Back in February 2014, Noli John Mercader was a beginner in skimboarding and surfing. He was just looking for a spot where he could chill and play with his friends.
Mercader and his group saw a place by the beach and approached its owner, Lola Sayong, who gave them permission.
In return, the group must maintain the place’s cleanliness and prevent others from stealing coconuts. Soon after, with other aqua sports enthusiasts and locals visiting, a community of surfers was unexpectedly formed.
Lola Sayong Eco Surf Camp was born.
Stewards of Environmental Awareness
Now a co-founder and operations head of Lola Sayong Eco Surf Camp, Mercader shares that they started with just around 10 members. Currently, the team consists of 72 people under the name of Gubatnon for Adventourism Inc.
The camp not only serves as a beachfront resort or camping site. It has become a social enterprise manned by Sorsogon locals sharing the same passion for being active environmental stewards.
“We want to keep it as is. We want to maintain its natural beauty,” the 42-year-old Mercader shares.
Upon check-in, tourists would notice that there are no lounge chairs, only hammocks tied around trees and benches made of bamboo. Amidst tall coconut trees are nipa huts that serve as accommodations for guests. They also have camp rules to further preserve the place.
“Plastics and disposables are banned from the area. Party drinking is not allowed to avoid trash. Even karaoke,” Mercader enumerates.
“It has become part of our advocacy that Lola Sayong is not just a tourist spot, but an example of environmental preservation.”
No School, No Surf
Mercader noticed that a lot of out-of-school youth were starting to enjoy surfing. Some even practice nonstop until they become experts.
As they are starting to become a social enterprise, Mercader and his team wanted to encourage the youth to continue their studies. They imposed a No School, No Surf policy which prohibited surfing unless the young ones would go to school.
“We also provide educational assistance. It’s not as big as full scholarships though,” says Mercader. “We help them with their projects. Sometimes, we assist them with lodging costs near their schools.”
Since the kids have become surfing experts, they assist travelers and get shares that the organization receives from surfing lessons.
Tourists are charged Php 350 per hour. The young instructors get Php 200 in total. Php 150 is given outright, while the remaining Php 50 goes to their emergency fund.
“This is to instill financial literacy. We give their savings at the start of the school year. They even have passbooks because we wanted to show them what happens in real life.”
Since then, the surf camp has assisted 30 out-of-school youth under the No School, No Surf policy.
Pawikan Rescue Missions
Hawksbill Sea Turtle, locally called Pawikan, had been a long-time delicacy in Sorsogon.
Mercader shared that it was not a secret to the community that Pawikan were being hunted for food since his childhood. Due to poachers, the species dwindled.
With this, the staff of Lola Sayong ran Pawikan rescue missions wherein they created an incentive system with the local government unit of Gubat, Sorsogon.
Poachers or those who accidentally found baby Pawikans could have it exchanged for cash and rice.
Upholding Cultural Filipino Games
The team behind Lola Sayong Surf Camp also continues to share the ingenuity of Filipino culture. Locals would often invite tourists to participate in childhood games such as Sungka, Tumbang Preso, and Tirador.
It was a success, according to Mercader, as guests started to visit the site not just for surfing but also for these games and programs.
Surfing through the pandemic: From Surf Camp to SurFarm
The COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected the social enterprise.
“Since tourism and Lola Sayong operations were put on hold, we lost 90% of our income. So we had to look for a solution,” says Mercader. Eventually, his team came up with virtual farming to sustain the needs of the community.
With virtual farming, the investors, mostly former guests of Lola Sayong Eco Surf, could invest in crops, vegetables, chickens, pigs, cows, or goats.
“Sixty five percent goes to the surfers or locals who would take care of the crops or livestock while 35% goes to the maintenance of Lola Sayong.”
The investors will receive interest from the investment or may opt to convert half of the principal into 15 nights worth of accommodations at Lola Sayong.
This program gave way to fundraise and connect with past and potential guests.
“That’s why we call it SurFarm now,” Mercader proudly states.
How To Get There and Accommodation Rates
From Sorsogon City, Lola Sayong Eco SurFarm is a 30 to 45 minute jeepney ride. Tourists may drop off at Gubat Public Market and then take a tricycle to Barangay Buenavista.
The Eco SurFarm is quite popular among tourists and surfing enthusiasts, so travelers may directly tell the tricycle drivers to bring them to Lola Sayong.
In terms of accommodation, they offer package rates inclusive of three meals. The most affordable solo room with private CR starts at Php 1,650, while a solo room with communal CR is Php 1,450.
The biggest room with a private CR is at Php 3,150 and can fit up to 4 guests.
For backpackers, Lola Sayong offers a nipa hut good for two people at Php650. Day Tour Entrance Fee is Php75 per head.
The Eco SurFarm also has its own restaurant named Granny’s Grub. It offers Sorsogon delicacies and more. “Fifty percent of the crops and food we serve to guests are actually harvested from the farm.”
The restaurant’s best-seller is Smoked Fish Out Of Hell. “The name was inspired by the times we emerged from hunger when we started the surf camp. This food has almost become our staple,” Mercader recalls.
Outsource the Planning
For a seamless trip, you may leave the planning to DOT’s accredited tour operators in Bicol. Click on this link for a comprehensive list of agencies.
Explore Sorsogon responsibly by making sure that you comply with the province’s health and safety protocols, such as wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.
Ensure that you have acquired travel authority at https://s-pass.ph/ prior trip. Bring a copy or screenshot of this along with your vaccination card and valid ID upon arrival.
For the latest travel information about Sorsogon, you may visit their official website or Facebook page. You may also review updated safety protocols and requirements on Philippine destinations at www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel