When islander Elaine Abonal is on a break from teaching surfing in Siargao, you’ll catch her on road trips, swimming in wild islands and eating at her favorite dining places

Elaine enjoying a day out in Dako Island

I was born and raised
 in Manila but I’ve been frequenting Siargao
 for the past 13 years.
At first I would stay for one month, then one month became two, and later on it stretched longer. In 2016, we started renting a house and got ourselves a dog.

My goal is to provide the best way to teach surfing in Siargao.
At Surfista Travels, we cover all bases when we teach, from theory to safety to etiquette. We do photo analysis. Surfista’s emphasis is for one to become a learned surfer.

Elaine with surfer friends in Naked Island. Naked is almost like a sandbar notable for its powdery sands and bare nothingness thus its name

Things I love to do in Siargao aside from surfing: Island hopping. I like going on a picnic, swimming. You can swim at Naked Island where there’s a swimming area and then a deeper reef area.

A picnic day out with boyfriend, photographer Oli Bayer

Take a road trip up north in Magpupungko Rock Pools in Pilar. The rock pools are beautiful and very good for swimming when the tide is low.

Enjoying sushi night at Kawayan Restaurant, one of Elaine’s favorite places to eat in Siargao

Eating out. Kermit is our favorite for pizza, pasta and cocktails. Kawayan Siargao Resort has a limited menu—there may be 10 things on it—but everything is always good. They have sushi nights on Fridays and they’re the only place on the island where you can have sushi. Harana has modern Filipino food. We like their modern take on the adobo and vibe.

My favorite resorts in Siargao:

Kalinaw Resort is probably the most luxurious in Siargao. It’s like paradise. Beachfront with only four cottages, good food, and excellent service.
Vivo Inn has big brand new rooms.
Riad Masaya, which opened months ago, is very welcoming. It’s Moroccan inspired with nice dorm- style and private rooms and a common kitchen for everybody’s use.

My favorite resto-bar in Siargao is Harana. The vibe is very Manila. It’s where you can have a beer and see both locals and foreigners hanging out. I haven’t been to Viento del Mar in a long time but from what I remember it’s a cool place.

Siargao for first-timers. Three tips:

Don’t expect it to be sunny all the time. Bring a rain jacket. It gets cold especially at night when you commute around—motorbikes are the only means of transport.
Never underestimate Siargao’s sun. Bring a sunscreen.
Bring cash and change because the ATMs are far and barely work. Small places don’t have change and only accept cash payment.

Sunsets at the famous Siargao surfing ground Cloud 9 can be this magnificent

What I love about surfing is the feeling of being
at home in the ocean.
It doesn’t matter where you’re from, how much money you make, whether you’re a boy or girl. There’s no judgment.

What I hate about surfing are the crowds and the kooks.
If I’m not surfing, I teach surfing or do yoga. I love horseback riding. I used to play soccer.

My top three surf destinations in the Philippines are Baler’s Sabang Beach, La Union’s Urbiztondo Beach, and Siargao’s Cloud 9.

May is when we hold the Siargao International Women’s Surfing Cup. It’s a high-quality surfing competition for women sanctioned by the World Surf League.

Surfing tournament
to watch out for in the country is the Philippine Surfing Championship Tour. It’s year-round, with surfers getting points by combining all legs, and the surfer with the most points ends up the grand champion.

Aside from myself, surf instructors in Siargao I recommend are Carlito Nogalo and the Botiti Boys. They take very good care of their students and see my vision of professionalizing teaching.

Local surfers I look up to are Carlito Nogalo and Manette Alcala, mother of seven-year-old surfer Kai Kai Alcala. They’re
all from Siargao. Manette is timid but a good surfer and you’ll see her surfing with her son all the time. In La Union, I admire Daisy Valdez who competes competitively in longboard and shortboard.

Young surfers to watch out for are Kai Kai, Carlito’s son Carly, and Eduardo Alciso.

If I weren’t a professional surfer, I’d probably be a school teacher. I used to teach languages—Spanish, French and English. I took up Communications and minored in Spanish at Ateneo de Manila University.

Get there
SkyJet Airlines flies daily from Manila to Siargao. Book a SkyJet flight now. 

Who is Elaine Abonal?

Elaine Abonal is the founder and
head instructor of Surfista Travels, a six-year-old specialized tour operations company focused on giving professional surf clinics in Siargao, her adoptive hometown. She has uprooted from Manila in 2016 to establish life and career in the surfing capital.

Photos by Oli Bayer