It started out innocently enough. I was browsing for surf instructors and tours about four years ago, wanting to try the sport out for myself, but too afraid to make the trip out to Baler or La Union on my own. I had found a few instructors who rented out vans for day trips to Baler, and a few others who did weekend trips to San Fernando, but the instructor that caught my eye was this petite woman with a dark caramel tan and the biggest, warmest smile I have ever seen who has just put up Surfista Travels. I had to push my surfing trip back by a few years, but eventually booked a weekend surf trip with her this year and I have no regrets!
Elaine Abonal is one busy lady. When she isn’t planning surf trips, or sitting down for interviews and photo shoots for various publications or TV, or dropping off the face of the earth for a few months to study humpback whales on a remote Philippine island, she will probably online finding ways to improve the Surfista experience such as taking time out to get certified in First Aid and CPR through the Red Cross or getting surf instructor certification in Bali.
While enjoying some downtime before running off to Siargao, Elaine shared here passion for surfing, she got started, and a few tips for people who want to try the sport:
… on surfing.
Surfing is one of the best ways to enjoy the waters and beauty of our country, meet new people and be exposed to a different lifestyle while having fun. No trip to the Philippines would be complete without going on a surf trip and my life has changed so much because of it.
… on Surfista Travels.
Surfista Travels Philippines offers surf tour groups and packages which include transportation, accommodation, surf lessons, and board rentals. It is perfect for people who live in Manila who would like to get away and try something new for the weekend or for tourists who want to explore and see the Philippines in a different way! We work with the best surf resorts and surf schools so that people will have the most amazing experience. We want to make the experience personalized and intimate and something that the participants will always remember.
… on what to expect on a Surfista Tour.
Number one: FUN. I read somewhere that the key thing about surf travel is that the difference between a good surf trip and a great surf trip all comes down to the company you keep. Our trips are going to be fun and will have a good vibe for everyone. I would not let myself go on a trip and not enjoy it!
Another is quality and convenience. Surfista Travels is only going to work with surf resorts and surf schools that meet our standards. We want our clients to have fun and experience the surf lifestyle but also know that they’ll be getting an experience that they won’t just get from any other tour. Our clients (who I can foretell will not only be from the Philippines but from around the world) can expect quality and PROFESSIONAL service and that they will get their money’s worth. Like I said, we want to make the experience personalized and intimate.
We’re also working with a lot of cool sponsors in whose products we believe in – those that support the surfing culture and lifestyle here in the Philippines. Our sponsors will also be providing a lot of cool stuff – so our packages are unique and something that you won’t get just from anywhere.
… on discovering surfing and getting hooked on the sport.
I was actually studying in the United States when I first heard of or knew of the world of surfing. My host family (I was an exchange student in Wisconsin) took me to Florida and on the beach there were surf shops, surfers, surfboards and I was just fascinated by all of it! I thought – if I live in a country with 7,107 islands there MUST be surfing somewhere. So I researched about it when I was 17 and found a place where I could learn to surf.
I took my first lessons from the locals at San Juan, La Union. Back then there were no certified surf schools yet, no sponsorships from companies, no students even. The people who taught my friends and I were just a bunch of surfers earning extra cash. It was really fun and I’m still friends with the guy who taught me then – Angel – and we’ve seen each other change and grow up through the years! He owns his own surf restaurant now and I’m starting Surfista Travels. Who would’ve thought?!
… on taking on surfing as a business and not just a hobby.
I just launched the company four years ago. Through my years of surfing and staying at the San Juan Surf Resort in La Union, I’ve become close to Brian Landrigan (owner of San Juan Surf Resort and one of the pioneer surfers of the Philippines) and Luke Landrigan (Filipino pro surfer sponsored and owner of San Juan Surf School). They’ve seen me spread the word about surfing and bring my friends and friends of friends on surf trips. On one international trip with them, they encouraged me and told me that I could always do surfing for fun but that it’s also something I can do as my own business. They know that I have the resources, support, and talent so I thought about it and realized that they were right!
