This, from a travel magazine I contributed to two years ago: “From Aparri, Baler, Surigao del Sur to Zambales, surfers have a term for what they do: ‘laro.’ Play. Because that’s what surfing is. It’s a game, played with abandon, where your body and Mother Nature are one. If you’re more concerned about poise and looking good than having fun, then surfing is not for you. At one point or another, you cannot avoid looking like a drenched cat.
“But isn’t that the way we used to play when we were young? When we were totally unself-conscious? And that, I believe, is how one should live life: you get on the board of life, paddle out to find and catch your wave. You ride it, hopefully with grace. And if you don’t, you get back on again. And again. And again.”
I had the chance to enjoy this kind of play recently, when the kids and I took a road trip to San Juan, La Union (where I first stood on a surfboard in 2006). I remember Luke Landrigan, who runs Billabong Surfing School and San Juan Surf Resort, telling me that children could start learning as early as four years old. My twins are five—and one of them, Mateo, is exceptionally agile—so I thought: perfect. They learn to surf, I get to work on my ever-darkening tan, and we get to enjoy the crazy-fun kids and parents have when no one is looking (and cares).
The trip itself is relatively painless—around six hours (including a breakfast stop) on good roads. What will make it more painless is a “happy stop” at a convenience store, where you can have the kids run free and pick up whatever they want. This is where I feel I have to jump to a defense of some sort: at home the kids have their pick of fruits—from kiwi to apples to oranges to melons to dried jackfruit, mangoes, and bananas—so feasting on junk food is a treat. It only happens when we’re on holiday, so bring on the Cheetos and Doritos!
Located on MacArthur Highway, San Juan Surf Resort is in Urbiztondo, around 15 minutes drive north of San Fernando, La Union. You won’t miss it. Once inside, you might as well just forget you came from the city (or wherever) and focus on just one thing: having fun.
Pets are allowed, which is a bonus, but Luke’s dogs, particularly his Labrador, River, is clearly an Alpha male and will let your dog know it. Good thing my dog, Gizzard—who looks exactly like River, except he’s got, er, extra padding round the middle (like his owner)—is the self-effacing type and conceded immediately to River’s authority.
We arrived a little after noon, so we had to wait until the waves swelled a bit higher and rougher to actually do some surfing. Luke, who by the way, bagged the silver medal in the recent Asian Beach Games in Bali, told me we would start at 4 p.m., which gave me plenty of time to a) play with his year and half-year old baby boy, Kai, b) drink a few beers, c) watch over my twin boys to make sure they stayed away from the “danger no swimming” area of the beach, and d) correct people from calling Gizzard “River” (“that isn’t River. River has ribs.”).
By the time Luke called my attention, I was already feeling a little buzzed, but the buzz would give way to absolute thrill when I saw Mateo ride his first wave.
How does one explain it, the excitement and pride that literally rises from your gut and explodes into cheers and whoops and sends a parent to do a crazy little jig of happiness even amidst the roaring waves? Well that’s precisely what I felt—and did—when Mateo pushed himself up on his little arms and stood on the surfboard. Ah, magic.
I have to credit Luke and his fellow instructors, like Joel, who patiently walked Mateo through the motions and rules. Hands at chest level. Push up. Balance. Before you hit the shore, jump off. Mateo got it on his second try. And he went at it, again and again and again, and would not stop bugging me until he tried it again the next afternoon.
My daughter Simone, 12, who was hesitant to try it at first, finally gave in to her curiosity the following day. She got it on her fourth try, when she realized she wasn't a ‘goofy’, like her brother (her right leg is more dominant), and rode wave upon wave. The next morning, the salesgirl in the surfshop asked me if the twins were my children. I said yes; so is the gangly dalagita. “Ah, yung magaling mag-surf?” she answered. I kidded Simone about it after, and watched her blush. Lovely sight.
Ok, now for the practical stuff
Don’t expect fancy digs, though. This is, after all, a surf resort, and the guests are active types who are used to roughing it. We stayed in a beachfront room good for four adults (P1890 per night), but other types of rooms are available as well, according to your budget and length of stay (you can even rent a condo unit for up to a month!). Everything is clean and well-maintained. There may be the occasional glitch of the cable TV not working, or the Wifi being down, but what the heck—you’re there to surf the waves, not the Internet.
Home-cooked meals are available in the resort restaurant for an average of P160 each. (There are other worthwhile places to eat at in San Fernando, like Midway Grill and Café Leona. Also, if you want to take a break from surfing, you can visit places like the Taoist Ma-Cho Temple and Botanical Gardens.)
Surfing lessons go for P400 an hour (that includes use of a surfboard and the instructor’s fee); or P800 for half day (that’s 8 a.m. to 12 noon). Don’t forget to give them a nice tip! The best time to go surfing if you’re a beginner would be about now, when this issue comes out. Waves get bigger and stronger come October—that’s when the big boys come out and play.
Seeing Mateo’s enthusiasm and fast addiction to the sport, Luke warns me: “Nako, every weekend na yan: ‘Mommy, surfing tayo!’” I laugh, a little nervously. Seeing my son enjoy and experience something new is one thing; but fully committing to it is another. “Hah! Let’s see,” I answer. Do I really want Mateo—or Simone, for that matter—to get glued to a surfboard, do nothing but surf all day, win competitions, watch them turn golden and healthy, like Luke and his partner, Kai’s mom, Noelle? A part of me, the beach bum mom who secretly wouldn’t mind selling t-shirts and homeschooling her kids screams “yes!” But the grown-up inside me takes over and counters: “No. Not yet.”
So, even as I make plans for Mateo and Simone to try out Corey Wills’ surf school in White Rock, Subic, I push away any dreams of them surfing professionally from my mind. Marco, the least athletic of my children, the dreamer, the flower-child, rolls on the sand. Mateo runs with Gizzard, and Simone sits beside me, laughing her precious laugh. We allow the waves to spray us, and the sand to get into our hair, under our rash guards and shorts.
We enjoy the crazy-fun kids and parents have when no one’s looking. And we don’t care.
For inquiries and reservations, go to sanjuansurfresort.com.
published in the july-aug 09 issue of HIPP Magazine. get a copy. now.