Philippines · travel guide

A Backpacker’s Guide to the Complete Baler Surf Experience

Destination: Baler, Aurora
Objective: learn how to surf in four days

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Planning and Budgeting for Your Surf Trip

Travel & Transportation

The bus from Cubao to Baler and back is 650 pesos each way if you take the Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe. It’s a faster and more comfortable trip than the regular air-conditioned Genesis buses and doesn’t cost much more.

Bus schedule:
Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe leaves Cubao at 1:00 AM and arrives in Baler around 6:00 AM
Deluxe buses also leave at 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30 AM, with another Semi-Deluxe at 3:30 AM. The Deluxe bus costs 730 pesos, while the Semi-Deluxe is only 650.

Two Semi-Deluxe buses leave Baler bound for Cubao, one at 4:00 AM and one at noon. Three Deluxe buses are scheduled at 1:00, 2:00, and 3:30 PM.

When you arrive in Cubao depends on traffic; in my case, I left on the noon bus and got to Cubao after 6:00 PM, meaning the trip back was a good hour longer than the night-ride to Baler.

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From the bus terminal in Baler, a trike to the Sabang Beach area will only cost you 15 pesos.

Accommodations

If you’re looking for something simple but nice, affordable and still close to the beach, I highly recommend Go Surfari House on T. Molina Street. You can book in advance on Airbnb for about 500 pesos per night. You’ll get a bed with a fan in a shared room and a tasty breakfast.

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I’ve been going for an omelet with pandesals, which they get fresh every morning from a bakery across the street and I have to agree with everyone else in this town and say these may very well be the best pandesals I’ve had in my eight pandesal-eating years in the Philippines.

Other breakfast options include tapsilog, longsilog, and bangsilog–a silog for everyone

The guest house is clean and cozy, with a few rooms and one bathroom upstairs and downstairs, a comfortable lounge, a workspace/dining area, a small kitchen, and a bit of a backyard where you can hang out and hang up your wet swimming gear.

Initially, I booked three nights here via Airbnb and with the booking and cleaning fee it cost me just under 2k. Later I decided to stay one more night so I could catch the first day of the Aliya Wahine Cup, for which the host instructed me to simply pay the housekeeper an additional 500 pesos.

I should mention that when a group of guests decides to hold a little house party it can get a little noisy.

One evening, sometime after midnight, I asked the host if there was a cut-off time when guests are supposed to keep quiet and while that didn’t seem to be the case, she did offer to move me to a quieter room farther from the noise.

I passed because I didn’t feel like moving all my stuff in the middle of the night; however, I can draw the conclusion that, while the accommodations may not be perfect, the hosts are perfectly accommodating.

Surfing Budget

The next item in your budget is, of course, surfing lessons and board rentals. From GoSurfari, it’s a five-minute walk to the beach and the nearest surf school is at Nalu Surf Camp.

While there are countless spots along the beach where you can take lessons and rent a board, I chose Nalu for two reasons: firstly, they have lockers for your valuables. Secondly, the going rate for a one-hour surf lesson is 350 pesos but at Nalu, you get a free beer and photo op with that.

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That’s a done deal.

In my case, I took two one-hour lessons before renting a board to try surfing on my own. Board rentals are 200 pesos per hour, 400 for a half day (from 7AM to noon or noon to 5PM/sunset), and 800 for the whole day.

My surfing budget was as follows:

  • Day 1: 350 pesos for one lesson
  • Day 2: 350 pesos for one lesson, plus 400 pesos for half-day board rental
  • Day 3: 400 pesos for half-day board rental
  • Day 4: 400 pesos for half-day board rental

That’s an average of fewer than 500 pesos per day and with that, I got in a good 16 hours on the waves.

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Food & Beverages

Since breakfast and (instant) coffee are included if you stay at Go Surfari, you only need to budget lunch, dinner, beer, and snacks.

You can sit down for a good meal for 100 to 200 pesos at Maple Inn Seafood Restaurant, which is right before Nalu Surf Camp on your way to the beach.

Alternatively, you can get those delicious pandesals at 2 pesos a piece, or other tasty pastries at Dialyn’s Bake Shop (also on the way to the beach). Moreover, Dialyn’s has the best-brewed coffee for on 45 pesos.

