Darci's Siargao Surf Trip

I'm getting ready for a trip to the Philippines next week - planning on going there for one week just to surf in a small island called Siargao - a very good place to surf, and famous for a popular surf spot called “Cloud 9”. Cloud 9 is a name you see very often in surf magazines and videos, and large corporate sponsors have organized many surf contests there over the past decade. If you like to surf faster waves - especially waves that "barrel", this is the place where you want to go. There are also many other different surf spots you can go visit around the island and most of the spots fit both long boarder and short boarder styles, even beginners can surf in many of these places. Even though I live on Hainan Island - a small island to the south of mainland China in the South Pacific where I often surf - I still can't wait to go visit Siargao to experience the people, culture, food, and of course - their great waves. Before I leave there are so many things I have to get done first, like getting a visa, planning my flights, and packing. I'm also planning a trip to Switzerland at the end of the month to visit and attend a tradeshow with one of my sponsors (Swatch), so I have to keep everything organized for two visa applications at once - and have to make sure I get my passport back in time for each trip. Actually, it’s very difficult for a Chinese person to get a European visa - especially for a girl. Europeans and Americans - they can go anywhere very easily, but for us we need to file so much paperwork. For my Swiss Visa, first I need to show them my bank savings information, you need have at least 50,000RMB (US$8,000) in your bank, and have to show six month of your income information. If you are a surfer without any money in your bank then you will never have chance to surf outside of China - also you need to have an invitation from someone in the country you are visiting, and documents to prove you have a job that is relevant to your travel. Those are just the most important documents - there are still stacks of additional documents I have to gather for my visa. My point is for us “Chinese surfers” it isn't easy to surf outside of China, we can’t just surf everyday and not work (well if you are not working then you have no cash) and even if we want to surf everyday we might not have waves everyday. Maybe this is one of the things that is holding Chinese back in this sport - and I am very fortunate to have a sponsor that helps pay for these trips. Certainly that's partly why I chose to go to the Philippines to surf and not Hawaii - getting a Visa to go to America is even more difficult. I am very grateful that I have this unique opportunity to see different countries, learn about different cultures, and ride some foreign waves to find out what’s the different about surfing in another country than China. I love to surf in China - this is my home country and it is where I learned how to surf - I would like to see more people come to my country to surf, just like how I want to surf in other countries. Even if we speak different languages and ride different waves, we still all love to surf and this sport gives us a great reason to travel and share amazing experiences together. In China surfing is a very new sport, and not many people know what surfing is or how to surf. China is huge and has a long coastline, but most surfers in China come to our small island in the South China Sea that provides warm water and good waves for surfing. Many Chinese people come from north China to Hainan Island because their cities are cold and rainy - often with bad air quality - they come here not because they want to come here to surf, but to vacation in a tropical environment. In addition to general fear of the ocean, many Chinese girls are also afraid of getting a tan - so most girls are weary of learning to surf. Traditionally in China, it is a sign of wealth and success to be a pale woman, since it means you do not work out in the fields - girls even buy beauty products with bleach in them to whiten their skin. I hope surfing and beach lifestyle can help show Chinese that tan skin is beautiful. Maybe Chinese beauty product brands could promote the beauty of darker skin as part of a marketing campaign around surfing, that might can be a good start! This is just one of the small examples why we don’t have many surfers in China, especially surfer girls. I moved to Hainan in 2007 and started to surf when I first got here. When I first moved here there were only three Chinese guys in the water - two of them were from Taiwan and only one guy from mainland China - I was the only girl. The rest of our small group of surfers were all foreigners living in China. In 2007 a California guy, Brendan Sheridan, opened one of the first surf shops in Sanya City on the southern tip of Hainan Island called "Surfing Hainan". The small shop provided surf board rentals and surf lessons and very quickly there were many Chinese tourist who started taking surf lessons with Surfing Hainan. Most of the new surf students were between 18 and 40 years old, and many had tried skateboarding and snowboarding before trying surfing. After 5 years surfing has been slowly growing in China, now Hainan has around 50 regular surfers and a few hundred people who have tried surfing but live on the mainland and only surf few times a years when they have holidays. There are probably around 500-1000 Chinese people who actually tried surfing once in their life (of course, these numbers are just my rough estimates). March 23rd - Finally, the day has arrived for me to leave for my trip - but the first thing I do is I miss my flight out of Sanya - I was supposed to fly to Shenzhen at 7:40am. I got up early, got down to my building at 6:15 to wait for a taxi at the busy intersection at the corner of my block. Taxis keep pulling up and asking me where I want to go - when I tell them I need a ride to the airport they shake their heads and say they are changing drivers and can't go that far right now (in China taxi drivers work 12 hour shifts and share their cab with one other driver in shifts, so from 5:30-6:30 in the morning and evening it can be almost impossible to