A Kite surfer’s Guide to the Philippines
The Philippines is an archipelago with 7,107 islands, about 1,000 of which are inhabited and each bearing their own marvelous qualities that make every island unique. You can still expect dream like beaches, cheap prices, relentlessly friendly hospitality and the most delicious mangoes you will ever have in your lifetime on just about every island though. The Philippines is divided into three major sections, the largest and most northern Island is called Luzon, which is where the capital Manila is located. Then in the middle of the archipelago is a bundle of small and medium sized islands, collectively known as Visayas and in the south, the second largest island is known as Mindanao.
Some of the more popular destinations on the tourist radar include Boracay, Cebu, Bohol and Palawan, but it all depends on what you’re interested in. The Philippines has beautiful tropical climates that are perfect for participating in all sorts of water sports. One of the most up and coming watersports is kite boarding or kite surfing, where a person rides a board similar to a wake board, and has a harness around their waist which hooks on to a kite that can range from 4 square meters to as big as 17 square meters (they even used to make larger ones). Consistent trade winds, warm shallow cerulean waters and beautiful tropical sunshine make the Philippines one of the most desirable kite surfing destinations in the world.
Before you can go kite surfing, you need to have some wind. The Philippines has the gift of trade winds. There are two seasons, Amihan, which is the Northeastern Monsoon that hits between November all the way until April and Hagabat, which is the Southwestern Monsoon that usually runs from May to October. As most kiters know all too well, the wind is a fickle and unpredictable force of nature and sometimes the weather may come early, possibly changing over night, while sometimes it could be rather late in the predicted wind patterns and slowly change over a number of weeks.
As a tropical country, there are two seasons in the Philippines, wet and dry. The rainy season varies depending on what region you are in, so during Amihan, Northern Luzon and the East coast receive high levels of rain, while Hagabat brings the wet weather on Palawan and the Western areas. Visayas and Mindano do not experience as great of an impact from the rain as, but does receive the winds from the surrounding monsoons. It is advised to travel to the Philippines for kiting during Amihan, rather than Hagabat when the winds tend to be more erratic and inconsistent.
Windguru.com is a great website to check weather forecasts and is constantly updating and adding new locations. Surf-Forecast.com has maps that display ocean wave size, wave period and energy as well customizable options for overlays of wind arrows, pressure and other general weather knowledge. BuoyWeather provides you with a two day forecast for marine weather patterns that update every 3-6 hours. Windfinder offers wind forecasts for several specific kiting locations with a 7 day animated forecast, and forecasts are computed 4 times a day.
One of the most world-renowned kite spot in the world is found in the Philippines, Boracay Island, but given its well known reputation, that means massive crowds flocking to indulge in the clear waters and white beaches, not to mention a thriving party scene. But wait, remember how the Philippines is comprised of 7,107 islands? You’re in luck, because there are OTHER gorgeous places to kite other than Boracay! Here’s a guide to some other islands and locations to get your kite on (we did include Boracay in case you do want to check it out), and if you are looking to learn how to ride the wind, never fear for there are multiple schools throughout the islands that can have you up and riding in no time at all.
Bulabog Beach (east beach)
What to Expect: This collection of bays is protected by an offshore reef, which leaves inside conditions to be choppy, with a few smaller breaks on the outside. There are three bays total in Bulabog beach, the first two are accessible to both beginners and pros, but the third is only accessible by kiting there, so kiters who are confident riding upwind and performing self rescue are the only ones who should be heading out to the third bay. Keep an eye out for Northeasterly onshore winds ranging between 15-30 knots, and even more when the 20 knot plus trade winds roll through cross-on shore. The shallow water stays warm all year, but beware of the tides, because when high tide rolls in the beach shrinks and its difficult to find a spot to launch
Bulabog is so crowded with beginners struggling to learn, novice riders and pros whipping through the masses. Despite its reputation as one of the best kite spots in the world, there are not only sea urchins and sharp rocks to look out for and a sewage pipe that runs directly into the bay. There is a great deal of pollution from the heavy tourist attractions and resorts that litter Boracay that eventually finds its way into the water you are meant to ride. However, the plus about Boracay is that when there is not enough wind to kite there are various other activities to entertain yourself with with other watersports like wake boarding and several bars and tourist gimmicks.
Category: Beginner to pro but beginners often struggle to navigate through the pros showing off their tricks and just sheer mass number of kiters.
