Quick: What country has over 7000 islands, many of which face into multiple swell directions and boast quality setups ranging from perfectly symmetrical reef passes to coastlines rife with river mouths? Here’s a hint: its best-known wave is named after a candy bar.
It’s been more than two decades since the perfect righthand barrels of Cloud 9 were seared into our collective consciousness, and the Philippines’ popularity as a travel destination has waxed and waned since that time. Each time a new perfect wave is discovered, the hype machine goes into overdrive, but at the end of the day, difficulty of access and the inconsistency of a typhoon-fed swell window has kept this group of islands from turning into the next Indo. Still, for those with a little patience and the urge to explore, the Philippines might have more potential for discovery than anywhere else on the planet.
The Surf: Ranging from slabbing barrels over coral reef to endless rivermouth points, the only thing that is consistent here is the inconsistency. The Philippines can go flat for weeks (and even months) at a time, but when a Pacific typhoon or a South China Sea system lights up the nearly infinite setups on offer, the region becomes an intermediate to advanced destination.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Cloud 9: The original Philippine dream, this is a short, intense righthand barrel breaking over shallow reef on the island of Siargao. Crowds are always at a maximum now that the wave hosts a pro surfing event each year. (An interesting bit of history—this is also where itinerant surf explorer and infamous drug runner Mike Boyum starved to death after performing a ritualistic 40-day fast/cleanse.)
- Majestics: A relatively new addition to the Philippines’ collection of crown jewels, Majestics is another perfect righthand reef barrel that more than lives up to its name.
- Tuesday Rock: Possessing one of the most picturesque backdrops in surfing, Tuesday Rock is a long, wrapping righthand reef breaking off of an offshore island near Cloud 9. The wave can handle size, so the bigger the swell is, the better.
- San Juan: A user-friendly righthand point break in Luzon, San Juan is one of the more popular waves in the Philippines and can be a bit crowded at times.
- Unlimited Gems Waiting to Be Discovered: The Philippines’ potential has only begun to be tapped. With swells from the N, E and W (during the South China Sea monsoon season) and over 7000 islands, legitimate discoveries will be made here for decades to come.
The Water: Away from developed areas, the water is about as clean as it gets—and warm too. Average water temps hover around 85 F (29 C).
The Season: Typhoon season in the Western Pacific and Philippine Sea stretches from July through October. Then from November through March there is potential for small surf on the E side of the country from North Pacific Swells, and inconsistent short interval waves on the W side from storms in the South China Sea. April through June is the least consistent time of year.
The Vibe: Top spots (like Cloud 9) can get ultra crowded, and there are regions of the country where travel is inadvisable due to the threat of terrorism. For the most part, however, the surf in the Philippines is relatively empty and the vibe one of mutual goodwill.
Things To Do: Outside of the surf, the Philippines houses abundant natural beauty, with great potential for sailing, paddling, diving and mountain/rain forest hiking. But if you are planning to get off the beaten path, make sure to go with a guide, as certain areas are (to put it nicely) less safe than others.
Where To Stay: Between surf camps, hostels, home stays and old school self-sufficient camping, budget options are plentiful. High-end accommodations are starting to pop up as well.
What To Bring: A shortboard and a step-up for solid barrels. Surf accessories, as shops are few and far between. Quality sun protection, and booties and a helmet if you have them. A mosquito net. Finally, bring a couple of books and a healthy dose of patience—unless you are chasing a typhoon, you can expect a lot of downtime between swells.
Getting There: Manila is a major international airport that fields flights from virtually everywhere. Ticket prices range from around $1000 RT from the US and Europe to $500 RT from Australia on budget airline Air Asia (routing through Kuala Lumpur). Tourist visas available upon arrival. Airport code: MNL.