let go and let nature take over. “Here you really live by the day; you can keep planning but something will always come up and you then learn to just go with the flow,” says Jof.
Additional photography by Oli Bayer and Jof Sering