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Beginners Guide to Surfing in Siargao + Best Surf Schools (2024)

Surfing in Siargao has become famous for being the best place to go in the Philippines, as well as one of the cheapest places to learn how to surf in the entire world.

It’s easy to get to Siargao from any of the major cities in the Philippines, and I personally love the island for both surfing and traveling.

I learned how to surf in Siargao over a two-month period when I lived on the island, and I have a complete beginner’s guide to surfing in Siargao to share with you.

✔️ Quick Beginners Tips for Surfing in Siargao

Blogger Katie Caf in a black bathing suit laying down on her surfboard and smiling at the camera with surfer's white zinc sunscreen on her face. She is surfing at Siargao island, which is the surf capitol of the Philippines.
Siargao was where I learned how to surf!

Learning How To Surf In Siargao 

Siargao is the perfect place to learn to surf!

learning to surf is a pretty lengthy and involved process – It took me over a month before I felt confident going surfing without an instructor.

I recommend spending at least a week in Siargao, ideally two, and booking a surf package, or plan on taking at least a two-hour class every day you are there.

It’s important to do your due diligence ahead of time and make sure you’re taking classes with a reputable instructor, especially if you’re a woman. (I can’t stress this enough!!!! Some of the surf instructors in Siargao are massive creeps) 

Before you book a surf school or instructor make sure they have all 5-star reviews online, if you’re spending limited time on Siargao you won’t have time to keep changing instructors if you go by word of mouth! 

I was in Siargao for two months and during that time I switched surf instructors two times until I found a good fit. 

👉 Female Traveler Tip – Another reason I recommend Ulap Siyam is that they have female instructors. Ask for Ana Mae, she’s amazing!


#1 TOP PICK

🏆 The Best Surfing School In Siargao

I recommend Ulap Siyam Surf School if you’re looking for an instructor in Siargao!

About Surfing Classes In Siargao 

So, you can go cheap with the surfing classes in Siargao (like I did, in the beginning), and just try to find some guy who will give you classes off the street. 

Tons of people offering surfing instructor services hang out around Cloud 9, and if you mention wanting to take surfing classes to ANYONE on the island, they will know a guy and want to recommend them. 

That’s what I did when I was an absolute beginner – but know that surfing is THE main industry in Siargao and 50% of the people offering surf instructor services either:

1) Don’t know how to surf. 

2) Know how to surf, but don’t know how (or aren’t actually interested) in teaching.

3) Don’t speak English, but don’t advertise that. 

4) Are creepy towards their female students. 

I experienced ALL four of those types of surfing instructors when I was trying to find a teacher in Siargao during my first week. 

What I learned (after wasting around $100) is that GOOD surfing instructors are in pretty high demand on Siargao, so all the guys that hang out on the street offering 500 pesos ($10) classes, probably aren’t that great, or they would be booked! 

So, I recommend just going with a reputable surfing school that has a good reputation they’ve built and prior reviews you can read.

I’m recommending Ulap Siyam Surf School for anyone looking to take surf lessons in Siargao 👉 Book Your First Class Ahead Of Time! 

Katie’s Tips ✶

🚺 For Female Travelers! Sadly, a lot of the random surfing instructors you hire off the street in Siargao or outside of Cloud 9 can be creepy af. 

Some female travelers aren’t bothered by this, but I am! Another reason to just go with a reputable school where you can read prior reviews! 

A gir in a black rashguard balances on her surfboard while her instructor pulls her along. Your first surfing classes while you're learning to surf you will be towed everywhere by your instructor instead of having to paddle for yourself.
A girl receiving her first surfing class in Siargao. In your first surfing classes, you will be towed everywhere by your instructor instead of having to paddle for yourself.

My Experience Learning How to Surf in Siargao

🏄‍♀️ Learning To Surf in Siargao: Class 1 -3 

The first few classes were the hardest, just being on a surfboard felt completely unnatural! 

We would go out at low tide so the instructor could have me lay on the board while he walked ahead and towed me because I simply would fall off if I tried to paddle myself. 

After the third class, I was getting better at balancing on my board and felt confident paddling myself. 

🏄‍♀️ Learning To Surf in Siargao: Class 4 – 7 

People learning to surf lying on their surfboards waiting for their instructors to "push" them into the waves.
People learning to surf lying on their surfboards waiting for their instructors to “push” them into the waves.
people learning to surf wait in the water lying down on their surfboards as their instructors tow their surfboards for them. Getting towed and pushed into the waves is the first step in learning to surf, but you shouldn't let your instructor keep doing it for you.
Getting towed and pushed into the waves is the first step in learning to surf, but you shouldn’t let your instructor keep doing it for you.

During these classes (hours 8-14) I was getting better at paddling for myself, and balancing on the board while lying down became natural. 

My instructor started teaching me how to sit up on the board and read the waves. 

