by Nickie Wang
When our boat reached the islet called Naked Island I though I was in paradise. The clear turquoise waters were so calm and inviting. A full 360-degree view gave nothing but a scene of the waters kissing the blue sky while clouds of every imaginable form floated aimlessly.
I jumped off the boat we were riding for 20 minutes and marveled at Mother Nature’s spectacular canvass. No photograph can give justice to this wonder, I silently told myself.
And because of its seclusion anyone can actually go skinny-dipping without being bothered by ogling onlookers. I wanted to swim without my clothes on but I was with people whom I have only met for the fist time so totally dismissed the whole idea. Nonetheless I took a dip in the waters as if I’m my body was thirsty for it.
True to its name, Naked Island is an isolated 200 meter-long sand bar accessible by boat from General Luna, a municipality that boasts 27 km coastline of powdery white sand. It’s a piece of heaven and anyone would not mind staying there to swim and frolic in the sand with all the privacy he can get. But actually, Naked Island is just one of the stunning and mesmerizing gems in Siargao. Move around the island and see how this charming place can literally tame your psyche.
Small island with big waves
In ocean topography it says that an abrupt rise on the seafloor produces extremely large waves. This explains why the waves in Cloud 9, a surfing Shangri-La in the quaint municipality of General Luna in Siargao, are hailed among the toughest breaks in the world.
The east side of Siargao, where Cloud 9 lies, is precisely positioned 40 miles away from the Philippine Deep, the second deepest trench on earth. The waves break out of oceanic trench and focus the wave energy straight to the long and relatively straight coastline of the surfing ground. This unique location of Cloud 9 allows surfers to have long and perfect rides.
It was in the 1980 when the waves of Tuason Point (Cloud 9’s former name) were visited by surfers who were bound to a competition in Hawaii. According to Jaime Rusillon, the mayor of the fifth class municipality, these surfers visited the isolated and rugged part of the island. They asked permission if they could swim on the beach.
“They were carrying strange looking boards that according to them, will hone their muscles,” narrated the municipality official, “When they saw the waves they went directly to the beach and played with them. I thought these guys were crazy. They played with the waves that most people here were afraid of.”
The surfers were named Steve Jones and Tony Arroza, but Mayor Rusillion said that they were not the ones who really discovered the excellent waves in Siargao. There was this mysterious tourist by the name of Max Walker who settled in a solitary hut on the palm-fringed shores of Tuason Point in 1994. He didn’t do anything but to surf and rest in his small abode. He starved himself until he died on the 41st day of his fast.
When Max Walker died, the mayor discovered that the real name of the strange tourist was John Michael Boyum, who happened to be a trailblazer from California. Using the documents left in the small hut of Max Walker, the mayor tried his luck and used relevant information to locate the relatives of the surfer. He wrote a letter to them and received a response after four months.
“His younger brother came here the same way he did – he jumped off the jeepney barefooted and asked me if he could swim,” the mayor remembered, “ His brother was one of those who trailed his trek, and those who did reach Tuason Point spread the word about Siargao and its magnificent waves.”
Since then, Cloud 9 became a popular surfing hideaway among experienced surfers. Local and international competitions are held here from August to November every year when the winds are stronger and the waves are bigger.
Off to Siargao
Getting to Siargao is an adventure in itself. The trip is not for the fainthearted because one will experience a literal bumpy ride. Although the Department of Tourism is already eyeing a direct flight from Manila to Del Carmen (the lone airport on the island), for now, tourists would have to take an hour and a half plane ride from Manila to Surigao del Norte, then by a two-hour ferry ride from Surigao City Pier to Siargao’s main entry point, Dapa Municipality Pier.
From the jetty port, the traveler will experience another challenging one-hour rough ride going to Pilar and General Luna, where most accommodations can be found. But as most tourists and surfers who have been to the island say, all the hours travelling are worth it once you see the majestic scenery that the tear-shaped island can offer. Seeing a rainbow every now and then is just a bonus—passing and distant rains are notorious in the area.
Siargao is a tropical island in the Philippine Sea. It sits on the eastern tip of Surigao del Norte, making it one of two places in the Philippines to experience sunrise ahead of the other parts of the country (the other one is the Caraga Town in Davao.)
Due to the island’s location, the winds and currents coming from the Pacific Ocean continuously influence the rock formations on its coastline and on the surrounding coconut islets. Majority of the magnificent rock formations are located in Magpupungko, which is also a swimming den during low tide when the waters are washed out and several lagoons are revealed.
Half a billion peso has been invested for road networks, port enhancement and the other tourism infrastructure for Siargao since it became a popular surfing destination. According to Tourism Department former Secretary Alberto Lim, Siargao is one of DoT’s top priorities along with the other tourist destinations in Central Philippines. The island remains unspoiled by commercialism thus it attracts weekend backpackers who want to escape the busy life in the city. Lim said the province attracts around 39,000 visitors a year.
General Luna Mayor Jaime Rusillon told the author that the municipality is planning to have a biodiversity park. Currently being lobbied to the national government, the park aims to highlight the island’s exuberant flora and fauna. Del Carmen itself is home to a dense mangrove forest reserve, which is the second largest in the country.
The big fish
Locals in Siargao are well aware of the importance of the mangrove trees that abound the whole island. They know for a fact that mangrove forests serve as breeding ground for fish and other marine life. Local government is keen in educating its people about the significance of these reserves to their livelihood.
Apart from farming, fishing is the main livelihood in Siargao thus big fish like Wahoo and Billfish are no stranger to its people. In May, the island hosted the 4th Siargao International Gamefishing Tournament. The event was participated in by 73 foreign and local anglers and gamefishing enthusiast from 16 different countries. The biggest catch was a billfish that weighed around 32 kilograms.
Switzerland’s Rolf Trachler won the P50,000 first prize in the Main Division —Biggest Billfish Category, Philippines’ Voltaire Esparago, a native Surigaonon, got P30,000 second prize and Joseph Lee settled for P10,000 third prize.