Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What's On: Expat article

As published in an edition of What's On: Expat (November 2006)

For photos please go to this gallery.


La Union's Surfing Break, spearheaded by The Dept of Tourism Region 1 Office and The Provincial Government of La Union in cooperation with Power Up and the La Union Surf Club was billed as a four-day pre-Halloween surf camp. On the schedule for the long weekend were surf lessons handled by the local surfers of La Union, frisbee clinics courtesy of the Philippine Ultimate Association and wall-climbing basics brought to the beach by Power Up. Thrown in just for the fun of it was a speed climbing exhibition and an all-locals surf competition. All backed by the ska and reggae tunes of various bands, top-billed by Coffeebreak Island.

For regular La Union weekend warriors, such as myself, it sounded like a circus was about to roll through their favorite surf getaway. Suspicions ran high that there was going to be a crowd. The cordoned-off Tent City set up along the beach may have been the first clue as to how many people had truly shown up to take part of the event. The rare sight of concession stalls selling everything from bikinis to cold beers was likely the second indication. And for the truly dense, the two hundred beginners that had signed up for the first batch of lessons on Saturday sealed the deal.

La Union locals took turns teaching half-hour sessions that covered the basics in board safety, paddling and popping up. Starting on the beach, amped beginners learned about the proper stance and position before heading out to the water to try it out "for real."

As luck would have it, the waves had picked up in size and the current was stronger than usual. But it didn't seem to matter to the students as they got their first taste of surfing's elusive stoke. Meanwhile, beachgoers ran up and down a bordered area set aside specifically for the Frisbee enthusiasts. And further up the shoreline, eye-catching in its 20 foot glory, stood the Power Up climbing wall, already dotted with climbers and would-be climbers alike.

With all this activity going on, it seemed only fit to pop a cold beer, sit on the beach with some friends and let it all buzz around us.

The second day of the event was just as alive as the first. A seemingly endless amount of energy was pouring forth from participants and organizers alike. Beginners were given the beach to themselves as more advanced waveriders took cars and jeeps out to other surf spots. Not even the prospect of the oncoming typhoon could dampen the rising spirits of the crowd.

Forces of nature are stronger than sheer good vibes and along with the darkening Sunday sky came the first signs of rain. The scheduled Battle of the Bands was postponed due to the inclement weather and the Power Up team took down the climbing wall to reduce the risk of having a Milenyo-esque accident happen.

Typhoon Paeng rolled through La Union at about 3am. People woke up to a slate gray, overcast and chilly day. A decision was made to hold off the last of the surf clinics until the weather got better later on in the day. Freed from their coaching duties, the local boys took to the water to get in precious practice time in preparation for their competition the next day. Huddled under hoodies and sipping hot coffee, their students watched in frank admiration of true surfing skill.

After lunch, the first rays of sun began to break though the canopy of clouds. The current calmed down enough to resume the last batch of lessons. Impromptu frisbee teams were created for a fun game and the ever-intrepid wall climbers began re-assembling the Power Up wall.

The high point of the day came when the sun went down… and the bands set up at Sebay Resort for the ska and reggae party. Headlining the night's party was Coffeebreak Island, who played to a crowd of thrumming and thumping bodies all ready to let loose and have fun.

Tuesday was slow in coming. It was as though it knew that it marked the end of the La Union Surfing Break. Come that evening, bags would be packed, cars loaded, buses boarded… all bound for Manila again.

But before the sad business of ending a great surf weekend, there was the spectacle of witnessing great surfing. Grommets on shortboards paddled into head-high waves, all vying for that champion's trophy and bragging right. Next came the big boys and girls of La Union. The Men's Open Longboard and the Wahine Longboard divisions showed the grommets what levels of surfing they should aspire for. Saving the best for last, La Union Surf Club showcased their seeded surfers in both long and shortboard divisions in a friendly expression session.

It was a fitting end for a weekend that was mellow yet slightly frenetic. It was the kind of weekend that leaves you tired but wanting more. A feeling long time surfers have grown accustomed to and one that will soon become familiar to the newly baptized brethren of wave riders.


Where: Urbiztondo, San Juan is the best place to head to for a weekend of surfing.

How: Buses leave for La Union on an almost hourly basis. The most popular of which is Partas. Get on a bus heading towards Laoag and get down at San Fernando, La Union. Alternately, you can cut some time off your travels by telling the conductor to let you off in front of Sebay Resort.

Driving up is another option. With the expansion of the North Luzon Expressway, the trip can be done in 5 hours.

Learn: Lessons can be booked through the various resorts and as well as through the La Union Surf Club. In Manila, boards and lessons can be booked through Fiveforty Surf Company.

Stay: There are several surf camps and resorts that line the stretch in front of Urbiztondo's beach break. Among the most popular are San Juan Surf Resort (Google-able) Hacienda Resort (no reservations, first come, first served) and Surfers Inn (mobile: 09285588265).

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