Getting there: Coming from Manila or Clark, it is only a one-hour plane ride. International flights head into Manila, Kalibo or Cebu airports, where you will then have to transfer to fly to Caticlan on Panay Island. Then you can hop a ferry for a mere 10 minutes to Boracay. The cheapest option is to take a bus or car from Kalibo airport to Caticlan and then take the ferry.
Events: Bulabog hosts the Boracay Big Air Challenge of the Boracay International Funboard Cup, the Kiteboard Tour Asia (KTA) and All Chicks Kite Camp with international kite superstar Susi Mai.
White Beach (west beach)
What to Expect: This is the beach on the opposite side of Boracay and is the spot to head to during the rainy Hagabat. However, these winds are extremely unpredictable and inconsistent and this is one time when typhoons are actually a positive weather pattern. If you are interested in kiting this spot, it is advisable to consult the local kitesurfers or kite schools as the winds can pick up to extreme speeds when a typhoon is in the area.
Kingfisher Beach (Pagudpud)
What to Expect: Kingfisher is a location where you’ll be able to have a phenomenal selection of windy days during Amihan and due to its location, you’ll also be able to make the most of Hagabat, which although is considered off season, you’ll still get your fair share of days on the water. On-season here is considered to start in October, which is slightly earlier than Amihan’s onset, but no one is complaining about the minimum 25-35 knots, which can come from all directions. There is also a wave break about 300 meters out that ranges between baby breaks to 7 meters high, but don’t expect any clean tubes, these waves are more close outs and tend to break in different sections. Compared to Boracay, this spot is much more secluded and less travelled so you’ll have much more space to play. The Pagupud area is now considered to be the Maui of Asia and is slowly building a following. There isn’t much else to do than enjoy the peace and quiet when there isn’t wind, but there are few days where ‘no wind’ is the forecast. Not to mention sunset kite sessions like you’ve never imagined.
Category: This spot is definitely prime for advanced kite surfers looking to play in waves and practice their freestyle riding under challenging conditions. Beginners are welcome to take advantage of the space to kite but the strong wins sometimes make learning difficult.
Getting there: Take a one-hour flight from Manila to Laoag and then take a 2-hour bus ride, or 1 hour by car depending on the driver.
What to Expect: The nine kilometer desert-like slice of beach receives a strong Northwest and side shore wind that is similar to the nearby Kingfisher’s conditions. The windmills that deliver about 40% of the province’s entire energy source contribute to beautiful steady winds when they are off and pump up some heavy gusts when turned on. There are few shore breaks where beginning wave riders can practice.
Category: Intermediate to advanced riders will make the most out of this location.
Getting there: Fly to Laoag City from where you can hire a van to take you to the town of Bangui. From Laoag, take the main road that leads to Pagudpud.
What to Expect: This is not a beginner spot, as strong onshore winds and large barrel waves that are at least up to 5-6 meters high mark this as more advanced territory. Hagabat winds deliver their standard northeasterly winds that range from 20-35 knots. This is another quiet kite spot that is nearby a local coastal community that thrives through fishing and farming.
Category: Advanced intermediate to advanced riders will be able to handle the Lagoon.
Getting there: Hop a flight to Laoag City from where you can hire a van to take you to Pagudpud, which will be about an hour.
What to Expect: Relatively less travelled than its neighbor Boracay, Union Beach is where those with a need for speed head to. Reef protected shallow flat water paired with an on shore wind makes it a great place for beginners to start learning while advanced riders can really work on their freestyle and small wave riding out on the reef break. Beginners also benefit from the minimal popularity of this location compared to Boracay, which is over run by international kite pilgrims.
Category: Beginner to advanced.
Getting there: As it is only 30 minutes away from Boracay, many will choose to stay in Boracay where the night life is thriving and take a banca over. If you’re choosing to fly, it is only a 10 minute tricycle ride from Caticlan Airport. The ride from Kalibo Airport is about an hour and a half y hired van.
What to Expect: Since there is nothing but beautiful white sand and a few sparse pieces of vegetation on the island, the only other visitors to the island are fisherman who sun dry their fish on the undisturbed beach. The shallow transparent warm waters that are as smooth as the San Miguel beers you will enjoy after your perfect kite, surround uninhabited 1.5 km horseshoe shaped island. The island gets strong consistent winds and the lack of any trees or buildings lets you ride downwind as well as practicing jumps over the island while someone snaps priceless photos of your incredible skills.
