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Surfing Palawan: Nagtabon Beach

Surfing Palawan: Nagtabon Beach

It was not my first time to visit Palawan but it was only in 2016 that I’ve heard rumors that there was surfing in the main island. Shrugging that aside for almost a year, it was only recently, in November 2018 (I know, I’m sorry Shan!) that I finally just booked a flight for my annual birthday surf-cation.

“But where have you been, Ferina?!”

I know! I was missing-in-action on this blog for the longest time and that will be a topic for another day, this year, I promise! But I’ve been present on Instagram if you want to stay updated. There are just things I need to be settled before I make public announcements. For now, enjoy what you came reading here for! Yes, Palawan and the secret that’s out: SURFING in Puerto Prinsesa City!

Turn left when you see this sign!

Turn left when you see this sign!

The Ultimate Off-Grid Adventure

I'm at a loss for words to describe just how amazing this trip was—from off-grid adventures in search of waves and to stoked-filled evenings staring at the stars—it was the birthday surf trip of my dreams and more!

This trip took more than a year in the making simply because the logistics and timing of the swell (so we’d have great waves) were challenging. Palawan isn’t that known as a surfing destination compared to the likes of Siargao or even La Union.

Also, I had other priorities at the time—commitments I couldn’t say no to, and so Palawan had to wait a little bit. Come November 2018, I was stuck in Manila and as timing would have it, All Saints Day and All Souls Day fell on the weekends—perfect for a trip without having to take leave off from work.

Palawan wasn’t immediately on my radar then when I was choosing to book. I just wanted to have a great time surfing without the crowds. Siargao was not an option, and neither was the nearby surf destinations in Luzon like Baler and Zambales—the rest of Manila would probably be in these places, and I cannot spend the next five days with too many people.

Here’s to how many boards our humble surf-mobile could handle.

Here’s to how many boards our humble surf-mobile could handle.

I remembered my good friend, Shan Cabiguen’s invitation to go surfing in their home break and I knew that would be the perfect place to spend the long weekend. My birthday was coming up anyway, and as it had always been my tradition for four years, I’d go on a surf trip.

I invited my roommate, Danica, to join me. I knew she probably wanted to surf anyway and I loved the idea of having another female join me on this densely-male populated sport.

Having booked our flights from Manila to Puerto Prinsesa, we were set and excited for the day our flight would depart. The weeks led up to days and three days before our departure, the storm Rosita hit the Philippines. With all sensitivity, the world country doesn’t agree with me when storms come but a small minority—us surfers—welcome a solid swell like this.

Everything started to fall into place. The waves were pumping, our flight wasn’t going to get cancelled, and there were boards I could rent in the spots we were visiting. I couldn’t sleep out of sheer excitement!

Landing late in the afternoon in Puerto Prinsesa City, we had to stay a night before we traveled to San Vicente—this was recently hyped as the next tourist destination so I expected to see a few souls who’d take the road-less-traveled.

Shan recommended Sheebangs Hostel for us to spend the night. He was right. The crowd was a mix of fun tourists and friendly locals who had a Halloween party, so we had lots of food and a karaoke machine without limitations! I was surprised that the dormitory bed space only cost PHP 250 a night—not bad for a funky hostel with all the right vibes.

Our ninja crew’s surf-mobile and its pilots, Shan and Virgie!

Our ninja crew’s surf-mobile and its pilots, Shan and Virgie!

Welcome to Palawan!

Palawan was everything I ever wanted and more. It was the perfect combination of waves, weather, food, and crew! Arriving, I only had expectations of having the ultimate fun adventure, whether there would be surf or not.

Nagtabon Beach was an excellent escape for somebody like me who works a lot in social media. Going down to the beach, you’ll realize that there’s no cellular service—a rare thing nowadays to disconnect completely. You’ll definitely be able to spend time with the people you’re with, connect with nature and appreciate the moment you’re in.

We checked out around 7:30 am the following morning and traveled around 30 minutes to the nearest surf spot to the city. Nagtabon Beach is already known as a surf spot among the local surfing community—which is slowly growing as more people become interested in the sport and lifestyle, and as more boards are becoming available in the area.

An island feast that costs around PHP 500 for five hungry, stoked adults—only in Palawan!

An island feast that costs around PHP 500 for five hungry, stoked adults—only in Palawan!

Nagtabon Beach, A Well-Kept Secret

True enough, there was already one resort that rented out boards. Billy Plaza, a local surfer, had a good selection of soft-tops for beginners and an array of shortboards. I was so anxious about the board selection because it had been three months since I last surfed on a longboard and not my usual 6’11” funboard.

I wondered if I’d make a fool of myself as I ended up choosing the 6’6” Luke Strudder fish from Bali. It was five inches shorter than my go-to board, and it didn’t make sense for me to use the softops because I didn’t know how to use one properly before.

On one of my random impulses, I asked the advice of another local, and he said to go with the shortboard because the waves were quite big today. Perfect for me! I just had to be sure to really give it my all! Not wanting to look like a poser walking around the beach with an ultra cool board and being unable to ride it at all, what a shame that would be!

A normal day at Nagtabon Beach.

A normal day at Nagtabon Beach.

My First Time Surfing Nagtabon’s Left Break

When you’re starved for surf and am desperate to have fun riding the waves, you’ll do anything to get back that ‘surf feeling.’ I put my mind to it while slowly paddling out to the lineup near the rocky edge of the beach. There were a few guys out there, around five local surfers and the waves breaking left—I was getting so excited that I had to calm myself down so I could breathe properly.

The conditions were average of three to four-foot waves with no cloud in the sky! Paradise, as it would seem like the sand, was so beautiful, it doesn’t even hurt when you get wiped out. The first wave I got had just the right size of big that was fun but not too comfortable.

It was similar a bit to Dahican’s wave where it was quite steep so you’d need to take off quickly on a certain angle, so you don’t get left behind as the wave picked up the pace. It was on my second try that I finally realized I could use the 6’6” board like I had been writing it all along!

I wished my GoPro wasn’t eaten by the ocean in Dahican last April. I could have gotten great first person POV shots with the type of waves here in Nagtabon. We surfed for a little over two hours, up until our tummies demanded food.

I lost my good hair tie and one fin from the rental board that slowed down my turns on the waves a bit, but it was fine. Life is like that, you win some, and you lose some, but this time in Nagtabon, I felt I was just winning the whole time with the kind of waves that paradise had to offer.

Right before digging into our feast and the other hut joins in!

Right before digging into our feast and the other hut joins in!

Chicken Island and the view of Nagtabon Beach as you descent from the hill.

Chicken Island and the view of Nagtabon Beach as you descent from the hill.

The first time I rode a somewhat shortboard in ages!

The first time I rode a somewhat shortboard in ages!

Land Surfing: Searching for Stoke in the City

Land Surfing: Searching for Stoke in the City