Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Seeking Surf in La Union

When a current carries you away, you cannot fight against it.

The same can be said for an idea. When it starts forming in your head, you cannot forget it. The idea that started forming in my head one hectic afternoon at work was that of surf, sand and the sea. It was born a midst a calm in the storm of papers and job requests. It simply struck me that I needed to learn how to surf; and I needed to start learning it that same weekend.

What immediately followed was a quick text message to friends asking if they wanted to spend seven hours on the midnight bus with me for a spontaneous out of town trip to learn how to surf. Some of them thought I was joking, but more of them thought that I was drunk that early in the afternoon. Luckily, one of my best friends agreed to accompany me on this most random of trips.

At twelve midnight on a Friday evening, we hastily made our way to Sampaloc Manila to catch the last bus for Urbiztondo beach in San Juan, La Union. With nothing but our backpacks and our balls, we caught the only remaining Farinas Bus bound for Laoag as it was exiting the station.

None of us had ridden this type of bus before nor did we know where to get off or what to expect but everything turned out better than expected. We paid 380 pesos for a one way trip and told the conductor to wake us up when we hit Urbiztondo beach.

Seven hours and one flat tire later, we were awakened to the sound of waves crashing against the shore and the salty smell of the sea in the air.

Skim board painting contest on the beach. 

Surf lessons popping up everywhere on the beach.
As you can see, this is why they call La Union one of the surfing capitals of the Philippines. The waves are very strong on this side of the archipelago and the locals more than make use of this little gift from nature. The beach is filled with tents offering surfing lessons and surf board rentals.

Renting a surf board for an hour will set you back around 200 pesos while getting a surfing instructor for an hour will cost you around 400 pesos (board rental included). 

What I like about Urbiztondo beach is that they have a very tight knit surfing community. Every local plays a part in giving you the best possible surfing experience. From the friendly and knowledgeable surfing instructors to the very hospitable resort owners, each person respects surfing as a sport and gladly champions it with a passion worth commending. 

In the 2 days that I was there, I made it a point to learn as much as I could about surfing. As soon as we hit the beach, me and my friend got an instructor to show us the ropes. (We headed to the Stoked Tent. They have good, friendly instructors.)

With the way that our instructor explained it, surfing seems to be a walk in the park. I couldn't have been more mistaken. Surfing is actually very challenging. The two most important things I think you need are balance and timing. You need the right sense of balance when you're on the board and you need to know exactly when to catch the right wave and when to start standing from your prone position.

I'm glad to say that I was able to stand (albeit a bit awkwardly) after my first try. The feeling of riding your first wave is exhilarating. It literally feels like you're levitating a good few feet above the water level as you head towards the beach. It's a totally unique experience for me and I do hope that you can experience it for yourselves if you haven't already done so.

My victory was short lived as I had a little trouble getting the proper form in my succeeding attempts. I think it was because I was so stoked on reliving that rush of surfing again that I tensed up and didn't relax as I tried to stand. As they say, Rome wasn't built in a day and the same goes for trying to learn how to surf in a single day. Impossible unless you've got god like skills.

Another thing I didn't expect was how tired I'd be after an hour of surfing. I found out that it's especially taxing for your arms (due to the paddling) as well as your upper back (when trying to stand). Couple this with the fact that you're constantly tossed around by monster waves like a rag doll and you've got a sure fire recipe for fatigue.

The rockier part of the beach. This is also the area where the bigger and more dangerous waves are. This is what pro surfers have to deal with if they make a mistake. 
Another thing we weren't expecting was the large amount of people that would be on the beach that weekend. We later found out that this was because of the annual festival called "Surfing Break" which usually happens every October to usher in the start of the surfing season (November to February if I'm not mistaken.)

There were roughly about 100% more people than usual based on the locals estimates. This meant that rooms and accommodations during the weekend were scare. Lucky for me, I had an awesome office mate that was a regular surfer in La Union and she hooked us up with a cozy place to stay. (Thanks Jean!)
Angel & Marie's awesome Surfer's Retreat. 
We stayed at Angel & Marie's Surfing Retreat which is a stone's throw away from the beach. This tidy little haven is a simple and clean place that offers surfers the much needed rest that they need after a hard day of riding the waves. What's cool is that Marie is a very welcoming and hospitable host who herself is a champion surfer. (Check out the trophies in the above photo. All hers.)

This place was perfect for backpackers like us and we rented a fan room for 1000 pesos a night inclusive of a free and delicious breakfast. 

Since the Surfing Break was a really big festival for the town, there were a lot of events, parties and people at night as the locals transformed the beach head into one big party place. Unfortunately, I knew I was going to get smashed so I chose the smart thing to do and left my camera in the room. Good decision. It was another great experience as it was like Masskara except on the beach with bands and beer everywhere. 

Since I couldn't show you guys pics of the things that transpired during the night, I'd like to leave you with some pictures of the amazing sunset that La Union has to offer. The thing I love about sunsets is that no matter where you are in the world, you'll be looking at the same sun, but every single time, that sun is going to put on a kick-ass light show for you before it gives way to the night. 

With this, I guess you can say that I'll definitely be Seeking more Surf in La Union in the months to come.

Live Easy.

Hang Loose.

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