Surfing in La Union

From what I gather, in the Philippines, La Union is synonymous with surfing. If there was a Hollister here, La Union would be one of those beaches on 24/7 CCTV projected onto a dressing room wall.

On our second day, Sam and Crystal decided to be extreme and do some cool jungle trekking. Sam jumped off of a waterfall. This sounded fun, but I also felt like I owed it to La Union to perpetuate its reputation as a surfing haven.

Sarah and I discussed it and decided that we would forego any surfing lessons and just rent some boards and get into the water. What could go wrong, right?


Rash guards and optimism!

While Sarah had four surfing lessons under her belt, I only had the one experience in Northern Ireland last summer, which I’m not sure you can really call an experience. Do you have to actually be on the board for it to count as surfing, or does getting clonked on the head by it count, too?

Our hostel directed us toward swanky Kahuna, where the sea was packed with abrasive clumps of seaweed and throngs upon throngs of surfers. It was straight out of a Where’s Waldo? cartoon.

For 200 pesos an hour – that’s roughly $5 – I got my very own surfboard. It was a dirty off-white with a crack across the front and missing a fin in the back, but I was feeling optimistic. Sarah had decided to grab Luke to take some photos while I explained to the surf rental guy what our deal was.

“How long have you surfed for?” he’d asked us to start.

“Did you hear that?” Sarah whispered when he’d gone to get us rash guards. “We must look like we know what we’re doing.”

When she’d gone to get Luke, he’d asked me again what our experience levels were.

“Oh, she’s taken four lessons and I’ve taken two,” I’d lied, because two suggests so much more mastery than one. He eyed me with a mixture of worry and wary before putting the harder boards away and dragging out the foam ones.

“No lesson?”

“No. We just want to give it a go.”

We also wanted to take photos. A good chunk of time was spent dragging the boards up the beach to where Luke stood, partially concealed by some bushes, taking bright-eyed photos that smacked of ambition and naivety.

Pushing the board out onto the waves, some disillusioned part of me was convinced that as soon as I caught a wave, I’d be riding it in like a pro. One lesson in Ireland and I’d be zipping along the shoreline, shredding waves and being all salty-haired and saying things about pipelines and Peahi and anticipating my documentary getting featured at Jamian’s.

Instead, I spent the hour mooning everybody because my bottoms fell down every time I got on the board.

Sarah, however, looked like a pro, catching waves that conveyed her all the way back to the surf shop practically. I felt better when she mentioned that the current and the waves here were the strongest she’d ever encountered, in her own previous four hours or so of experience. The ocean is gnarly, dude. It was rough.


Sarah faces off against a child. I look on.

It was pretty physically demanding, but Sarah and I decided that we’d get back on the boards. Because no other time in life is it acceptable to encourage someone to keep going back to something that leaves them beaten, bloody, and half-naked, we figured we’d take advantage of this opportunity.

In the end, Sarah rode a few waves and I stood on top of the board and looked around. We misjudged a number of potentially awesome waves and fell over quite a few times. More of my energy was spent trying not to mow down small children than to actually catch a wave.

In my defense, I have had a much easier job getting onto my feet than I did in Ireland. I credit the yoga and wall climbing for upper body strength.

Dragging the boards back to the surf shop, we felt both accomplished and wrung out. We spent the next hour gathering ice from the hotel bar to put on the rashes we’d incurred, Sarah from dragging her knees along the board and me from God knows what. I have no idea what I did, but somewhere out there I’d ripped open all of the scrapes I had from rugby and torn up my thighs.

Within an hour, the surfers cleared out and we could’ve probably tried again in less populated waters, but a lounge by the pool and some mango juice seemed a lot less abusive.

Next time we’ll bring the thunder. And knee pads.


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