Loving La Union: A Surf Photographer’s Point of View


I have traveled a lot of the world, mostly in conjunction with surf contests and ministry but the Philippines was a new destination for me. Michael from ‘My Life on Board’ and Buji Libarnes from Vessel Hostel had invited me along to the ‘Single and Unattached’ logging contest in La Union. This unique longboard contest run by Maka and Vans Philippines has been growing in reputation and gaining momentum on the world stage, I was keen to check it out.

Like all good travelers, I stalked the event and location online, to at least give me some sort of setting and sense of context when I finally arrived. However, the online presence was a spin almost monotone replica of the vibrant town and logging scene I found in La Union.
After negotiating the seething mass of traffic and humanity that is Manilla we were on our way arriving in the very early hours of the morning. Vessel hostel sits proudly integrated into the village beautifully designed hostel style accommodation with proximity to everything the town has to offer.

My first real introduction to the surf was with the arrival of a smaller swell in the afternoon. Watching the sun sink slowly through the veil of tropical heat haze is a truly magical experience; couple that with excellent surfing and you’ve got a delight for this photographers eyes.

There is a vibrant beach culture town emerging here, the streets are lined with cafe’s restaurants and bars all serving great and diverse food and many with superb views of the ocean. Its a world-class destination for tourism. Then there is the surfing scene which has helped and aided directly in the emergence of tourism here. The local surfers are of a very high standard and could given the right development compete on the world longboarding stage.

Indeed the world is slowly and steadily being introduced to La Union via the single and unattached contest.  On the flip side, the local surfers are competing against international competitors which raises their level also. The international surfers I spoke to had nothing but positive vibes and praise for both the contest and the town. This is always helped along by the presence of good waves which there were at this event. Photographically the morning light here is superb and effective for many photographic options from  Low light slow shutter to crisp action shots.

There were definite rhythm and ritual to my stay in La Union. Up at dawn to check the waves from the roof deck at Vessel Hostel.

Dependant upon conditions it was a quick or slow breakfast then into the water to shoot photos. Lunch at the point or one of the local restaurants. rest in the heat of the day then photos and beers on the point filled with conversation and runtimes in the evening. This relaxed friendly vibe extended into the water and it was a remark I heard over and over from visiting competitors.

Like any contest or travel experience long after the fun and freshness of the initial list has faded its the people that revisit your mind and lodge in your heart drawing you back again and again.

I have made it a point that as I travel I try to capture simple portraits of some of these precious people. I will definitely be back.