I am posting this primarily to inform other travelers/tourists about the danger of playing with the waves of one of Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s beaches called NAGTABON BEACH. I will be sharing my experience regarding its deadly undertow and rip currents. Please bear in mind that none of us in our group were professional swimmers so we do not know if these risks are also present in other beaches.
Nagtabon Beach was our last Palawan itinerary before we went back to Metro Manila and judging only by the looks, you’d say that it’s a decent place to spend your last day in the town. It has a certain chill-surfing-area profile about it. Clear waters, fine flaky sands, and the singing waves. Nothing rings dangerous to this beach or so we thought.
Nothing felt off when we tested the waters. As I mentioned, our group of eight is not composed of strong swimmers so we ventured only a few meters away from the shore, we were very close. We were in an area where the water is only knee-level high when one of us made a joke that it’s just like when there’s a flood in Metro Manila.
“Parang baha lang sa atin ito, eh”.
So, we spent a few moments playing with the waves when we noticed that it carries a generous amount of sand during its build-up. In addition, there’s also a strong pull whenever the waves are forming. It was then when one of us noticed that it’s pulling sands off from the surface. The surface where I and my friends are standing.
“Uy, parang lumalalim”.
From here we decided to move back to the shore, but it was too late. The sands below us had collapsed in just seconds, dropping us in the waters above head level (about 5.5 feet deep and deeper as you move away from the shore). Again, we are not strong swimmers and we were only a few meters away from the shore. To better visualize it, some tourists far from us on one side are still standing with the water slightly above their knees. Four of us were initially caught in the collapsed sand column and our initial reaction was to try and swim/flail our way back to the shore. Unfortunately, this is where the current below comes into play again as it kept pulling us away from the shore, keeping us stuck in this deep column of the beach. We were beaten by continuous waves and pulled by the current under at the same time. Three of my friends struggled further behind me while I panic and flail alone closer to the shore. This is when my boyfriend rushed to help me, but he too was caught in the undertow. He can swim, but the only thing he could do by then was to lift me so my head stays above water while he stands and breathe whenever he had the chance to (he is 5’9″) do so. It’s total chaos and people are watching confused as to why we’re drowning in an area close to the shore.
Seconds later, lifeguards came but were not able to provide aid quickly. They’re not throwing anything to us. No life vests, no life belts and not even a rope. They were only able to provide verbal guidance, but that too was no use. One of them shouted,
How? If it’s above head level. One of us also tried to reach for one of them. Maybe because of instincts that these people are supposed to be rescuers, to our surprise, the guy shouted,
“’Wag mo akong hawakan!”
The lifeguards then tried to pull us one by one, by hand from the current. I was successfully removed away from the deep sand column when my boyfriend handed me to two lifeguards standing on the side. One of our friends from the back also regained his footing by swimming continuously sideways pulling the other two until they reached the leveled surface. My boyfriend then, was able to escape when a guy handed him a surfboard to hold on to.
We cannot realize what went wrong out there. We didn’t go too far and people were swimming with us. There were other tourists, foreigners and even kids. One thing is for sure though, NAGTABON is a treacherous beach. We asked the locals and did our research after the unfortunate event and we found out that people have died on this beach — adults and kids, locals and foreigners. It has unpredictable behavior and in addition, an ill-equipped rescue team.
To end this I would suggest you pick another spot if you’re planning to visit Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, remove NAGTABON BEACH in your itinerary. If you’re still planning to go then just remember these:
When caught in these waves:
– Don’t panic
– Avoid swimming against the current as you will drain your energy
– Swim perpendicular to the current parallel to the shore until you reach a leveled surface
When helping someone:
– REACH if possible, then pull the distressed
– THROW something floating or something to pull to the distressed if you think he/she is unreachable
– ROW to the distressed if a lifeboat is present, then reach and pull with the paddle
– GO and ask for help. Don’t throw yourself to the distressed if you have no proper training.
This post by M. Sanchez first came out on September 29, 2019, in DIY Travel Philippines, one of the biggest travel groups on Facebook.