Siargao: My island home away from home

by: Ian Sermonia, surfer and resort owner

My love for the island started way back in 2002.

I had gone to a surf camp with my brother, his friend and his ex-girlfriend at that time. I had never heard of Siargao before that trip and really didn’t know what to expect. It took us about 36 hours to get there including layovers. At that time, the Surigao airport wasn’t operational yet so to get there we had to fly to Cebu. From there, we were supposed to take a ferry to Surigao, but it was fully booked. Instead, we took an overnight ferry to Butuan, then took a bus to Surigao, and then another ferry to Siargao.

When I finally got there, I thought, “This place is beautiful!” After my first wave, getting pushed on to Quicksilver, I was like, “This place is the best place in the world!!!”

It was 2010 by the time I made my way back to the island. Eight years passed since that first trip, and by then there were already flights operating straight to Siargao from Cebu. Back then, there were two flights a week; one on Monday the other on Friday. I stayed for 10 days and met many locals there as well and made some foreign friends. Had a great time surfing, or at that point, learning to surf.

I came back a year later and saw a friend from England, whom I met the year before at the airport. I said, “Hey cool! We’re going to the island the same time again this year!” He turns to me and says, “Mate, I haven’t left!” He ended up purchasing land and was building a small resort there, which is now Buddha Resort. I thought to myself: “If he can do that all the way from England, why shouldn’t I do it coming from Manila?”

After that, we started looking for land to develop. In 2014 we were able to finally find a piece of property which we liked. Together with my operating partner Hookie Medina, we opened Harana Surf Resort, and we each take time off living in Siargao and Manila. The move was driven by both business and pleasure; to sustain the pleasure of that stay we needed to have a business that we needed to run.

From the get go, the local culture was one of the things that we loved about the island. The locals are really friendly. Very confident, not too pushy, very relaxed, respectable and real. If you’re nice to them and they like your vibe, they’ll invite you to local fiestas with their family, baile’s in the barrio and things like that. It’s really hard to find that anywhere else. Even the dogs on the island are super friendly! They’ll walk up to you, follow you to wherever it is you’re going, just chill with you, bark at other dogs to warn them of your presence. It’s amazing.

When I am on the island, it’s a lot of operational work on the resort as well as entertaining guests.  I also definitely get a surf in every day. When the restaurant closes up, I go out for a drink with friends and guests and we just chill.

But living on the island definitely has a lot of obstacles. From a business perspective, I think basic utilities is the toughest to deal with. Water has just only been connected to the island for the past year and a half, but when that water shuts off, you need to manually fill up the water tank so that your guests have water. We don’t have a deep well in our area, so it is extremely difficult when our water supply goes off. Brownouts happen sporadically and sometimes unannounced, and waste management is still not being handled by the LGU. Besides that obviously, supplies are limited and banking is also quite hard because the nearest commercial bank is 30 minutes away. With the internet being slow and sporadic as well, lots of times the bank is off-line.

In Siargao, I love the people, the surfing, the scenery – in that order.  The surfing wouldn’t be as fun if the people weren’t as nice and helpful as they are. The views are good, but they’re good all over the world anyways. So the Siargaonons, their hospitality, and attitude are to me the key significance of the island.

I hope that people who do visit will always be mindful of that… that they’re visiting and to respect the people of Siargao because they’re normally very nice to fellow travelers.

I’m also super active with the SEA (Siargao Environmental Awareness) Movement. We’d like to ask anyone who comes to the island to be respectful of the place, the environment. We avoid using single-use plastics and make sure we clean up over ourselves. We’re really trying to push for tourism awareness as well as political will to ensure the sustainability of eco-tourism on the island.

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