Paddle Baler: A Beginner's Guide to Surfing in Baler
An avid surfer celebrates the evolution of surfing in Baler and shows us how to get stoked in this now-popular surfing destination.
Last year, 2010, marked my tenth anniversary with Baler, Aurora. In the decade since I first made the road trip from Manila, through the Sierra Madre mountain range and to Baler, one thing has remained the same: it continues to be my favorite surf spot in Luzon. The drive may seem daunting with its rough roads and deep ravine views but the destination more than makes up for it.
The "Charlie don't surf" scene from Francis Ford Copolla's ‘Apocalypse Now' was shot along one of Baler's rivers back in the 1970s. The spot was later named "Charlie's Point." Little did Copolla's crew know that leaving the surfboards behind when they finished filming would leave such an indelible impact on the town and its people. The capital of the province of Aurora is now home to one of the oldest surf communities in the country. And if you've ever considered getting your surf on, this is one of the best places to do it.
Up until three years ago, Baler was not the best place to bring a beginner. Facilities such as board rentals and surf schools were thin on the ground. And so it was that only surfers with some experience under their boardshorts could truly appreciate Baler's waves. But the last two years have shown a marked difference in surf tourism in the area. The town has been getting a lot of press--and not just because of the Jericho Rosales-Anne Curtis starrer shot on location and named after the capital. With this came more interest from Manila, which led to the growth in surf schools and surf packages.
Many of my weekends have played out in this pattern: meet up with friends somewhere in Manila on a Friday night, load up the boards and be on the road before midnight. A pit stop along NLEX to gas up and buy last minute supplies leads to the four to five hour drive that goes through Cabanatuan to the foot of the Sierra Madres. If we've made good time, we arrive along the seawall just as the sun is coming out over the horizon. We'll sit, warming our hands around cups of hot taho, watching the waves and discussing where we should paddle out to. Will we stay along the beach break, with its sand bottom and generous length? Or should we make the drive towards one of the river mouths? More often that not, if the waves are breaking properly, a group will head to Cemento, a picturesque reef break that is not for novice surfers. A morning session is followed by a long lunch at one of the resorts or along the strip of turo-turo stalls fronting the local hospital. If the wind has picked up, a siesta is in order. If it seems manageable, the crew will often rest long enough to digest food before heading back into the water again to surf until the sun goes down. Then it's off to dinner, a few cold beers and bed. Repeat the next day.
If this sounds like your kind of weekend, give Baler (and surfing) a shot.
Peak season for consistent swell is October through February, although for beginners, the gentler waves of the summer months may be a better option.
Waves in Baler range from very friendly to "oh-wow-that-could-drown-a-person," but don't worry. Instructors know better than to put their charges in danger and will only take you to the safe spots. Chances are you'll surf Sabang Beach, the long stretch along the seawall where I first learned to catch waves on my own all those years ago.
Most resorts along the seawall are affiliated with a surf school. All you need to do is ask around, head down to the beach and get yourself started.
Lessons normally begin on land. Your instructor will check to see if you are a regular footer (right foot behind) or a goofy (left foot behind). Then you'll mimic paddling and popping up. After a few minutes, you'll both head into the water. An hour or two per lesson seems to be standard for most novices although the exceptionally fit have been known to go for longer.
It takes time and practice before you get the hang of surfing so don't be discouraged if you don't look like anyone from Blue Crush after your first hour. But with more and more water time, you'll grow in both skill level and love for the sport.
So what are you waiting for? Arrange your Baler surf trip now!