I also realized that with my network, connections, background and experience, I can share more and make a bigger contribution to the Philippines in my own little way – through surfing. I can help other local surfers while connecting them to Manila people who have access to more things. My starting Surfista as a business is to make it more beneficial for a lot of people as opposed to just doing things for myself. I was looking for a mission and a purpose and this was it.
… on how Surfista Travels differs from other surf tours.
Surfista Travels is the most professional surf tour group in the Philippines. Yes, we are fun, but we also know what we are doing as I have been surfing for more than a decade and have access, network and connections to a lot of surf resorts, surf schools and sponsors. I’ve also just finished my ISA (International Surfing Association) International Surf Instructor Certificate in Bali and am the only Filipino who has it. I’ve also just trained for lifesaving and first aid. It’s not easy to get that. I really care about how people learn how to surf and surfing as a sport and industry in the Philippines. It’s not like any surf tour where people get transport and are given a room. You get the whole experience and inside stories of what’s really going on.
Surfista Travels is also different from other tours because of the very personalized experience that Surfistas get. In just 4 years, we’ve gotten so much popularity not only in the Philippines but also around the world with participants from Malaysia, Singapore, US, France, etc. You feel like you’re traveling with a group of friends and not just paying for it. Every perso is worth it. Surfista Travels is also the only surf group with the best quality sponsors. All the participants go home not only with new friends but so much more cool stuff that none of the other ones get!
… fitness tips for that surf-ready beach bod.
Make sure you eat healthy if you want surfing to be part of your life as it’s a very physical sport! You’re an athlete playing in the ocean – which can give you all types of conditions. Everything you put on your body has an effect. I noticed that the healthier I am, the longer I last in the water and the faster my reefcuts or bruises heal. It’s also good to enjoy ice cream and chocolate once in a while! Keep your lungs strong so stay away from smoking anything. Holding your breath underwater, especially when surfing big waves, is something you value as a surfer. I also try to keep active as much as possible because you feel the difference in the water. Mix surfing with yoga, running or swimming so that you can work different muscles. Yoga make such a big difference in the way I surf! And listen to your body. If you’re tired, take a break!
… on the scariest thing that has ever happened on a Surfista tour.
One of the scariest things I had to deal with happened during a tour but NOT with my students. A friend of mine got into a really bad accident – a beginner hit his head with his surfboard so my friend had a fractured skull. I stayed with him in the hospital as he had lost his short term memory and until we found a chopper to fly him out of La Union to Manila. He’s fine now and surfed again with me during a Surfista tour but I was so scared and thought I would lose a friend. Surfing is a dangerous sport as much as its fun, so beginners should realize that they should always be with an instructor and learn the proper way.
… on what she does during her downtime.
I love surfing on my own with my friends where I can concentrate on myself hehe. I also love reading books, watching movies in the cinema (if I’m in the city) or in my bed and eating good food!!!
… on Filipino surfers she looks up to.
I look up to Manette Alcala and Nildie Blancada of Siargao island and Daisy Valdez of La Union. I love that women surfers can look graceful and tough at the same time when they’re out in the ocean. I get inspired to surf more and have fun being a girl while surfing.
… on her favorite surf spot in the Philippines.
… advice for those who want to try surfing.
There are a few:
- Surfing may look easy, but it’s a really physical sport, so it helps a lot if you’re already fit when you start. Yoga helps me a lot for surfing;
- Always ask for tips and advice from the local surfers;
- Just got for it, if you really want to do something like learn how to surf, you will not think of excuses (Often I hear: “It’s too far, I’ll be alone, I have no money, I’m scared, etc.”) You’ll just figure out how to do it and just make it happen. Actually that’s what Surfista is for, just to make it happen for you, so all you need to do it book and go; and
- HAVE FUN!