Although the Philippines has several surfing destinations that have better breaks than those in San Juan, the small city in La Union province has earned the title of the surfing capital of the north because of its accessibility. San Juan’s swells, especially those at Urbiztondo beach, are best suited to beginners as the waves are gentle and easy to reach from the shore, making it a popular place for those who want to learn surfing.
WHERE TO LEARN – There are a lot of surf instructors in San Juan. You can get lessons from a local for around 400 pesos an hour. However, learning from trained professionals can make the experience safer and more enjoyable. Most resorts on the beach have their own surf center. The San Juan Surf School (also known as Billabong Surf School, as it is sponsored by the company), is rated the best in the Philippines. It follows the prescribed safety regulations, such as providing only soft surfboards for beginners, who might otherwise get injured. Similarly, the instructors use a training module that not only teaches beginners how to stand on the surfboard, but also helps them understand the technique so that it’s easier for them to catch a wave.
WHERE TO SURF – Once you learn how to stand up on the long surfboard and ride a wave, you will be hooked and want to try out the swells at different points on the San Juan beaches. The best spots are towards the south, just north of San Fernando. Of these, Dariyagos is the most consistent as you can be assured of a right hander if everything else fails. The beach break in Urbiztondo is also a good bet, with both right and left handers. Point break, where the waves crash over underwater rocks, is another favorite that is located in front of Monaliza Resort. This is not for beginners as the waves are higher – around 6ft or more. Poro Point has another break over rocks, which is dangerous. Besides this, Bauang, Bacnotan, Cabaroan and Tabok are some of the other points near San Fernando, which can be reached easily from San Juan.
WHERE TO STAY - There are many resorts, inns and apartments to choose from if you want to book accommodation in San Juan. Besides basic comforts, the best places to stay should have a good surfing school and quick access to the waves. Fortunately, you will find rooms to suit every budget. San Juan Surf Resort is a popular choice for its affordable accommodation, professional surfing school (San Juan Surf School is on the premises) and of course, its location at the heart of the surfing action on Urbiztondo beach. Other reasonably-priced options in Urbiztondo are Monaliza, Sebay and Little Surfmaid. If you are looking for a long-stay option, Wind n Sea Apartments is located opposite Sebay resort. San Juan also has some luxury resorts, such as Kahuna Beach Resort in Urbiztondo and Thunderbird at Poro Point.
WHEN TO SURF - The best season for surfing is from November to May, as this is the dry season. The Cordillera Mountains to the east of La Union block the region from the precipitation that the north east monsoon brings to the rest of the Philippines during this period. The second surfing season is from July to October. Although the waves are not consistent during this time, you can still catch several good ones.
SURF EVENTS & COMPETITIONS – Some annual surf events and competitions are held in the peak season. The San Juan surfing break is aimed at promoting surfing as an activity among the locals through a focus on proper instruction. The event, which was first held on Urbiztondo beach in 2006, was a huge success as it was held during spring break. Today, it continues to be one of the most popular events in San Juan. Besides this, there is an annual Manila Surfers Cup, where leading Filipino surfers compete for the title in separate categories for men, women and kids.
Undoubtedly, San Juan has plenty on offer, whether you want to learn surfing, ride the waves, or just watch professionals at a surf event. Get ready to get stoked!