Friday, October 09, 2015

Break it in La Union: Urbiztondo Event Marks a Decade of Surfing and Partying

“They may have the waves but we have the people,” boasted Department of Tourism (DoT) Region I (Ilocos Region) Regional Director Martin Valera. He was referring to the beach of Urbiztondo in the town of San Juan, La Union.
The barangay has been attracting surfers because of its waves, but Siargao in Surigao del Norte and Baler in Aurora are well-known surfing areas in the Philippines and have been heavily promoted. Unlike the surfing area in Siargao, which has rocky or coral bottoms that can injure inexperienced surfers, Urbiztondo Beach is ideal for beginners, having sandy bottoms safe for neophytes. Other surfing areas for beginners include Bagasbas Beach in Daet, Camarines del Norte, and Lanuza Bay in Lanuza, Surigao del Sur, but San Juan’s is the most accessible from Metro Manila. One can reach La Union via a five-hour bus trip, and San Juan is just eight kilometers from the provincial capital, San Fernando City.
The popularity of Urbiztondo owes much to its annual event, the La Union Surfing Break (LUSB), which is now on its 10th year and which has become the flagship event of La Union. This year, the LUSB will happen from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, featuring its most popular activities — the surfing clinics, different competitions and nightly beach parties.
“This year, we expected about 12,000 visitors for the four-day event,” declared La Union provincial information and tourism officer Adamor Dagang.
According to Dagang, before LUSB, the town of Bauang was the most well-known beach destination in La Union. But surfers discovered Urbiztondo Beach and slowly they have been frequenting the place. Then, the local government conceptualized LUSB and held the first one in 2006.
According to Valera, it was timed for the semestral break to be different from other events put up by other destinations, which were during  the summer. Also, they were targeting students and yuppies, mostly from Metro Manila, Baguio City and other northern Luzon areas, with the event pattered after the spring break in the United States featuring camping, showdowns, competitions, surfing and swimming, bonfire and party.
With low-budget travelers as also the main target, LUSB also aimed to introduce people to surfing, educating them on proper surfing as well as informing them that the activity need not be expensive. Surfing clinics set up along the beach were made more welcoming to visitors. 
Because of constant coverage by the media and good word-of-mouth, LUSB has become the biggest surfing event in the country. It has been recognized for three consecutive years by the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines as one of the best tourism events in the provincial level, geared towards sports and wellness.
“The surfing break has changed a lot,” related Dagang. “Ten years ago, there were three accommodations in San Juan. Now, there are about 300 rooms in Urbiztondo. In fact, three new hotels opened in la Union this year.”
He also said that they started with 200 surfing participants, and now they have about 6,000 paying participants.
“Before the surf break, there were five surf instructors. After 10 years, there are 110 instructors,” Dagang enthused. 
Urbiztondo averages about 300 to 400 guests every weekend, he added.
Surfing may have contributed a lot to the visitor arrivals in La Union. In 2005, 3,559 visitors were recorded, but the following year, 2006, arrivals made a big jump to 49,300. Arrivals steadily climbed over the years. In 2014, 220,278 people visited the province. In the Ilocos Region, the province of Ilocos Norte has the biggest share of visitors, about 40 percent, and La Union has one of the lowest. It currently accounts for about 15 percent of visitor arrivals. But La Union has the highest growth rate, 138.30 percent from 2004 to 2014. 
This year, La Union stakeholders are revitalizing LUSB. Many activities are lined up for the event, which has become more of a party now, said the organizers.
The surfing break will open with a street dancing competition on Oct. 30, inspired by the contemporary festivals in the country. It will be followed by a surfboard design contest and the opening of surf clinics. The next day, a sandcastle building contest and a sundown fun run will be mounted. On Nov. 1, a trick and treat costume contest, a henna tattoo design contest, and a face and body painting contest will be held. Other activities throughout the event include an art exhibit by the Arts Guild of La Union, a photography contest, a surfing competition, a beach volleyball tournament, Zumba sessions in the afternoons and nightly beach parties.
Organizers said that despite the parties, LUSB remains to be one of the safest events in the country, and rescue workers are always at hand.
This year's LUSB is organized by the Department of Tourism Region I; the local government of San Juan; La Union Hotels, Resorts and Restaurants Association; La Union Convention and Visitors Bureau; San Juan Resorts, Restaurants and Hotels Association; and the La Union Surf Club.

No comments: