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On Cloud 9

Discover the surf in Siargao.

“Will I be able to stand within an hour?”

I had been asking myself the same question over and over again months before I even set foot in Siargao, the “Surfing Capital of the Philippines.”

Surfing wasn’t really a childhood dream, but it was definitely something I would want to do every day if I could. Because I’ve always been so fond of the ocean, I knew there was no way I’d let myself die without ticking it off my bucket list.

Making the trip

My first experience with surfing was in 2016: I still remember it ever so vividly. Most of my friends at the time hadn’t yet gone to the island itself or tried surfing. That year, flights were still cheap, so my colleagues and I decided to take a break to visit Siargao.

Two months before our mini-vacation, we realized that we booked our tickets just in time for the annual international surfing competition, the Siargao Surfing Cup. We were upset at first because we thought it would lessen the chances of us being able to surf. The good news was that it didn’t, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Learning how to surf is 60% ungraceful wipe-outs in the first 20 minutes.

As we were about to land on the first day of our trip, all we saw were coconut trees—we knew right then that we were up for an epic tropical getaway. When we got to General Luna, the signal was so bad, too. Perfect, I thought to myself: no one’s going to bother us here, especially about work. It was social media detox at its finest.

The next day, we woke up so early to start island-hopping. We didn’t know it would only take one morning; we thought we would need the whole day for it. To our delight, we finished early and still had the afternoon free. We decided to take a ‘habal-habal’ (a motorcycle with a roof, one of the primary means of transportation on the island) to go all the way to Cloud 9, a popular surfing spot in Siargao.

Arriving at Cloud 9

When we arrived, local surfing instructors flocked to us, took care of our valuables, and quickly had us pick our boards. They only charged PhP500 per head, inclusive of the board rental and training with the instructors. I was shocked by how affordable it was.

After we settled in and picked our boards, they brought us to the shore for a five-minute briefing. In my head, I was like, “Is that it? Will I actually remember that?” To get to the surfing area after, we had to pass through the boardwalk at Cloud 9 and go down from there since it was shallow. My friends and I were carrying our boards all the way to the tip of the boardwalk, and we were really feeling it.

It was sunny as we neared the water: the kind of sunny that reminds you of afternoons spent playing outside, back when you were 7. The water was glistening, and so clear that you could see the rocks underneath—and man were they rough! As soon as I got down from the stairs, I already scratched my foot, so I decided to ride the board instead and paddle behind my instructor.

The waves were big that day, but the sea wasn’t as rough as I expected. It was like Poseidon was supportive of our surfing goals.

And then that annoying question popped into my head again. “Will I be able to stand within an hour?”

I needed assurance, so I asked my instructor if I’d be able to learn how to properly stand on the surfboard and surf in an hour. He confidently told me that if I still couldn’t stand up within that period, he wouldn’t charge me the PhP500 anymore.

From that moment on, I knew that I was going to be able to stand up on that board.

Hitting the surf

Learning how to surf is 60% ungraceful wipe-outs in the first 20 minutes.

If you want to be able to stand up right away, you have to do it without hesitation. Do not let fear take away your will to learn. Do not let it stop you. You also have to really listen to your instructor to avoid accidents. There are a handful of you in the vicinity trying to learn how to surf, so when it isn’t your turn to surf, don’t try, or another beginner will end up hitting you in the face.

The instructors assisted us at first, by pushing the boards so we could ride the momentum of the wave during the initial half of our time. Within the hour I was able to catch my own wave a couple of times without my board being pushed by my instructor. It was so fulfilling! It felt like I was one with the ocean. It made me think, in that brief moment, that I could do anything my heart desired.

Here’s what happens the first time you catch a wave by yourself: You feel the salty breeze despite the scorching heat, your adrenaline kicks in, and you begin to see things in a whole new light. In that brief moment, you appreciate everything around you.

Respecting the wave

Paddling back was the most immensely taxing part of the whole experience, especially because the shore is quite far from the actual area where you can surf. It’s time consuming, plus you don’t want to waste it by being sluggish.

We chose to extend our session to two hours since we didn’t want to get out of the water. I ended up with cuts and bruises after that first surfing lesson, but they didn’t really bother me. Wounds were always part of the game, and it’s important to expect that when you have athletic pursuits.

After everything, we wrapped up the day with meals at Shaka, a quaint cafe that serves Instagram-worthy power bowls, smoothies, and cold-pressed juices. It was right in front of the place where we rented our surfboards.

We went surfing again the next day, and the waves were way stronger by then. We still did it, though. Surfing was, if I hadn’t made it clear already, very addictive.

Being in Siargao made me understand why some people migrate there and start their lives over. I was extremely happy that I was able to surf that early in my life.