My first encounter with Surfing: San Juan, Philippines

The year was 2011, and it has already been a couple of years since I had decided to move to Manila. And, I haven’t surfed yet. Well, that had to change soon.

Getting there

So, with a couple of colleagues from the office, we took a friday night bus from Partas bus terminal in Cubao, all the way to San Juan beach, in the Ilocos province of the Philippines. After 7-8 hours on the bus, we were there by the morning, ready to take my first surf lessons at the 5th longest coastline in the world.

Partas bus terminal is located at the below address. Atleast it was, the last time I checked.

816 Aurora Boulevard, Cubao, Quezon City

Telephone numbers in Metro Manila: +63 2 727 8278, +63 2 724 9820

Note: The buses go all the way to Laoag, so you have to tell the bus driver to drop you off at San Juan. Or specifically at Urbiztondo, where all the surf resorts are located.


Best time to Visit:

San Juan has 2 surfing seasons. July – October and November – March. I went in October, when the temperature is moderate. Well, this is Philippines, so even ‘moderate‘ can get you sweating buckets and drinking loads of San Miguel light!

Where to stay:

I was staying at a friend’s house, but one of the famous accommodations that San Juan has to offer would be the Kahuna surf resort. There are also a bunch of other accommodation options, which you can find from this link.

Enough talk. Lets surf!

It is not for nothing that San Juan is considered the Surfing capital of the Philippines. Well, the experts would tell you that the surf quality is intermediate, but I was a beginner. And I definitely needed only intermediate to get me started. Atleast for now.

There were other factors too. The rides are shorter here, and that meant I could – with my arms that lacked any exercise, or muscle, or both – paddle out shorter distances. But even before I could begin paddling, I had to first find a surf coach.

San Juan beach in La Union, Philippines.

San juan beach in La Union, Philippines.

With the many surf schools near the beach, this wasn’t a tough thing at all. I rented a board – and a surf tutor – for an hour. I felt it was best to decide after that one hour, if I needed to extent. Or rather, if I was in any position to extent.
Expert tip: Ask your hotel for recommendations to a surf coach. I was with locals, so had no problems picking out a good one.
Surfing in San Juan

Them surfer dudes!

The first 10 minutes went by with the surf coach teaching me the basics, while still on the beach. A cord was connected from the surfboard to my right leg, just in case I had to hold on to something when I fall from the board. I was taught how to lie down on the board, how to paddle, and how to stand up. And it looked so much easy when you are on dry ground.
I was clearly wrong because it was one of the hardest damnedest things that I have ever tried!
I could lie on the board. I could paddle out, and I could paddle back when the waves began to break. But I couldn’t stand up! Every time I went from my stomach to my feet, I enjoyed a few nanoseconds of the experience of standing on my own feet. And then I went – mostly headfirst – into the water.
All my orifices were getting filled with salty water and thin grains of sand, and my chest felt itchy with the wax from the surfboard. And my abs (or whatever was left of it) begins to ache like I just had a 100 sit-ups in the gym. And worse, most of the times that I fell, the surfboard flipped behind me. Twice it hit me on my back with all its glory. The third time, it hit me on the head.
That’s when I gave up for the day. And decided to take pictures for a while.
I checked out some of the small shops near the beach which sold artefacts, bought a couple of bracelets, (I may not surf yet, but nothing stops me from looking like a surfer!) and as sunset slowly set in, I sat down at a beach shack that vaguely reminded me of moon rakers in India. And then, I did what I do best.
I ordered a beer.
Shops in San Juan

Shopping is sometimes an excuse for surfing

Sunsets at San Juan

Sunsets at San Juan

San mig light in San Juan

I do what I do best. Chug a beer.


Unless mentioned otherwise, all pictures are taken by the blog admin. If you would like to use them for any commercial or non-commercial purposes, please contact for approval



About Abhi Surendran

Abhi quit his corporate job, and decided to immerse himself in travels, photography, occasional periods of bankruptcy, and copious amounts of insanity. He is currently working on a book of his experiences, and a dream road trip through South Asia. Both in a haphazard fashion. He blogs at Iamnothome and you can also catch him at times on Facebook and twitter.

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