Every time I would sit up on the board I would promptly fall over sideways and lose my balance, it was basically learning to lay down and balance all over again. 

My instructor would also hold my board and let me paddle, without going anywhere (because he was holding my board in place). 

The instructor would time a coming wave at its peak and then push me, launching me into the wave. 

He would scream “Stand up!!!!! STANDDD!!!!”, and I would stand up and practice bending my knees and guiding the board to the left or right side, depending on which way the wave was going. 

Getting launched by your instructor into the wave is so much easier than paddling out and catching it for yourself, and that’s because of two things: 

1) Timing: knowing when to time a wave so you don’t pop up too soon to miss it, but also not too late to wind up nose-diving, is hard

2) Paddle Strength: If your guide is pushing you into a wave you don’t have to have the speed and strength to paddle fast enough to catch it yourself. 

🏄‍♀️ Learning To Surf in Siargao: Class 8 – 12 

This is where it gets tricky! 

In classes 8-12 (hours 16-24) and beyond I was trying to take everything I learned: paddling myself, balancing on the board, catching the waves, timing the wave, reading the waves to know when to go, and how to ride the wave until completion – all together at once. 

I would compare all these little bits and pieces of learning to surf that I practiced separately to making a cake. 

When you’re younger you might help your grandma bake a cake by mixing the flour and sugar, or cracking the eggs into a bowl, or piping the frosting – This is easy and enjoyable, and pretty much anyone can do it. 

That doesn’t mean from those little moments helping your grandma by cracking eggs into a bowl, can you go out and make a cake yourself from scratch – that’s hard! And takes expertise and practice. 

That’s how I felt about surfing towards the tail-end of my month of classes. I now had to bake the cake all by myself! 

Riding a wave when my instructor was pushing me into it? Easy. 

Sitting up on my board, balancing, reading the waves, timing when to start paddling, catching the wave, timing when to stand up, and balancing on my board – steering it until the wave completes. HARD. Very very hard. 

After a while, I found you need to go out surfing alone without help from your instructor in order to improve.

🏄‍♀️ Learning To Surf in Siargao: Class 12+ 

I actually felt like my instructor was handicapping my progress a bit once I got to this stage. 

For example, if he saw me about to tip over while sitting up on my board and trying to read the waves, he would put a hand out and steady me, negating the need for me to balance myself. 

Or, if he saw I wasn’t paddling fast enough to catch a wave, he would paddle out behind me and give me a little push so I could make it. 

While this is helpful, after a certain point I realized that as long as I was able to depend on that additional push I would never be able to truly go surfing without an instructor. 

So, after you get the basics down I recommend going out on your own! Just make sure you choose a surf camp/ instructor that covers safety protocols so you can go out alone. 

Katie’s Tips ✶

👉 Note! All of my surfing classes were 2 hours long, so by the end of my first month of surfing, I had put in around 50 hours into the sport! 

Blogger Katie Caf surfing at Rock Island in Siargao at sunset, balancing on the surfboard and smiling at the camera with zinc surfer's sunscreen.
Sunset surf in Siargao at Rock Island

Katie’s Top Tips for Learning How to Surf in Siargao

✅ Put Sunscreen On The Back Of Your Legs 

You’re lying down on your surfboard with the back of your legs in the direct sunlight for most of a surf session, so make sure to put sunscreen on the back of your legs! I saw so many bad burns in Siargao! 

Eventually, I got tired of spending time putting sunscreen all over my legs (and going through so much sunscreen) and I just started wearing long pants because I saw some other people doing it. 

You see all types of people out surfing, some are fully clothed in long pants, long sleeves, hats, and shoes, and others are just in a bikini – so wear what makes you most comfortable! 

The guys at Cloud 9 gave me this board, and I didn’t realize until I was already at the beach that the leash was totally broken.

You can pay a premium to rent a board from the surf shops, or just check your board really well if you’re renting it from the surf racks on the beach!

✅ Make Sure You Have The Right Board (and it’s In Good Condition!)

You can rent surfboards from the fancy surf shops in Siargao (and pay a premium for it), rent one at the board racks at Cloud 9, or get a board through your instructor. 

Most people get surfboards at the board racks at Cloud 9 – it’s where there’s the largest selection (seriously, hundreds of surfboards!), and the prices are generally cheaper. 

That being said, you need to check your surfboards super well before renting them from the racks. 

The guys who rent out surfboards there will hand out anything, lol 😅.

They’ve given me boards with the leash literally hanging on by a thread – and guess who’s responsible for fixing it if it’s lost or broken? You! 


A girl with a black tank top and red shorts stretches her rib muscles by pulling her arms behind her back.  Stretching before/after is so important for preventing injuries in sports with repetitive movements like surfing! Stretching makes the process of learning to surf much shorter because it cuts down on the risk of injury.
Some rib stretches I do before and after surfing now to prevent injuries.

