I didn’t even know there was surf here in the Philippines. For some reason, I always pictured Cloud 9 in Indonesia or Fiji for some reason. But once I started looking into it, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was about to be. In lieu of a riding trip in Dumaguete, we would instead travel to the illustrious island of Siargao, home of the world famous, Cloud 9, and countless other world class breaks.
After a week of riding and racing, I was eager to unwind on a tropical white sand beach. Getting there, on the other hand, would prove to be only half the journey. Ian, Epos, Dave, Ed, and myself would all take an overnight ferry out of Cebu over to Surigao. Then another shorter ferry over to our final island where we would stay for five nights in hammocks on the beach. We set out, running late from Cebu city proper, in rush hour traffic on scooter taxis. Racing across town to barely make our first ferry.
My first official overnight ferry would be an eye opening experience for me. We boarded a massive metal ship in the dark alongside a sea of other travelers. I was astonished to find rows upon rows of bunks. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I had never boarded an overnight ferry before. To my surprise, every single bed was already inhabited by someone and their luggage. The scene resembled a mini shanty town, after being ravished by a natural disaster of sorts. Boxes and belongings were strewn and packed near every open space. In lamest terms, the boat was absolutely packed.
We had a solution. Epos makes custom hammocks with a four point contact system which allows it to be set up almost anywhere. They also zip shut like a cocoon to seal out any insects or snoopy ferry passengers. We set up our hammocks near the back corners of the ship and zipped up for most of the first leg of the journey. We woke in the morning to step off the ship onto Surigao, greeted by the morning heat and sun. We grabbed some quick breakfast and jumped onto another smaller boat which would snake between more islands and dump us on Siargao.
Once on Siargao we regrouped, and with the midday heat and sun bearing down on us, we piled all of our boards and luggage onto a tiny motorcycle taxi and headed off. We would rent 2 separate scooters between the five us, both equipped with board racks. We took our scooters across the island to where we would settle in for a few days. Our final destination was a beautiful, newly built surf house owned by an amazing married couple, Mark and Angel. After a quick surf in the warmest ocean water I’ve ever experienced, we set up our hammocks within the sturdy palm trees surrounding the property.
The surf was small when we arrived, and stayed that way for the first few days. But on Sunday, after a quick rain, Angel told me the conditions were lining up and that the offshore reef pass, directly out front of the house, would start firing. I believed her, and after borrowing Mark’s brand new 5’7″ fish, I started out on the 3/4 mile paddle. After thirty minutes of paddling, I was relieved to find myself in the middle of the lineup with huge, overhead sets trucking through, and only 3 other Australian surfers out. The vibe was cordial and we traded solid waves for twenty minutes. My stoke level was at an all time high as I stroked into another right hand bomb, pumped down the line to hit a massive cut back before tearing off into the channel in disbelief.
Before long, boats began to show and park in the deep water channel. Soon, the water was alive with Portuguese and Tagalog being screamed across the break between locals and Brazilians alike. Over thirty surfers appeared in an instant, and my original Aussies and I agreed our session was over. I started my daunting paddle back towards the distant shoreline, muscles aching from hours and hours at sea. My stoke was at an all time high, and as I started into shallow water, the bottom became visible. Puffer fish and sea snakes raced across the ocean floor underneath me an I was soon standing on white sand once again. The most unreal session of my life had just come to a close, and I couldn’t have been happier. I made all my waves and got a taste of what surf travel was.
The rest of the guys would trade waves on longboards nearer to shore on the inside break. They could be seen from shore walking on water in the distance. We would all trade off with time on the stand up paddle boards, something I’ve always wanted to try. I had never used any board over a 6’4″ and I found it monstrous having that much foam under me. After a long, amazing day spent surfing, we would all retreat to the comfort of our hammocks underneath the starry night sky. I looked up into the coconuts growing 60 feet directly above my head and thought to myself, it honestly wouldn’t be the worst way to die (Ian told me 300 people a year die from falling coconuts).
After a week of trading waves and saying hello to friends on different sides of the island, it was time to say goodbye and start our pilgrimage back to Cebu. We would find our main ferry back overbooked and would be forced to stay the night at a friends house in Butuan, a city rich in culture. The following day was spent being “tourists”. Visiting the cities local artifact museums. We scoured the area, hiked across a cable bridge, and ate yet even more amazing pork and rice.
A week had passed since I had a proper shower. I was salty, and grimy. Sore from sleeping on the floor, and absolutely massacred from mosquitos. I was craving a bed and a shave, but I found a toughness I didn’t know I had. I looked at my group in absolute respect. They embodied what toughness truly was. They didn’t stop, nor complain about anything the entire trip. They all welcomed each day with a childish euphemism I found refreshing. Through our travels, we slept when we could, we split costs every time, and we looked after one another. I thought to myself, this is what traveling is. A group of likeminded people, from different sides of the world, enjoying the simple pleasures and hardships of adventure.
Our last ferry would drop us all off in the early daylight hours of the morning. We said our goodbyes and we each were dropped off at our respected homes. I checked back in to my hotel and spent the next 2 days recovering with a deep chest cold. The cold would aggravate my normally dormant asthma, and cause me to stumble down the street at 2 am desperate for breath. $13 later, I had a brand new inhaler, and enough all natural cold medication to conquer my debilitating symptoms. I walked out of the 24 hour pharmacy a new man. Inhalers are no longer available over the counter in the U.S., and a prescription has cost me upwards of $300 back home, so I enjoy it when medication is cheap and readily available, especially when I can’t breathe at 2 am.
I woke up the next morning groggy but relieved. The old part of me relishing the pillow top mattress and down comforter. The new part of me missing the hammock and the stars. People talk about traveling, but I never felt like it applied to me. I picture backpacking across the mountains of Nepal, or trekking through a village in India to describe traveling, but the trip to Siargao was my real taste of gritty, backpacker style travel, and it was good. Completely disconnected. No computers, no phones (well mostly), and relying on pure luck and instinct to span the distance. These guys became my brothers. We ate every meal together, we laughed together, and we managed hundreds of miles together.
The trip struck a cord in me, letting me know, I can get by with less. There was a night I was so happy to sleep on a hard wood floor with a 2 inch pad, using my back pack as a pillow. It was good to find that quality in myself. Ian, Epos, Ed and Dave are tough, rugged, caring, and overall awesome friends and I will look back on this trip as one of the best things I’ve ever done.