When Francis Ford Coppola shot the epic Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now in the sleepy coastal town of Baler, Aurora, he could not have imagined the ripple effects he and his production crew would have on this town and on the country. The film included a bizarre surf scene in the middle of a full-blown battle highlighted by napalm bombing (and the memorable Robert Duvall line “Charlie don’t surf”). After shooting ended, some of the movie crew left behind their surfboards for the curious locals – surfing was practically non-existent in the Philippines during that time – who then proceeded to teach themselves the sport. So was born the surfing culture in the Philippines.
Baler is so much different now from the fishing town that Coppola and his crew found back in 1976. With the increasing popularity of surfing in the country, tourists have flocked to Baler resulting in a proliferation of resorts, lodgings, restaurants, shops and cafes. There’s even a Charlie Does Surf Shop – an obvious reference to that Robert Duvall line.
The most popular stretch for tourists, particularly surfers is Sabang Beach, a long stretch of grey sand just a hop away from the town center. This is the surfing center of Baler. Many of the resorts in Baler may be found right here along with a myriad choice of surf shops, restaurants, drinking stations and cafes.
Not into surfing we contented ourselves with watching surfers hit the waves this December day. Waves are largest from around November to February, but just large enough for novice surfers and beginners. The beach bottom is almost purely sand, making surfing a relatively safe exercise here. The most popular spot for surfers is the area in front of Bay’s Inn where the waves are moderate. Advanced surfers go to Cemento Beach and Cobra Reef to the east of Sabang where the waves are much larger.
An elevated baywalk runs across the length of Sabang Beach from Costa Pacifica to past the Aliya Surf Camp Resort. With cafes, restaurants and drinking stations lining the baywalk, it’s a great place to hang out. When not out on an early morning trip or when resting after a tiring day tour we found the stretch of Sabang along the baywalk the perfect place to walk, relax and watch the sunrise or sunset. Since Sabang Beach faces east, sunrises are the main thing here. However, as we would find out on our second day in Baler, a fiery sunset can occasionally lend its colors to the eastern skies, especially with just the right quantity and location of clouds.
Sabang Beach is also a haven for dining. There’s a wide range of options here from hole-in-the-wall types to more luxurious dining alternatives. The resorts such as Costa Pacifica, Bayler View Hotel and Bay’s Inn have their own restaurants. (Check out the seafood sisig, Supreme pizza and Chocnut Turon Ala Mode at Bayler View Restaurant.) Grilled seafood and meat dishes are the specialty of Yellowfin Bar and Grill located just across Bayler View Hotel. We also had most of our breakfasts here since they’re open almost 24 hours. An iconic dining place here is Baler Surfer Grill located along the baywalk with its unique Volkswagen beetle-turned-grilling station. Check out their grilled items especially their grilled bulalo (beef marrow). The restaurant is open only on weekends. One thing we noticed is that the food here is mostly reasonably priced or even downright cheap, yet of good quality.
For the non-surfer, Sabang Beach is but an introduction to the many scenic spots in and around Baler. Watch out for our succeeding posts…