Monique Buensalido visits La Union for the Billabong All-Girls surf camp, and in between Surfing Lessons, she chats with Luke Landrigan about the history of surfing in the province and why it’s one of the best places (in the world) to learn how to surf.
Not many people get to learn from surfing champions (and good-looking ones, at that), but some girls are just lucky.
Luke Landrigan, Billabong Asia surfer, was standing in the middle of a group of girls, teaching them the basics of getting up on the surfboard: from lying face down on the board, push yourself up, step on the board, and keep your balance. While other girls may get distracted by Luke’s sun-kissed, wavy locks and rugged good looks, these girls were intently listening, mentally practicing Luke’s moves. Then the girls dispersed and jogged to their respective instructors, who accompanied them into the water for their first forays into surfing. Most of the girls picked it up immediately, but the others didn’t seem worried. They had two days left in La Union, and seemed confident that they would learn right away.
The Philippines is blessed with a lot of beaches, but La Union has really set itself apart as the country’s surfing capital, with its consistent, intermediate waves all year round. Before he was a winning surfer (his recent accolades include Champion of the Aurora Surf Cup Challenge 2009 in Baler and the Nike 6.0 and Global Surf Industries Longboard Pro Invitationals in La Union; and first-runner up in the Longboard Division of the six-star dual-sanctioned Quiksilver Open West Java 2012 in Indonesia), Luke was just a guy who liked to surf. “There was an American base here, and foreigners brought surfing here in the 80s.” he recalls. “Filipinos didn’t get into it until the late 80s to the early 90s. We were the first ones to try it.” It didn’t pick up immediately (“maybe they didn’t want to get dark,” shrugs Luke), but eventually more people started to try it. When Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo tried surfing in La Union, her photo made it to the front page of the newspaper and brought a lot of attention to the formerly sleepy town. A lot of surf schools and resorts started popping up, and now it’s a bustling hotspot for surfing. The sport is admittedly intimidating, seeing pro surfers ride huge waves, but anyone can get into the sport. “It’s not just for macho guys,” says Luke. “It’s for both men and women—whatever size, whatever age.” Even his adorable, nine-year-old dog River surfs (if you’re lucky, you’ll spot him languidly lying down on the board as Luke paddleboards through the water.)
This is the reason why Billabong came up with the All Girls Surf Camp. “We want more women to get into the sport,” says Charl Sapina, Marketing Manager of Freesurf, Inc. Already on its second year, Billabong’s All Girls Surf Camp encourages girls to explore the waves in La Union. “There have been a lot of tours and travel groups specifically for surfing, and it’s really helping the sport and industry because it becomes more accessible. With the All Girls Surf Camp, you can learn with people on the same level as you, and if you can’t do road trips on your own, you have a group you can go with.” This year’s run had more girls ranging from teenagers to girls, in their 30s.
La Union is only four to five hours away from Manila, which makes it easy for most people to get up and go. “It’s the most accessible place to surf,” says Luke. “When you commute, you just cross the highway and the beach is right there. There are buses 24 hours a day. The beach is sandy, which is the safest for beginners.”
Once you get there, surfing (or learning how) is as easy as walking on the beach. There are several schools and small outfits offering lessons and surfboard rentals littered on the shore. “We’re so spoiled here in the Philippines,” admits Luke. He got his certification as a surf instructor in Australia, and part of the requirements is teaching in a surf school for several hours. It was quite different from how people here learn to surf. “The instructor will just stand there and watch while you carry your own board, paddle out, and try. Here in the Philippines, and in other countries like Indonesia, beginners are given one-on-one sessions, and the instructors will even push your board to help you ride the wave. And it’s so cheap! Usually an hour of surfing lessons costs only P400 (or US$10).”
Luke’s surf school, San Juan Surf School by Billabong, offers packages ranging from beginners’ lessons to more advanced courses. The instructors are locals—guys that Luke grew up with— and all great surfers. They’re also patient and encouraging teachers, carefully explaining how the girls can improve and encouraging them to keep trying. It’s no wonder why most girls were able to stand up on their board during the first session.
Aside from being a place to surf, La Union is a wonderful place to escape from city life. After morning and afternoon sessions with their instructors (girls got a total of four private lessons with Billabong’s surf camp), the girls also got to soak up the laid-back La Union lifestyle. Franco Reyes gave an acoustic performance during the first night as the girls enjoyed their dinner, while DJs Joey Santos and Niki Rojas (who are quite prominent in the party and music scene in the Philippines, namely with Aloha Boardsports Surf & Music Festival, the Manila Music Festival, and the Tagaytay Electronica Festival) gave girls a DJ session the next night. The rest of the time, the girls would sample the delicious offerings of the restaurant at the San Juan Surf Resort (pineapple pancakes and cheese pancakes were some favorites), languidly work on their tans on the beach, and even rent surfboards to keep on practicing. By the end of the three days, the group of almost 30 girls seemed like a huge barkada, laughing and cheering each other on as they collected their certificates of completion.
“I’m sure they’re gonna go home and come back soon,” said Luke. “Some of the girls even extended!” Indeed, a weekend in La Union seems never enough, and even before leaving, you’re already planning to come back. Several people also head north after surfing in La Union—Baguio is only one hour away, and Vigan is two and half hours away. Until then, budding surfers stuck in Manila can do laps in a pool to build strength. “90% of surfing is paddling,” Luke reveals.
“Billabong is committed to growing surfing in the country,” continued Charl. “And with the great reception from the All Girls Surf Camp, we’re definitely going to keep having events to encourage surfing.” More reasons to go to La Union.
For more information, visit
WHERE TO STAY
The San Juan Surf Resort is right on the beach, with the San Juan Surf School (also known as the Billabong Surf School) run by Luke Landrigan right inside as well. Choose from six room types— Standard Aircon Rooms, Bungalow Aircon Rooms, Deluxe Rooms, Villas, Fan Rooms and Family Rooms. There’s also a bar, restaurant and a surf shop.
For more information, phone (+63 72) 720 0340 or 242 0389, (+63 917) 880 3040, email
WHEN TO GO
The surfing season is from September to March, but waves are particularly strong from November to February.