Category: Level three to advanced.
Getting there: If you fly into Caticlan you can grab a bus to Tibiao Town in Antique, then rent a motorboat that will take about 2 and half hours to get to Seco. Another cheaper option is to rent a boat ride from a fisherman in Culasi on Panay. For those coming form Boracay, prepare yourself for a long 4-5 hour boat ride. Since there aren’t any stores on the island, make sure to bring snacks and drinks to keep you fueled up for the intense riding you’ll be doing.
What to Expect: There are a few different spots on Cuyo Island, which is found almost in the middle of the Sulu Sea, just south of the windiest region during Amihan season. Victoria Beach gets a side onshore wind, while Capusan beach has a wealth of shallow water and offshore winds. Quijano Windsurfing Retreat which is also known as Anino Retreat, offers a vast virgin and reef-protected lagoon with sandy bottom sea, smooth onshore wind and small waves that are perfect for those just stepping into the amazing thrill of kitesurfing. Very few visitors know about this spot, which makes it extra safe for rookie kiters. The thing to watch out for in Cuyo is that during low tide the water heads so far out that there isn’t enough water to kite in.
Category: Beginner to advanced.
Getting there: Flying form Manila, you’ll fly to Puerto Princesa and although there are two weekly flights to Cuyo, you can take a boat from the local pier to Cuyo. If you’re coming from Iloilo, hustle down on Montenegro Shipping Lines or Milagrosa Shpping Lines straight to Cuyo. You can also take a ferry from Iloilo to Puerto Princesa and then hope the boat to Cuyo. A last resort option is to take a boat from Manila to Cuyo that only operates once a week and makes a stop at Coron.
The Calamianes Islands
What to Expect: Located in the Northern region of Palawan, the Western most islands of the Philippines, the Calamianes Islands are their own collection of several small islands that feature some of the most breathtaking scenery of white beaches, limestone cliffs, and water so clear it looks like boats are merely levitating over a simmering reef of turquoise opals. There are three major islands, which are known as Busuanga, Culion and Coron, but the region is overall known as Coron. Getting to this spot is quite difficult and only the most dedicated riders make it. To the utter paradise that features open water with buttery flat kite spots that have an assortment of different angles and conditions, but are always stunning. Depending on what beach you head to, Amihan winds will bring Easterly winds.
Category: Level Two to Advanced
Getting there: Beauty is not easily acquired when it comes to making it all the way out to Coron. Most international flights arrive in Manila, which you’ll then need to fly to Cebu and then to Busuanga Island. From there it will take about 30 minutes to get to Coron. Other options include the ferry from Manila to Puerto Princesca or if you are in Palawan, taking a ferry from El Nido to Coron. Neither ferry trip is short and sweet, so be prepared for the relentless waves of Amihan to keep you company in a less than enjoyable way than later when you are kiting.
The Philippines is one country where you can get a visa upon arrival if you plan to stay only 30 days, unless you are from Israel or Brazil, which means you can stay up to 59 days with the visa-upon arrival. To earn this visa, you must have a passport that will be valid for six months after you arrive and an exit plane ticket. If you are so ultimately hooked on the Philippines, there is a possibility for a visa extension to 59 days total through the Bureau of Immigrations which costs about 3,000 Php which is about $60 USD.
Schools & Rentals
Now that you know about all the prime spots, and are stoked to get on the water, but have never even set foot on a board or flown a kite before, never fear! A great majority of these spots have recognized the economic potential from the tourist interest in the sport and several resorts have included it in their offered activities as well as schools that offer camps and programs for newcomers. As you read, there are some kite spots that are barren, isolated and uninhabited, which means you will not be finding any kite schools or gear here. The most popular spots such as Boracay will have a wealth of schools to choose from, but due to enormous popularity, not that much space for you to learn. It is recommended to head to one of the lesser known locations that still has a resort presence such as Kingfisher. Renting gear is a hit or miss depending on the location and quality of gear you will receive, so if you do have your own gear, it is highly recommended that you bring it with you to eradicate any worries of being without a kite when conditions are perfect!
**There are still so many more kite spots in the Philippines, but these are the major destinations.
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In addition to the spots mentioned above, you can add Zamboanguita in Negros Oriental (a bit south of Dumaguete). Kite In Negros, the local school is currently operating there. Good wind during both season, plenty of space and not so many riders for the moment...