Another nice spot to eat is the Hungry Surfer, which is a little out of the way but easy to get to if you follow the signs. You’ll spend more like 200 to 300 pesos on a single meal here but they do feature some of the best wifi around.

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At most restaurants and bars, you’ll pay 50 pesos for a beer, while you can get them at a sari-sari store for 30 to 37 pesos a bottle. A bag of chips might cost you 12 pesos and you can get some tasty mani (roasted peanuts) for just a couple of pesos as well.

Altogether, you can get some nice food, tasty snacks, and a couple of cold ones for about 500 pesos a day.

Budget Summary
  • PHP 1,300 Joy Bus Semi-Deluxe, round trip
  • PHP 500 per night at GoSurfari House
  • PHP <500 per day for surfing (average)
  • PHP <500 per day for food and drinks (average)

Note: 500 pesos is about $10.

Stay for two days and one night, the trip will cost 3,800 pesos; stay for five days and four nights, as I did, and we’re talking 7,000-8,000. That’s about $150 for a five-day surfing trip–not bad.

The Surfing Experience

Learning to surf

Well, for starters, take a lesson. That’ll get you going with the basics but after that, you’ve got to rent a board and head out on your own to learn from the waves and from the local surfers.

Watch and learn, my friend.

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When you take your 350-peso one-hour surfing lesson, the instructor will make everything superbly easy: you simply lie on your board, he pushes you out to a good spot, watches the waves for you, gives you a push when the right one comes along, and tells you when to stand up.

All you need to do is perfect your getup and stay on the board.

When you go out on your own, for one, you’ll have to learn how to get through the waves without being tossed about and pushed two steps back for every one you take forward.

My advice: watch how the other surfers do it. When it’s a small wave, paddle into it and coast over with your board. When it’s big, turtle–as in, flip your board upside-down with you under it. I do recommend caution when trying this, especially with regards to the board and your face.

Once you reach a good spot to start catching the waves, you have to face out at least somewhat in order to watch them and turn around fast enough to catch one. Once again, watch the surfers and do as they do: use both arms to paddle in an s-shape–one moving down and one moving up–to turn faster.

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What I did, after a few hours of trying to figure things out all on my own was paddle near-ish to surfers who looked like they knew what they were doing.

I would watch them watch the waves, see which ones they caught and how they caught them, and try to imitate. That worked alright for me.

When I ended up in the area where I had taken my lessons, the instructors would yell at me to paddle harder when they saw me not quite getting the waves.

On my third day, I met a chill dude with dreads who let me tag along with him and his crew and took me to some nice waves.

On my fourth and final day on the waves, I met a group of local surfer boys down on the other side of the beach. They not only helped me catch my last good rides after what had been a tough day at sea for me but later, over beers and 2-by-2 while watching the sun set over the beach, they taught me some great Tagalog (Filipino) surfing lingo.

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Essential Tagalog Surfing Phrasebook
  • Lusong! – when you see a beautiful wave;
  • Wapang! – when you’re slashing that wave;
  • Langisin – when you spend enough time in the ocean and you get that sleek surfer skin;
  • Kamatis! – I’ve come up with this one myself, applicable if you’re like me the sea and sun get you tomatoed
  • Palong palo – when you’re a wild surfer
  • Kasung – as far as I’ve gathered this is the Tagalog equivalent of Tubular, bruh.

After the waves, we have buhay surf, or the surfer life, which includes such essential vocabulary as:

  • Katuga – a combination of kain, tulog, and gala, meaning eat, sleep, and wander around–which is an excellent way to spend your days in Baler (besides surfing, of course).
  • Sabog – getting high (not on the waves)
  • Manginginom – being a strong drinker (or an alcoholic, depending on who you ask)
  • Yosi – to offer or ask for a cigarette
  • 2-by-2 – the locals’ drink of choice, made as follows: buy a bottle of Ginebra (local gin) and C2 (a juice); open both bottles and place to C2 upside down on the Ginebra bottle; wait for it to slowly seep into the gin, and drink by the shot: old school.

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There you have it: an affordable trip and an unforgettable experience in the very chill and beautiful Baler, a place to still your mind, reflect on life, lose yourself in the waves, and wash away that city stress with an invigorating salt-water cleanse.

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