A different kind of surfing in Siargao

To a first-time visitor, Siargao, the Philippines’ surfing capital, is a study in contrasts.

Passengers disembarking from the port of Dapa after a three-hour ferry ride from mainland Surigao del Norte will immediately notice a cell site looming from a hilltop and dwarfing houses and everything in the vicinity.

A quick tour around Dapa reveals a curious sight: modest, almost decrepit, homes with satellite TV dishes on the roofs.

In General Luna, which can be reached after a long stretch of nothing but fields and forests, is where most of surfing resorts that dot the coast of Siargao facing the Pacific Ocean are located. Here a different kind of surfing is also popular: most of these resorts have signs that read “Wi-Fi available” and “Internet here.”

High-speed, eye-popping broadband Internet is available even on an island farther out into the sea than Siargao itself, an island so bare and devoid of any structure that it’s called Naked Island.

Much has been said about the world-class surfing conditions in Siargao’s famed Cloud 9. Blogs and websites extol the power of its waves and the beauty of its beach. What comes as a pleasant discovery is how such a laid-back setting could have connectivity so tempting, one would be hard-put to throw away trusty gadgets even if one wanted to.

One visitor started sending MMS photos through a Smart Buddy handset at the first sight of the coastline of Dapa from the M/V Josefa. Another made a video call to a friend, someone writing about mangroves, as the boat sailed by Barangay Del Carmen, site of one of the country’s largest mangrove reserves.

Connectivity, cellphones and the Internet, in particular, have transformed Siargao.

Gerard Degan, owner of Sagana Resort and organizer of the annual Siargao international surfing competition, says, “Communication means more exposure to all of Siargao. When we first came here in 1995 there were no cellphones, no TV, and certainly no Internet. There wasn’t even electricity in Cloud 9!”

But with the advent of communications technology, tourism has been “moving forward in leaps and bounds,” he exclaims.

Degan reports that 90 percent of his resort’s bookings are made through his website, www.cloud9surf.com.

Similarly, Lilibeth Pierce gets about 70 percent of inquiries and bookings for her resort, Cherinicole, from its website www.cherinicoleresort.com.

What about the small businesses without the fancy websites?

“We use free sites such as Multiply to promote J-Spot and Siargao in general. We keep in touch with visitors to Siargao through Facebook. We also sell our products on eBay, Alibaba, and 88DB,” says Erika Briones of J-Spot Surf Shop. Her surf shop is a hut with a store offering souvenir shirts and handmade trinkets, a kitchen serving delectable seafood, and space to plop down on and sleep.

Wilmar Melindo and Ronald Sumalinog, sons of Siargao who, as surfing instructors, live to share with hundreds of people the joys of surfing by teaching them the basic skills and making sure they leave the island loving the sport, use the Internet to keep in touch with the friends they have gained from teaching how to surf.

“It is easy to keep our connection with the friends we’ve made over the years, from so many corners of the world. When we organize local surfing competitions, it’s easy to invite them online, whether through e-mail, via Facebook, or chatting on YM. More importantly, it helps them contact us when they need to know when the waves are perfect for them to travel all the way to Siargao,” say Melindo and Sumalinog.

Broadband Internet was introduced in Siargao back in 2008 by Smart Bro, the wireless broadband Internet service offered by Smart subsidiary Smart Broadband Inc.

These days, Smart’s expanded and upgraded network coverage offers the faster “sibling” of 3G — High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA). Siargao is one of the many places in the country with the best, fastest HSPA coverage — or high-speed broadband experience on a mobile device such as a handset or a Smart Bro Prepaid USB modem.

Plugged into a laptop through a quick and painless process, the Smart Bro Prepaid wireless modem connects to Smart’s HSPA network and delivers multimedia downloading and uploading at speeds that could make one forget he or she is “surfing” the Web from an island right smack by the Philippine Deep, wirelessly connecting to the Internet and staying in touch with the rest of the world.

With connectivity this tempting, no wonder many surfing foreigners have chosen to live in Siargao, “surf,” and work from there. (philstar.com)

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