[PH Travel] Surfing with the surfer girls

Elaine Abonal

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Surfer shares her fondness for the surf paradise known as Siargao Island

BEST BARREL RIDE WINNER. The author with La Union's Daisy Valdez at the Roxy Siargao International Comp. Photo from Elaine Abonal

MANILA, Philippines – Surfing is usually thought of as a macho sport and, in some countries, women are discouraged from going to or unwelcome in areas with big waves.

Not in the Philippines. Every year, more and more women — young, old, students, professionals, single or married — are getting on their own surfboards and learning how to surf.

In Siargao island, women surfers don’t just exist; they dominate.

BEAUTIFUL TROPICAL SETTING. Surfing in clear blue water is one of the best experiences a surfer can ever get! Photo from Elaine Abonal

Last May 1-4, I was able to witness and be part of the Roxy Siargao International Surfing Cup in Cloud 9, Siargao island. The government of Surigao holds a competition for women surfers every year and this was the first one sponsored by the very famous international surf brand, Roxy.

It was an exciting event where women surfers from the Philippines and other parts of the world — Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Germany — competed against each other in the famous world-class Cloud 9 break of General Luna, Siargao.

Surfer’s paradise

Siargao island is a surfer’s paradise.

'HABAL-HABAL' OR MOTORCYCLE is the main mode of transport in Siargao. Photo shows the author with Billabong pro surfer Luke Landrigan. Photo from Elaine Abonal

Everywhere around the island and throughout the year, waves can be found for surfers of different skill levels — be they big, barrelling waves for the more advanced surfers or gentler, smaller waves for people who are trying it for the first time.

The island is located next to the Pacific Ocean so the whole idyllic idea of living in a tropical heaven is the best way to describe the place: crystal clear water while surfing (where you can see the sharp and dangerous reef underneath, I might add), millions of coconut trees everywhere, friendly bronzed locals who smile and welcome respectful and curious strangers, fresh fish and fruits to eat, and the feeling that life really just needs to be simple to be beautiful. 

TRULY A SURFER'S PARADISE. 'I would love to go back to Siargao as often as I possibly can!' Photo from Elaine Abonal

Changes are bound to happen in Siargao, some welcome and some possibly not. Roads are now being built for easier access and movement around the island, which will also lead to more resorts, more restaurants, and more tourists.

This is good for local tourism and economy but this change will also need more proper hospitals, clinics and schools for the locals and tourists; structures that do not yet exist on the island. 

Surfer girls

WAITING FOR THE SURFBOARDS. Arriving at the Siargao airport with Australian Roxy pro surfer Philippa Anderson. Photo from Elaine Abonal

The Roxy Siargao International Surfing Cup in Cloud 9 was my first women’s surf competition to watch; it was exciting to be amidst of it all — witnessing these strong, fearless females conquer the perfect barrelling waves of Cloud 9, meeting amazing and interesting people from all over the world, surfing in crystal clear water, experiencing unspoilt island life and learning more about the Philippines and myself.

What I learned and something that is still unknown to people who live in the Philippines and other parts of the world is that there is so much talent and potential among the Filipino surfers — both men and women.

SURFING CHAMP. Nilve Blancada as she finished her ride during the Finals. Her smile shows that she knew she was the champion of the Roxy Siargao International Comp! Photo from Elaine Abonal

These surfers are made and meant to compete, but most of the time they are unable to fund their own travels to attend competitions that are outside of their home break. It was interesting for me to listen to different stories about how some of the girls made it all the way to Siargao; some by donation and some by last-minute sponsorships.

Every surfer wants to be sponsored of course, but I hope that — after this competition and in the years to come — those who work hard and deserve it will be given the chance to showcase their talents in other parts of the country and even abroad. The Roxy event was a good chance for some of the surfer girls to showcase their skills and show everyone what Filipinos are capable and made of.

EVENT COMMENTATORS. With Gerry Degan, friend and owner of Sagana Resort located in front of Cloud Nine. Photo from Elaine Abonal

I also noticed that the difference between women surf competitions and male surf competitions is that women tend to be less competitive, at least out of the water, and root and cheer for each other. It was one big party for everyone; a week of nothing but good surfer girl vibes. Everyone was happy to be there.

Home away from home

For me, going to Siargao already feels like going home. The friends that I’ve made, the spots I’ve become familiar with, the restaurants and resorts I’ve frequented have all been etched in my brain and heart. They make me proud to be Filipino.

TAKING A BREAK. With fellow surfers Anni (from Thailand - half Australian), Michaela (American who lives in Bali), Kage (fellow Filipino surfer, writer and photographer) and Philippa (Australian pro surfer). Photo from Elaine Abonal

Surfing every chance that I got in that beautiful island made me improve my surfing (although I am far from being a pro surfer) and if at all possible, gave me a deeper love for the surf lifestyle and for the beauty of the Philippines. 

I can’t wait to go back and I hope you — surfer boy, surfer girl or surf enthusiast — can someday call this island a little bit of your home too. – Rappler.com


(Elaine Abonal is the founder and owner of Surfista Travels Philippines. Visit their website or their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter: @SurfistaTravels. 

PH Travel is the home of wanderlusts constantly discovering the beauty of the Philippines through a shared love for recreation, food, sports, shopping, traveling, or the environment. This is where communities come together to share their stories and adventures — whether they’re into surfing, diving, yoga, mountaineering, hiking, rock-climbing, sailing, eating, cooking, responsible tourism. You name it, you can share it. Send us your stories, photos, and videos with subject heading PH TRAVEL to desk@rappler.com.)

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