Manila — By Katrina Verweel on May 5, 2010 at 11:00 am
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Had too much of the Manila city-life? Itching for waves, not from your computer desktop?

By: Whitney Radforth

For most traveling to the Philippines, the first point of entry is through Manila. However, the city rarely is the attraction for visitors to the country.  So, for those who prefer the sand over a crowded city, I suggest you take a night bus on route to San Juan, La Union to catch some West China Sea waves.

La Union is the closest and best surfing option for the island of Luzon, and is only about a 4-6 hour drive from Manila (depending on traffic). San Juan is a hip surfing community that offers cheap beach-front accommodations, and many healthy restaurant options (including vegetarian and fresh fish options). My favourite spot was Nana Lola’s for delicious grilled tilapia with wasabi-infused sauce, served with a side of garlic rice and fresh salad.

On the beach, you can choose from a number of surfing schools with hourly rate sessions (approximately 400 pesos/hour). I learned to surf at the Billabong-sponsored San Juan Surf Shop, run by down-to-earth surf celebrity, Luke Landrigan. In a matter of minutes, I was up on my board and have been totally hooked on the sport ever since.

For the less adventurous, renting a body board or kayak can also be a fun experience. For those looking for the total beach bum experience, throw on some sunglasses, enjoy the sites of beautiful surfer dudes and chicks riding the waves… just don’t forget your sun block.

When to go? The surfing conditions vary, with the biggest waves coming in December to March. However, all year round the conditions are decent which is why this area is a great place for beginners.

What to bring? Be sure to bring enough money with you, as there are no ATMs at the beach.  If possible, bring a rash guard (an athletic shirt made of spandex or nylon worn in the water) as some schools do not provide them.

How to get there?  From the city, there are chartered buses leaving every hour from the Cubao-Arraneta, EDSA and C5 Bus terminals. The whole trip will set you back about 300 Ph Peso (about 6 USD) round trip. Get off at San Juan Town Market and then take another jeep to Laiya for the beach resorts. Please note that the jeeps only run from 6am to 5pm, after which, there is no more means of public transportation going there.

A must do? Sip some fresh buko juice (young coconut water) to replenish your body from an active day in the sun, sand and surf. You will need it! The buko juice rehydrates your electrolyte levels, is an immune and metabolism booster, and also fights against bladder infections and kidney stones.


Whitney Radforth currently lives and works in the Philippines for the nongovernmental organization ‘Citizens Disaster Response Center’, CDRC for short ( in Quezon City. The organization aims to assist vulnerable sectors of society through disaster preparedness training, emergency disaster relief, and rehabilitation efforts. Whitney is working in their Research, Advocacy and Public Information department, where her days can vary from developing public information materials, to field visits observing and gathering information from projects working in areas affected by recent natural disasters, to giving training seminars on community-based disaster management to Universities and poor-communities. This article is written about one of her weekend trips she was able to take in the month of April to a surfing, yoga, and samba retreat where they were given lessons on how to do all three.

Photo credits: Jonathan Roco de Guzman

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  • Kate Burnett says:

    Wow, the Philippines is somewhere I want to travel to! I want buko juice now! Way to go whit! Good job Keet xoxoxox

    p.s. whit is awesome

  • Katrina Verweel says:

    Yes, she is awesome, thank-you Kate! I might just have to start trying buko juice, they always try to get us to drink some after hot yoga classes.

  • Whitney says:

    Man, this place was so much fun! I plan to go back very soon with my friend who’s coming to visit.

  • Mel Dolera says:

    Great article, Whit! Hmmm – fish…can you hear me go “Yuuuuuuummmmmm….”? :)

  • Noelle says:

    Good job whitney! thanks for writing about San Juan ;p

    surf again soon :)

  • Bruce Taylor says:

    Sounds like the best lifestyle ever, and a well written article…..I want in on surfing!

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