Surfing in the most beautiful island in the world, aka Palawan
It’s hard to get bored in a place like El Nido, where every gaze promises to take your breath in some way. If beauty was ever an understatement, this would be the place. The town, approximately six hours from Puerto Princesa via RoRo Bus or hired van, is a backpacking dream destination with its nearby pristine beaches, caves, and the karst limestone rocks surrounding most parts of the town.
El Nido is indeed the place for new experiences; CNNGo wouldn’t call it the “best beach” in the country for nothing, or it won’t be dubbed as the “Philippines’ last frontier” if no adventure is set to happen. Heck, Palawan was named “The most beautiful island in the world,” with words like perfection and paradise routinely thrown about.
A day in El Nido almost means a majestic escape, whether it is spent on the town beach chilling or kayaking, visiting the restaurants and bars, or walking on the countryside to explore the neighboring beaches. Despite the rotational brown outs (that’s actually unnoticeable) there’s quite the handful of activities, but one thing that tourists never thought they’d do in El Nido is go surfing.
El Nido has more than 100 white sand beaches, and as surprising as it is, some of these beaches have huge waves to ride on. As far as tourists coming from Manila and different parts of the world are concerned, El Nido is far from being a surfing destination.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
In El Nido, the tours are separated in types A, B, C, D, and E, depending on the routes the boats take. Touring, diving, and island hopping are the main activities that visitors go for, and it’s also a great way to meet travelers from different parts of the globe.
In one tour, a Spaniard, upon stepping foot in Matinloc Shrine (an abandoned church surrounded by calm aquamarine waters and huge limestone formations), said that if only all churches looked like this, more people would go to church. “I will pray for everything!” he exclaimed. A Chilean girl named “Macarena,” said she danced the previous night away with her friends and saw a giant pawikan the next day.
When a local hinted the possibility of surf in the island on the night we arrived, we had to find the “one and only surfer in town.” No other person rents out surfboards in El Nido aside from this guy, and we had to meet him to confirm the stories passed around by locals who all mentioned the existence of surf in town. We headed over to Pukka Bar, the popular night spot where he frequents without expecting much. But in a stroke (or should I say stoke) of luck, this guy also happens to play live reggae music in the bar, and we caught him after his set.
Mike Hular, the 29-year-old lone surfer from El Nido town, said that the waves in Palawan are bigger from October to February and those who seek them don’t have to go far from town. “Solo kong nilalaro ‘to brah,” said Hular, referring to a break near the town beach. When asked about his plans of putting up a surf school in El Nido, he said that his main concern is the expense of buying and transporting boards to the island. Aside from music, Hular is focused on his small board-renting business. Hular’s rates are standard: Php 400 for half day, 800 for whole day. On some occasions, he’ll go surfing with his clients and take them to secret spots.
Surf’s up in paradise
Hular’s Facebook page, Surf El Nido, shows some of the waves in a couple of surf spots during surf season. With less than 180 likes, it goes to show how small El Nido’s surfing community is.
If there was ever a “surf scene” in El Nido, it’s comprised of all the bones in Hular’s body. He says he’s the only one who treats surfing as a lifestyle in town and true enough, there’s a spot named after him. Mike’s Point, dubbed by the locals, is 30 to 40 minute walk from the El Nido town beach, with right and left hand shoulder-high waves that go in by October. The reef break has a picturesque backdrop of nearby Cadlao Island. Another spot is Calaan Beach (also a 30-minute walk from the town beach), where Hular usually surfs. He described the waves as chest to head high reef breaks that form an A-frame wave. Hular added that around October to January, the waves in Calaan hold their size as they gradually peel on the reef break, giving enough push to anyone who rides it. Privacy is one of the main assets of this beach; it’s already a crowd if there are more than three surfers paddling out.
Aside from Mike’s point and Calaan, there’s Nacpan and Duli. Nacpan Beach in Sitio Calitang (17 km from El Nido Town, 40 minute tricycle ride) is the unsullied tropical utopia where Hular takes his friends to go surfing. Palm trees surround 40 meters of fine creamy white sand forming a cove. The other side of the island is a picturesque, #nofilter-worthy view of a cliff and crashing waves with sharp earth hues against the other side’s white and blue.
Though a little pricey and aiming at the tourist market, food and drinks are also available in beach front pop-up stores. There’s an option of renting out a motorcycle for Php 700 a day, in case the tricycle option from El Nido town (Php1,000 to 1,500) seems pricey.
Duli Beach, situated in Barangay Bucana (90 to 100 minutes away from El Nido town), is a surfer’s paradise waiting to happen. Hular and another surfer we met in Nacpan, Felix, swear by the waves that can offer stoke to those who brave the bumpy road going to the place. It’s more remote compared to Nacpan, but you better bet your money that you’ll be the only ones there to enjoy the waves. Locals say that the boats don’t usually reach Duli because of the waves, thus the rocky road being the key path going to the beach.
Surfing in El Nido used to be an illusion, something that’s just an idea until you see it with your own eyes. Thanks to Hular’s efforts, surfing is another appealing reason to visit El Nido.
Are you thirsty for the feeling yet?
Some tips to remember when aiming to surf in Mike’s Point, Calaan, Nacpan and Duli:
Book a flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan (surf season on the island starts October to January, so watch out for those ‘Piso fares’).
From Puerto Princesa airport, travel to El Nido town. There are two options to reach El Nido from the airport:
Via hired vans that travel to El Nido in intervals of one hour to 90 minutes (Php600 to 700 per person) with 5 hours expected travel time.
Via the RoRo bus (Php550) at the San Jose terminal (Php 100 tricycle ride from the airport) for approximately 6 hours. To view RoRo bus schedules, click here.
Though it’s always safe to book lodging around El Nido before leaving Manila, there are lots of backpacker hostels and rooms that go as low as 400 to 500, or as high as 2,000 to 5,000 per night depending on the standards you choose. A gut feeling says if someone’s going to El Nido to surf, some posh hotel won’t be necessary. The cozy beachfront location of Mezzanine El Nido in Sirena St. doubles as an inn, with Asian style cement-washed rooms for Php600 per night. Their Italian menu offers some of the best pizza and homemade pasta in town, and the view from the restaurant is a pleasant thing to wake up to. Camping is also an option in Nacpan and Duli beaches.
From El Nido town, contact Mike Hular of Surf El Nido (0915 344 4148) or catch his reggae set in Pukka Bar every night so you can reserve surf boards (if you’re not bringing one) for your session. He will also hook you up with the best deals for the tricycle rides going to Nacpan and Duli. You can ask him directions going to Cadlao and his very own Mike’s Point.
After a surf session, grab a filling serving of Falafel Burgers at Blue Azul or enjoy a few drinks at Jova Moon Bar in Calle Real to enjoy live DJ sets ranging from downtempo, lo-fi, house, trap, hip hop, jazz, and fusion. Jova Moon sells beer for Php 50 all night, and is the only air-conditioned bar in the area.
Don’t have the time to take a trip to Palawan? Check out these beaches near Manila instead!
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