get a cab out to the airport). After more than 40 minutes of waiting I decide to catch a bus to another part of town where there are more cabs - luckily I don't have to carry any surfboards with me since my friends have boards in the Philippians for me - still, when I finally get to the airport it’s already too late and my gate has closed. A trip that normally only takes about 30 minutes from my neighborhood of Dadonghai took about an hour and a half - next time I'll arrange a diver to pick me up ahead of time - it's only a little more expensive and well worth making my flight. Luckily, even if you do miss your flight there are still other options for getting to Hong Kong: you can either fly directly to Hong Kong, though it is much more expensive, or you can fly to Guangzhou and take a bus or train to Hong Kong, or you can take a bus from Guangzhou to Shenzhen and pass the boarder to Hong Kong at Lo Wu. I book a flight at the ticket desk at the airport for Guangzhou and will take a bus to Shenzhen, make my way to the boarder at Lo Wu, and then take the train from the boarder into Hong Kong. I will have three days stopover in Hong Kong - if you take a trip to the Philippines from China and fly through Hong Kong it's a good idea to stop for a day or two and stock up at a surf shop - in China it's not easy to find things like surf leashes, rash guards, Bikini’s, wax, and other surf essentials. After a day of shopping and a day trip out to Shek-O bay (no surf waves unfortunately), I take the high-speed "Airport Express" train out to the airport and catch a flight to Cebu via Manilla. There are only 4 flights a week that go from Cebu to Siargao and they leave in the morning - this makes it almost impossible to fly into Cebu and out to Siargao in the same day, so I have to stay one night in Cebu. I book a small hotel online near the airport called "Express Inn", a bargain at 22USD for the night - I'm not here to sightsee anyway - I just need a bed to crash in before my flight to Siargao the next morning. Even though I'm pretty tired from travelling for the past few days, I still have trouble falling asleep - I'm so excited to be in Siargao tomorrow! March 27th - I arrive in Siargao at noon, and my friend Julietta - an Argentinean girl who lived in Sanya for a couple years - picks me up in the airport with a local driver named "Dodong" (for anyone who ever needs him - his number is 09215111009). The drive from the airport to my friends vacation villas out on the coast takes about 45 minutes - I'm staying at The Greenhouse (www.greenhousesiargao.com) outside of General Luna about a mile down the road from Cloud 9. The ride costs around 300peso (US$7.25) per person one way. The Greenhouse sits right on a small beach overlooking a coral bay with 4 villas of various sizes that accommodate from 3-7 people. The whole place is run in a sort of a "family style", they have home-made meals and special dishes, with a private local housekeeper taking care of you during your stay. But all niceties aside, I came here to surf, and I can't wait to get changed into my bikini and hit some waves. After I unpack, we load up the small boat that's docked out in front of the Greenhouse and take a 45 minute boat ride out to a popular spot that breaks off a rocky atoll a mile or so offshore from Cloud9. The waves are ok - about chest high, not that big, but it’s still so fun to get in the water. In Siargao you have to take a boat ride to most of the surf spots. Hotels each have their own small 6-12 person outrigger-style boats and will provide rides out to the breaks for a small fee. The cost varies depending on where you go: the closest spot costs 100peso (US$2.50) and farther ones can be up to 350peso ($8.50). Also if there aren't any other surfers who want to go out at the same time then taking boat by your self can be more expensive. After a long surf session riding small but very clean, glassy waves, we come back to the Greenhouse for dinner. Nothing is better than a big hot dinner right after your tired from surfing - fresh tuna steaks with potato soup - yum! To top it off, once our meals settle, we have a massage on the beach under the full moon light. This is how a surf vacation should be - right? March 28th - I wake up at 6:30 in the morning - I lie on my bed trying to sleep more, but I can hear the sound from the birds and insects flying around - I feel immersed in nature - and I don't feel like going back to sleep. I get out of bed, go outside and have coffee and breakfast. Our boatman, "Aryung", always knows where the best place to surf will be depending on each day's conditions - and while he talks with some of the other fisherman about where we should go, I do a little exercise. Today I find a little patch of grass at the end of the breakwall facing the coral bay and do some yoga. I see a low-strung tightrope between two palm trees and will spend time honing my balance on it throughout the trip when there's time between surf sessions - it's always good to be improving your surfing, even when you're not actually in the water. The tide is down, so we wait until almost noon to venture out on the boat - we packed lunch into a cooler and with fruit, water, and a few beers. We head to a spot about 25 minutes by boat - the waves were bigger than yesterday, shoulder to head high with beautiful clean water and perfectly shaped waves. We surf about 3 hours for our first session and then head back to our boat for lunch and relax a little, then we get in the water for another hour and a half. I'm fortunate to have a photographer friend, "Vaughn", in the water taking pictures for the whole trip, so I can have some nice surf photos to bring home with me and share with my friends. He's a good surfer so he knows how to take good surf photos. It’s always nice to have some pics from your surf trips and Vaughn does a great job catching us in action on the water, (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and www.vaughnhillphoto.com). After each surf session the hardest decision of the day is whether to have dinner at the Greenhouse or to head outside to one of the popular restaurants in the neighborhood. Today we decide to go to a local friend’s house where we are served seafood BBQ and some local beer, and later we go to a bar call Buddha bar where they have an open mic every Thursday. Kareoke singing is very popular in China and I like to go to Kareoke bars with my friends in China, though it's a little different because in China groups of friends just rent private rooms and sing with each other - in the Philippines you sing in front of the whole bar and no lyrics on any screen. Still, we have a great time singing and hanging out with the locals. They also have some local drinks that are very good - I like the Rum & Lemonade - the rum is local rum call Tanduay - it’s a very nice tropical island drink; just make sure you don't drink it too fast! March 28th - April 2nd. I’m absolutely in love with the lifestyle here - each day I wake up early and breakfast is already on the table with coffee waiting for me. The first thing to figure out each day is where to go to surf, because there are so many surf spots nearby. If you wanted to you could surf at a different place every day - so far I already surfed in four different places, and checked some other spots that were not working. It's all a bit of luck and a bit of guessing, depending on the wind, swell, and tide you have to be willing to check a few places before you find the best place to surf on any day. During these four days the waves are kind of small but still totally surfable, locals on the island tell me the waves were about 3 meters high the week before - I guess I just missed the big swell, but still even the small waves are about to my chest high, and these are good waves for long boarding. Actually, the waves are very different than what I am used to in Hainan, even though these waves are small, since they come from the open ocean they break with much more power and speed than Hainan's soft waves - so it’s cool to be challenged with some different waves. In the water there are a lot of local surfers, and most of them are really good. There are usually about 10-20 people in the lineup, about half of them are Western travelers and the rest are locals: boatmen and their friends. There are a few girls in the lineup, and I make friends with a young 16 year-old surfer named " " - she competed in one of the corporate sponsored events held on the island earlier in the year. Watching her surf, I'm amazed by her style and she definitely deserves her place in the world-class surfing contests. It's nice to see such a young girl surfing with such ability and confidence, and I look forward to seeing young Chinese girls surf at this level in the future. Even just this small island of Siargao has many more local surfers than all of China, and they all surf much better than any Chinese. I hope that one day we will have more local surfers in our waters as well. In the evenings after surfing double and even triple sessions each day, we go out for a few drinks, and on a few nights there are local parties - seems like everyday there is an event in a different bar: board walk party, jungle disco, disco party, etc.. we just ask the surfers in water where to go in the evening and they'll know the hottest spot for that night - it's a great way to make friends with people you've already shared some waves with as well as a good way to meet people who can introduce you to other local surf spots. On Sunday we are asked if we want to go into town to watch a cock fight, they normally have a big cock fight every weekend and the show is open for the public to go watch and bet on the fights. I see the men going into town on their motor bikes with these beautiful roosters in wicker cages hanging off both sides of their bikes - but I'm not interested in seeing these animals kill each other (when our local friend called me to invite us I could hear the roosters squawking in the background) - still, it's an interesting event in this culture. Instead we take a day off from surfing to visit a natural swimming pool with harmless jellyfish inside of a cave, and take a visit to Taktak Falls - after so many endless waves and multiple surf sessions per day, I was pretty tired and sore, and a little sun-burned, so it was nice to have all this natural beauty nearby so we could have a rest from surfing and see some other interesting parts of the island. Compared to Sanya - where apartment buildings, hotels, yacht harbors, and golf resorts are being built at a very fast pace - Siargao is largely undeveloped and natural. I really hope we can still save some of Hainan's natural beauty for future generations of surfers - it is a resource that will be very hard to preserve the way things are developing right now. April 3 - My six day trip went so fast - I don’t feel like leaving, but I have to go back to life in Hainan and get back to work at the surf school/bar/cafe I own and manage on the beach in Dadonghai Bay ("Sanya Surf Circus" - www.sanyasurf.com). I guess it’s good to feel a bit of reluctance in having to leave, this way I'll make sure to come back again. I wake up and look out at the breaks in the distance - the waves are starting to get a little bit bigger and the forecast shows 2+ meter waves in the next two days. Oh well, I guess that will have to wait for the next trip, but nice to see some bigger surf before I head to the airport and board my flight to Guangzhou via Cebu and Manilla. It's a long day shuffling between airports, and my trip is still not over - I still have to fly to Beijing to meet with the Swiss embassy for a Visa interview. April 5th - By the time I get home to my apartment in Sanya it's almost midnight. My flight was delayed on the way back but so nice to get out of the cold in Beijing and back to warm weather in Sanya. As I think back on my trip I feel it was just a short trip but I had so much fun, got a lot of surf, and learned a lot of things about Siargao and met so many cool people there. I’m sure that I go back as soon as I can - as I go to bed I check Windfinder.com and see there is a small South swell with 1 meter waves in Dadonghai - seems my own local Chinese surf spot is welcoming me back, and I think of my friends in the Philippines maybe coming to visit me here in Hainan and catching some waves together sometime in the future.