“Siargao was then – Samar is now.” That’s the word on the sand from crew who haunt the east coast of the Philippines during typhoon season, seeking out some of the world’s best uncrowded tropical surfing conditions. These new waves are in the vicinity of southern Samar, hidden along the coast road from Guiuan up north to General MacArthur and Borongan, and on several offshore islands accessible by boat.
At the epicenter is Calicoan Island, a long and narrow extension of Samar jutting into the Pacific south of Guiuan. Not far from Homonhon and Suluan islands, where Ferdinand Magellan’s battered fleet first encountered land after their pioneering crossing of the vast Pacific Ocean, Calicoan is home to The Surf Camp, a posh resort that despite the name; is anything but a camp of the kind hard-core surfers are used to.
The development began with a series of land acquisitions in the early 1990’s by the Go family from Cebu, and the eventual construction of a family and friends collection of seafront cottages. With Kerwin Go being a surfer, and good waves directly in front of the property, the idea came about to enlarge the accommodations with several additional cottages and The Surf Camp was opened to the public in March 2006.
The nearby Guiuan area itself has a storied and colorful history, surprising for an obscure place many people in the Philippines have never heard of. After the arrival of the Conquistadors and Catholicism in 1521, more interesting people arrived in this area in the following centuries, some willingly and others not so – including Chinese merchants in the 1700’s, White Russian refugees fleeing civil war in the early 1900’s, and during WW2; a vast number of US Navy personnel who built a massive airstrip and huge supply depot in anticipation of the need for an invasion of the Japanese home islands to end the Pacific war. After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the resulting surrender of Japan, the base and supply depot were no longer necessary and were decommissioned, with the airstrip largely unused for more than 60 years. The area declined into decades of tropical torpor, with fishing and farming the main activities, with the lack of economic activity forcing many local people to migrate elsewhere to find jobs.
There are signs this torpor may be ending soon. There is a petition circulating in Manila to upgrade the airstrip, build a terminal facility, and open the airport for domestic flights. In addition to the Surf Camp; there is a New-Age yoga retreat under construction on Calicoan, and ground has been broken for a large hotel near the beachfront dedicated to the concept of “health tourism”, the idea that wealthy retirees from nearby countries like South Korea and Japan will come and stay at a hotel and in condominium units with onsite health care facilities at rates much less expensive than in their home countries.
As in many areas of the world, the development surge in the Guiuan area is being led by special-interest tourism, people dedicated to interests or activities unique to a particular area, like rock climbing or scuba diving. In this case, dedicated surfers who will do everything possible to find and surf the best waves – without crowds of their fellow expat surfers or territorial locals are coming to Guiuan and leading the way.
As one explained, “I used to go to Siargao, but they don’t call it “Crowd 9” for nothing” referring to the Philippine’s most famous wave near Tuason Point, home of the Siargao Cup event which has developed rapidly in the last decade. “It’s gotten bloody crowded there with expats and local surfers, and the drugs and seediness of the Aussie expat scene isn’t why I come to the Philippines. It’s much quieter here, there’s no party scene, and the waves are great – and still uncrowded”.
Typhoons are what make the waves on the east coast of the Philippines – moving through the Western Pacific Ocean and the Philippines Sea, bringing powerful groundswells the the east coast between April and November, alone with favourable offshore southwest “habagat” winds. The season usually starts slowly, and there can be no typhoons at all until well into July, with September the peak of the season. Catanduanes, Bicol, Northern Luzon, and the Batanes are the most exposed areas to the fury of a typhoon impact on land; and while the Guiuan area is far enough south to escape most storms, a direct hit is certainly possible – historically, it’s a matter of when, not if. Exercise extreme caution if an active storm is in the area, and monitor all available forecast sources. Some of the best are http://www.typhoon2000.ph and the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center at http://www.npmoc.navy.mil/jtwc.html. Typhoon 2000 offers mobile phone typhoon forecast updates in the Philippines on the Smart and Globe GSM networks.