✅ Stretch First

I got a bad case of Sufer’s Rib (Intercoastal Muscle Strain) after my first month surfing in Siargao because I underestimated how much muscle strain I was undergoing. 

Surfer’s Rib is terrible and happens to a lot of beginners just as they are learning and are over-using their Intercoastal (rib) muscles for the first time. 

So, always stretch before and after surfing! Even better if you can join some daily yoga classes, or do a surfing + yoga camp. 


A surfer taking a wave at Rock Island Beach in Siargao, in the Philippines.

✅ Know Some Safety Stuff

Another reason I recommended going with a surf school instead of hiring an instructor off the street is so you’ll go over safety protocol. 

It wasn’t until I was on my 10th or so session that my instructor mentioned, “Oh yeah Katie, if you wipe out make sure to cover your head” 😂. 

A lot of it, like covering your head when you crash, is common sense – but then some of it isn’t! 

For example, when the bigger waves were crashing into me I was holding my surfboard over my head – apparently, this is the opposite of what you’re supposed to do! 

Katie’s Tips ✶

👉 If a big wave is about to crash into you, you’re supposed to throw your board duck under, and cover your head. 

Fake counterfeit Cetaphil sunscreen being sold to surfers in Siargao in the Philippines.
Watch out for the fake sunscreen in Siargao!
Fake counterfeit Cetaphil sunscreen being sold to surfers in Siargao in the Philippines.
These fake Cetaphils were being sold all over the island

Things You Might Want To Learn To Surf in Siargao

Waterproof Sunscreen

For the back of your legs! You’re lying on a surfboard with your back and the backs of your legs exposed directly to the sun in the middle of the ocean for hours when you’re surfing. 

Everyone was getting their legs burned! I recommend this water-proof sunscreen by Neutrogena (I bring it from home!).

→ Buy It!

BodyGlove Paddle Swimsuit

Because I was surfing in the incredibly warm waters in the Philippines I didn’t need a wetsuit, and just a rashguard/paddlesuit to protect my skin from the worst of the sun was enough.  

Surfer’s Sunscreen

This is my #1 MUST-HAVE for learning to surf – The sun is much stronger when you’re surfing to the reflection on the water.

Zinc Sunscreen, also known as “Surfer’s Sunscreen” goes on your face to protect it from the sun with a physical barrier.

Micellar Water (To Take Off The Sunscreen)

So, the zinc sunscreen was GREAT for protecting my face from the sun while surfing, but it’s really hard to get off!

I found that Micellar Water works best to remove Surfer’s Zinc Sunscreen.

Surfer’s Hat With A Chinstrap

I was getting sunburned on my face even though my Zinc Sunscreen, so I tried to wear a hat while surfing.

Big Mistake!!! My hat was taken by the waves almost immediately. You need a proper surfing hat with a chin strap.

DryBag

I didn’t use a drybag taking the boat out to surf and wound up having to get the charging port in my phone replaced!

GoPro + Mount

You can mount your GoPro waterproof action camera on the front of your surfboard to take videos while you surf!

Reef Booties

Reef Booties are shoes you can wear while surfing that protect your feet from being sliced up on coral reefs and rocks.

Surfboard Wax

Surf Wax adds grip to your surfboard so it’s not slippery when you stand on it – If you’re using an instructor they will likely have their own surf wax + board.

Surfing Sunglasses

These look goofy but you can’t wear normal sunglasses while surfing, they’ll just fall off!


Things You Might Not Need for Surfing

Wetsuit 

Whether or not you need a wetsuit depends on the conditions you’re surfing in. When I was in Taghazout, a sleepy surfing village in Morocco, in December everyone needed a wetsuit – the water was freezing! 

That being said unless you’re really serious about cold-weather surfing, I wouldn’t recommend buying your own since you can usually rent wetsuits on site. 


Surfboard

You can easily rent a surfboard on the beach in Siargao, so it’s not necessary to buy your own.

#1 TOP PICK

🏆 The Best Surfing School In Siargao

I recommend Ulap Siyam Surf School if you’re looking for an instructor in Siargao!

Beginner’s Guide to Surfing in Siargao: Conclusion

Thank you for reading until the end of my article, I hope it answered any and every question you have related to learning to surf in Siargao.

I learned how to surf in Siargao and I think it’s one of the best places to learn how to surf in the whole world, due to the wide variety of spots you can try out as you progress in skill levels, and the tradition of having 1:1 surfing classes in Siargao. 

If you’re looking to learn how to surf in Siargao, I recommend Ulap Siyam Surf School, which is right across the street from Surfing Temple, which is one of the best places to stay in Siargao. 

Ulap Siyam has the best reviews out of any of the surf schools on the island. 

As a beginner, my favorite surf spot on Siargao was Ocean 9, and as an intermediate surfer, my favorite surf spot was Stimpy’s Island. 

I hope you have a wonderful time learning to surf in Siargao!

-Katie

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