24 June 2019, Manila, Philippines
– Back in the day, the idyllic and laidback surf town of San Juan, La Union would come alive during the north swell season, when the northerly winds bring consistent swells to the coastline from October to April. These days, La Union (now also known as “Elyu” to the millennial travel-crazed set), a good four to five hours drive from Manila, has become a favorite year-round weekend destination for beach-chasers and party lovers alike—breathing new life to the once quiet “surfing capital of the North”.
Amidst the province’s newfound tourism and hipster appeal, it’s still best known as one of the Philippines’ foundational surfing destinations, where surfing is not just a sport but a community—one with a shared passion that goes beyond surfing and champions responsibility toward ocean conservation, sustainable livelihood, local empowerment, and environmental stewardship.
And with the sudden surge of domestic tourism in La Union, local surf instructors are now faced with quite a challenge: the lack of proper infrastructure and adequate surfboards to support their primary source of income and meet the high demand of beginner surfers eager to get surfing lessons and embrace a new passion.
A jumpstart to a sustainable livelihood
To help address this challenge, FWD Philippines, one of the fastest-growing life insurance companies in the country, recently partnered with La Union Surf Club, Inc. (LUSC), a non-profit association and the only government-recognized surf club in La Union, through its community-based initiative. The initiative aims to enable Filipinos to live life to the fullest, thus enabling locals and visitors of La Union to continue doing the thing they love most in these parts – surfing. As the campaign’s advocacy, FWD Philippines donated surfboards and surf tents to aid in providing sustainable livelihood for La Union locals. The income generated from this surf equipment will also help LUSC field athletes to represent the Philippines in international surfing competitions. Currently, LUSC has more than 100 members who volunteer as surf instructors, life guards, and coastal cleaners, who share the same lifelong passion and primary source of income in surfing.
Enabling the passions of Filipinos
La Union’s newfound hipster appeal has also ushered the birth of summer festivals in the province. The small coast of San Juan, La Union has become a greener party-hub alternative to Aklan’s “LaBoracay” labor weekend party event. Dubbed “Labor Union”, the annual festival is a convergence of music, arts, and surfing – the perfect combination to draw crowds to the surfing capital of the North. On April 27, FWD Philippines kick-started the Labor Union weekend with free surfing lessons for locals and tourists alike at Urbiztondo Beach, allowing them to take a step forward to living their passions without fear or worries. More than 170 beginner surfers registered for the free surfing lessons conducted by LUSC surf instructors. “At FWD, we change the way people feel about insurance by helping them pursue their passion and do more of the things they love. The growing popularity of passionate Filipino surfing communities in recent years motivated us to further connect with these groups such as LUSC,” FWD Philippines Head of Marketing Roche Vandenberghe said. “Through this initiative, we aim to help the local community of La Union with their livelihood and help enable them to continue doing the things that excite them without a single worry.”
Embracing the “hero” within acting
Apart from showing newbie surfers the ropes and helping locals get into the international surf scene, LUSC members are also playing the role of community heroes. LUSC advocates fostering a safe and clean environment on La Union’s beaches through daily patrols, public safety campaigns, and coastal cleanups. Members commit their time, effort, and resources to these causes, not only for the sake of the locals and tourists but also to protect La Union and its coastal environment. It is, after all, their home. “All LUSC members are volunteers and we are aware of our mandate and responsibilities,” said Ian Saguan, LUSC President. “We’re here to keep the beaches clean, maintain peace and order, and ensure the safety of our tourists and the surfing community by volunteering as life guards.” When asked whether it’s the reason they’re considered heroes of La Union, Saguan agreed and emphasized the heroism ascribed to life saving. “When you visit beaches with no life guards who constantly remind you of your safety, or rescue you in times of need, we all know that it may lead to casualties. I think because of the role we play as life savers, our community considers us as local heroes,” Saguan added.