The familiar purple hue paints the sky. Against the setting sun, silhouettes float with their boards sticking out of the water. Calm, but the surfers know better. It’s just a matter of time till the next set comes. Just one more, the perfect wave to keep us stoked all the way home.
I can’t stop thinking about Lanuza. A few days has passed, but my thoughts wander back to the time spent there; the night staring at the stars, the hours in between talking nonsense, the coastline views with not a person in sight, and of course, the surfing.
Surfing always intrigued me. Growing up in Cebu, it didn’t occur to me that you could surf in the Philippines. When places like Siargao started to become popular, I soon realized that there are surf spots all over the Philippines. Lanuza, Surigao del Sur has some of the best waves in Mindanao. I can’t wait to go back and surf. My days spent in Lanuza were truly life changing.
Let me tell you about Lanuza
Aframe Surf Company organizes an annual surf camp called Surf Dreams Lanuza. They’ve been doing this for almost six years. Fellow Zerothreetwo founder, Jeremie, even wrote a short piece about his experience a few years ago. In retrospect, I now ask myself, “What took you so long?”
It was a long trip
From Cebu, we took an overnight Cokaliong slow boat to Surigao City. From there, a three hour coastal van ride southeast to Lanuza, Surigao del Sur (Another option is to take a flight to Tandag, Surigao del Sur from Cebu then take a one hour land trip to Lanuza). When we arrived at the sleepy town, our first stop was Mami’s Surf House. It looked like any other house until you looked closely. The faded logo and a bevy of stickers on the pedestrian gate hinted on something special. A quick look at the back revealed the surf boards waiting to be let on the water.
Anyone who has spent time in less traveled places around the Philippines can picture what Lanuza is about. It’s a place where most lights turn off at 8pm. Message boards and intriga on public wooden spaces, “Kami na gud ni!! Secret love! 🙂 Babe.” Lots of time to do literally nothing, but like many of these less traveled spots. It has something unique to offer.
Poktoy was our first spot. Around 300 meters from the shore, this right hand wave lay in front of the river mouth where salt water and fresh water converged. On our first day there, the waves were anything from waist high to just over my head.
Unlike many of the Philippine surf spots (Siargao included), Poktoy featured soft brown sand. For us beginners, this was a godsend. We were wiping out left and right, the sand provided a soft landing if the waves were too much for us. They say that surfing is 80% paddling. They weren’t kidding! It is incredibly tiring. Another benefit from the sand was that beginners like me could walk up to the lineup instead of paddle. After a few minutes of paddling, our arms felt heavy. Walking and dragging the board over the water turned out to be a good alternative. Believe me. Many of us were doing it, while the more experienced surfers seemingly glided by us.
The other surf spot we frequented most was Wayahan Left. Waya means left to the people in Surigao. Much closer to the shore, this left hand wave was similar in many respects to Poktoy, but one key difference, Wayahan Left had a pebble floor. For us city folk, the pebbles proved a challenge for our soft city feet. This area forced us to paddle more than we were used to. In retrospect, the more paddling we were doing, the better it was for our surfing skills, but damn it was tiring.
One key feature was the watchtower right next to the surf area. The local surfers treated this area like a home of sorts. They would cook (boodle fight!) and lay their hammocks right on the tower. Be nice to the locals and you could find yourself with a few good meals and free place to stay, provided you bring your own hammock of course.
It was unclear which area people preferred. It almost seemed like when the waves in Poktoy weren’t good, we would surf in Wayahan Left and vice versa.
Roughly 600 meters long, the Boulevard connects both surf spots. Similar to what Dumaguete has in their town, the Lanuza Boulevard acts as a sea wall protecting the town from the tide during typhoons. It also doubles as a good place to hang and look at the ocean.
At night, groups would have bonfires at certain areas of the Boulevard. One of the highlights of the trip was spent hanging out by the water with the fire slowly churning, music playing in the background and a few drinks being passed around. Some of us stayed till the wee hours of the morning while some (like me) decided to hit the sack early to take advantage of the morning waves.
According to the guys from Aframe, the Boulevard is busier during the surf competition every November. Bars and small street parties pop out of nowhere lining the Boulevard.
More than just surf
Frankly in the town proper, there isn’t much to do asides from surf, but if you are willing to explore, you would be surprised with what awaits you.
A short jeepney ride away was Magkawas Falls.
It was a perfect place to hang out after long days of surf. The cold freshwater made for good contrast from the barrage of waves. Some in our group even climbed up a portion of the waterfall and jumped down. Just be careful. It looked slippery and there doesn’t seem to be anyone around in case something happens. All in all, good clean fun.
Then not far from the falls is the Sanctuary.
It was one of my favorite spots. When we arrived the attendant wasn’t there. So we weren’t able to sit inside the café, but we still went in the beach area and treated ourselves to one of the best views I’ve ever seen. There’s a watch tower on the tip of the Sanctuary beach area. The view was magnificent. From left to right, you would see nothing but the Lanuza coastline. It was reminder of how small we really are compared to the rest of the world. I couldn’t help but take a few extra minutes as everyone was getting ready to head back.
Mami was wonderful. After every surf session, we would carry out boards to Mami’s Surf House and were always greeted with the best home cooked food. Mami is a pro. A repeat guest from Manila, JV, was coming back to Lanuza. Mami remembered that he liked spicy food. That night she made chilli bombers (dynamite lumpia). JV felt right at home.
My surf instructor was Juram. A champion surfer, the dude could glide his board back and forth through the waves with ease. Something I struggled mightily to do. He caught waves like he was jumping on a bike to give it a spin. This wasn’t my first time to surf. Instead of pushing the board while a wave came, he pushed me to my limits. This made him paddle even further out and faster. I followed him till I couldn’t feel my arms. He taught me when I should paddle faster, when to hold back and what to look for to catch that wave.
Not only were the instructors knowledgeable and helpful in their surf lessons, they were incredibly hospitable. On one of our sessions, we decided to hang and just have lunch. The guys from Aframe bought the food and the local surfers prepared and cooked them. The laid the fresh fish, meat and kinilaw on the giant leaf. When it was ready, everybody jumped in with their hands to eat the food. Classic boodle fight. It was one of our best meals on the island.
Resident tourist ambassador, if you need help with anything he’s the right person to look for. We weren’t the only visitors to Lanuza who have reaped the benefits. When I posted his picture on Instagram, someone quickly commented, “torneeey 😀” According to the folks from Aframe, Attorney got his name because his mom wanted him to become a lawyer. If you ask me, he chose the better option.
I’ll be back
In Lanuza, Surigao del Sur, I remembered what I loved most about the sea. There’s something about the rhythmic slow sound of the waves coming to shore. Without fail, this always calms and relaxes me into a stupor. But this time was different. In Lanuza, instead of sitting idly on the shore, I was in the middle of the strong push of the water. All I wanted to do was get to the lineup to catch and ride the wave. This time I wasn’t going to be lulled to sleep.
The vibe heading home was different. True, we were tired and ready to sleep in our own beds, but I couldn’t help but feel like this wasn’t the last I was going to see of Lanuza. I knew I was heading back. The sleepy town of Lanuza only had the waves and the incredibly friendly people calling me back, but it was enough. For now, I have my dreams.