La Union’s hype is something I never fully comprehended. What contributes to this is the fact that I barely got out of Manila, regardless of my legal as fuck age. Cainta is the only place I’ll call home. My father’s hometown of Bicol is as far as I ever went beyond the comforts of my home.
For me, La Union is nothing new. Isn’t just another tourist trap destination that will keep our economy alive until reckless tourists leave it ruined? That’s a cynical point of view, I know. But look at what happened to Boracay. Even media headlines said that La Union is close to being the next Boracay in the worst way possible.
“We’re happy and we just hope that it can be maintained na hindi ma-overdevelop o ma-gentrify.” — Marie Aquino, former competitive surfer
All of this changed when I spent a weekend there. It’s not only the white sandy beaches nor the “tropical paradise forever” vibe that entices people to gather there. La Union has a sense of community between tourists and locals, friendly dogs roaming around wherever you go, a bustling keep it green culture, and the cool sea breeze strong enough to blow your worries away.
Three days wouldn’t be enough to fully comprehend the magic of the place. But one thing’s for sure, a weekend is enough to understand why people come back. This pushed me to talk to the locals and Manileños who grew attached to the beach town. Some of them are familiar faces, while others are strangers.
These people coming from different backgrounds answered a similar question: what pulls them to stay or come back to La Union?
Marie Aquino, Former competitive surfer/Owner of Angel & Marie’s Place
“When I was younger, I’m so competitive. I’ve been to Siargao, to be Baler. I compete a lot, pero iba ‘yung La Union. It’s not because I lived here all my life or whatever, it’s not that. It’s different and it’s hard to explain. But it’s the locals, it’s the people, ‘yung mga locals iba at ‘yung brotherhood nila.
We help each other to maintain the cleanliness, the safety. We have this La Union Surf Club eh. Kung baga, nagkakaisa ‘yung La Union locals on protecting the beach and keep the cleanliness. We have scheduled cleanups. Number one sa puso namin na malinis siya, dahil naa-appreciate ng tourists and of course, we have children living here also. That’s our playground.
We’re happy and we just hope that it can be maintained na hindi ma-overdevelop o ma-gentrify. It’s a good place that’s why I’m not surprised that a lot of people in Manila settle here, put up businesses, and surf at the same time. You’re living the life here.”
Raizer B. Kind, Musician/Creative
“This is my first time [going to La Union]. It’s fresh here. The waves are fucking tight, so it’s good for surfers. The waves are fun here, the people are really nice as compared to Manila. Fuck Manila.”
Candy Gamos, DJ/Vocalist of Cheats
“You know how it’s like, the place is getting bigger and it’s getting more known, especially in Manila. Usually, in other places, the locals will be snarky because they’re territorial. Though they are not necessarily selfish. Here in Elyu, it’s more different since they are welcoming. At the same time, they’re very firm about respecting the place and trying to keep the place as clean as to how it was before.
People here are harboring an environment that says “yes, you can party and come here every weekend,” but it’s not going to be trashed. It’s not going to be trashed in a couple of years. It’s not like what happened with Boracay. You know, where they just let it happen.
They’re very welcoming and that’s why people are growing by the number. Manileños come here every weekend. But while that’s happening, they’re very firm about their advocacy of keeping the place as it is.”
Lee Caces, Illustrator/Visual artist
“As an artist, I get to refresh my internal side. I’m here almost every other week just to do that and to get my creative juices to flow. Of all places, I think Elyu is one of the most accommodating. I get to meet a lot of people. Some of my friends are already living here.
Hindi siya Manila. It’s more laidback and there’s no pressure. Like surfing, kung hindi mo kaya, you can paddle back at try mo uli. I started coming back here last year during my birthday. My job used to be a trip organizer. And then, before that, my first Elyu experience was 2009. Ang sabi ko sa sarili ko, parang ang daming bago.
Noong nag-start na ako bumalik frequently every month, maraming bago all the time. I get to meet new people and they fell in love with the place din. Slowly, I don’t know yet, but I might stay here too.”
Nina Eilisa, creative director/fashion photographer
“The best part of La Union are the waves and the vibrant atmosphere. The vibes here are so chill. You’ll just feel so relax. It’s just like a perfect weekend getaway and it’s so accessible from Manila.”
Diego Harmuch, Brazillian model/amateur surfer
“What makes La Union special for me is when I start surfing and I like to have special moments with my girlfriend [Nina]. If you’re surfing here for the first time, you should just enjoy the moment. Live in the moment while you’re here.”
Art and photography by Renz Mart Reyes