When you think about holiday experiences, surfing in the Philippines might not immediately come to mind. However, if you are a keen traveller, you may have heard whispers about the utopian, tear-shaped island of Siargao, off the eastern seaboard of the Philippines. You may have read an article lauding it as the new Bali.  Or maybe you have come across one of the many Instagram posts of the beautiful landscape. If you are looking to try your hand at surfing for the first time, there is no better place.

Cloud 9, Siargao

wooden pier with hut in the Philippines


Siargao is a picture-postcard island with a verdant interior teeming with palm trees. The natural beauty is hard to miss as you make your way from the airport in the north to the tourist hotspot of General Luna and on to the Cloud 9 area further south. However, one of the main draws of this tropical paradise is the rolling waves that attract surfers from all over the world.

If you are a beginner surfer, then surfing in the Philippines is a perfect place to start. Novice surfers can get a taste for surfing at the beginner’s break of Jacking Horse. It attracts hordes of first-timers, along with their instructors.  Struggling to ‘get up’ on the board and avoid crashing into fellow surfers, it’s hard to know what exactly they are gaining from the fleeting and punishing experience.

Surfing with Ulap Siyam, Siargao

Surfing in the Philippines has been on my radar for many years. As a beginner surfer myself, I knew I didn’t want to be tossed around in a sea of other learners.   A more personalised experience suited me better.  Learning from someone who was truly passionate about surfing and someone who delivered the lesson in an innovative way was important to me.  Also important to me was finding a way to support the local community.

Ana Mae Alipayo was exactly who I was looking for. She runs Ulap Siyam, a surf academy with a difference.  Ana focuses on the art of surf science to educate and empower you to truly understand what it means to ‘catch a wave’. She is also part of the women’s national surfing team and grew up in Siargao with her two brothers (who are also keen surfers).

Read More: 3 Ways To Augment Your Experiential Travel

A Morning of Surfing

The experience is intense, rewarding, spiritual and a whole lot of fun. It’s an early morning start because there’s a lot to learn. Ana wants to know why I  want to learn how to surf. This simple question gets my brain engaged straight away and starts the process of focusing my mind. I answered that I wanted to feel the connection between myself and the waves.

From there, I moved on to the board placed on the sand to learn the core fundamentals of surfing. Through repetition of moves at each stage, the process of standing, reading the wave and turning is drilled into me. Just before I head into the water to practice what I have been taught, Ana takes me through a series of physical and mental exercises.

This methodical process ensures that a beginner is fully prepared to surf.  The emphasis is not being able to surf after one session. To get the most out of the session, it’s important to be fully present and in the moment. Ultimately, it’s what you put into a session that counts.

How did I fare? I managed to get on my board and rode the waves five times. I felt exhausted, invigorated and with a greater appreciation for the art of surfing. Above all, I found a new passion.

man on a surf board in Siargao

Video Review Of My Surfing

Later in the afternoon, I met with Ana for a coffee. She asked me three things: what I learnt, what I did well and what I would do next time to improve.  What’s really impressive is that she’s taken a video of my surfing with her iPad so we can review it together. This gave me an insight into my form and technique.

I was not expecting this level of analysis but it empowered and inspired me to want to surf better and more frequently.  Ana’s commitment to her sport shines through with her passion and discipline with her style of coaching. She truly helps cultivate the relationship between mind and body, which is crucial in becoming a competent surfer.  It’s certainly easy to find a teacher in Siargao who will give you a short session on the waves.  But Ana’s  3-hour immersion experience will equip you with a set of tools for life and a platform to build upon. Ana also offers longer three-day camps for those who have more time and for those who want to hone their surfing skills.

Choose Companies and People Who Care

What comes across so clearly in Ana’s communication and friendliness is that she really cares about her clients. You leave feeling like you are part of her family. And when you return, it will be like you’ve never been away.  Friendships like that are rare and one that I will treasure.

Ulap Siyam was set up to help pay for Ana’s brother’s mental health treatment. Knowing your money is going towards a worthwhile cause makes the experience even more special and fulfilling. She is dedicated to raising awareness of mental illness within the surfing community in the Philippines.

At only 22, Ana is playing a pivotal role in the future of surfing in the Philippines, inspiring the next generation with her achievements on the water. 2019 brought success at the Women’s Open Shortboard tournament, a prestigious competition attracting the best surfers from all over the Philippines. On the international stage, as part of the national team, she competed at the 2019 World Surfing Games, presented by Vans (Olympic 2020 qualification).  It was an honour and pleasure to learn from someone with her level of expertise.

Experiential Travel

Experiential and meaningful travel means choosing companies and people that offer a service with a real purpose. Many of us aren’t satisfied with what large resorts or cookie-cutter holidays have to offer.  There’s a hunger for authentic, immersive travel that gives back to the community in meaningful ways.

If you like the sound of this type of experience, Many Moons can help plan and book your trip to the Philippines and other surf destinations around the world.  We work with companies, like Ulap Siyam, to give you the ultimate personalised and experiential trip. Get in touch to find out how we can help you.