An Afternoon with Aki: Pioneer of La Union Surfing
Frequent surfing in La Union would definitely get an eager surfer immersed in the laid back lifestyle of the Urbiztondo surfing community. There are so many kinds of interesting people you’ll meet here. The friendly locals, beach bums, vacationists – all of them regular fixtures in the melting pot of good vibes known as L.U.
Sooner or later though you’ll get to know a certain individual who’s held in the highest of regards. He may not be popular to most visitors but he is very popular among the locals and to those who have surfed La Union for a long time. His name is Kazuo Akinaga. Simply known to many as Aki or Akisan, this is a story about an afternoon that I spent with him.
Some months ago I went to LU to surf. I left Manila around 12nn and was just in time to catch that glorious sunset in San Juan. As night fell, my friend Ely Cresencio texted me (we all know him as Attornz). He was having dinner at Angel and Marie’s along with Aki and his family. So I went there and sat at their table. I felt a little tense to be honest. I’ve had small conversations with Aki over beer before but it’s a bit different this time. If you have the pioneer of La Union surfing sitting in front of you eating with his family, you’ll feel a little tense too. Especially if you’re not that close with them that much.
Aki came in the 80’s and explored and developed surfing in La Union
Good thing Attornz kept the conversation flowing. If you know Attornz then you know that the conversations with him about surfing never ends. I love and respect that guy. And so yes, we talked a lot about surfing and a bit of surfing history the whole time. And before the night ended Aki invited me to come by his house the day after so he can show me his old magazines. These magazines he said has pictures of Urbiztondo in the 80’s, back where everything was so untouched far from the development of San Juan now. I was excited to the fact that he invited me and I slept that night with only one thing in mind – I have got to visit Aki tomorrow.
I surfed in the morning at the beach break. This was a Monday so there were no crowds at all but only the locals and some of what I call the “hardcore” Manila surfers (think Delfin de Luna and crew). Aki was in the lineup. Everyone said good morning to him and they cheered him on as he flawlessly thread waist-high lefthanders with his log. He is classic and by watching him you know that is he is from that era where surfing is about the ride and its connection with the soul. I paddled towards him and said, “Morning Aki, I come by your house in the afternoon ok?” Aki gave a smile and said yes.
After the session I had lunch and slept a little. Then I went to Aki’s house together with local grom Jericho. He was my sidekick that day. Below are the pictures he took with my camera and our brush of La Union history with Aki.
Aki was at sitting outside with this cute dog in his lap.
Surfer Magazine Japan, still in good condition
and now a history lesson thru images
the late 80’s. Exciting Philippin.
Monaliza Point or now more commonly known as the Point
a Japanese surfer ripping
here is a competition held in San Juan dated 1988
this small nipa hut by the Monaliza Resort is a part of history
flipping the pages Aki pointed to a picture. It was Kuya Edwin of Baler! this is Edwin Namoro who pioneered surfing in Baler. he is a classic figure who also is held in high regard and respected by many. i usually stay at the Kahea Lodge (where he and his family operates) when i’m in Baler it was amazing to see him in this magazine. he can be seen in a surf documentary titled the Legend of Kuya Edwin and Pawikan.
and as minutes fly, Aki this time told me about his surfing history
a portrait of a young man
“I started surfing at the age of 19 that was 1967. There was a surfboard factory near our house and one of my friend invited me to try surfing sports. He lend his board to me and when I ride the board and stand on it, the feeling was very fun. The following week, I went back to the beach, bought a second hand board for my own and there I started surfing. But before that, I was already a snow skiing instructor.
How did I find surfing in the Philippines? I read an American Surfing Magazine about surfing in Aurora Province and La Union. So I came to La Union 1981. As far as I know, the first surfer here in La Union is one American and one Australian. The surf point here in San Juan before was farm and jungle.”
perhaps the kind of what Aki saw in the magazines
Urbiztondo sunset. timeless.
So there I was so stoked at every turn of the page. Wow I thought, this is history and my admiration for Aki grew even larger. He then told me stories of how he taught the locals to surf. He also told me about Junior, the local surfer who I call ‘idol’, and how he almost drowned until Aki saved him. All those locals are top Filipino surfers now. There were many more interesting stories. Like how he and his friends explored and discovered spots in La Union. He also talked more about his childhood. I couldn’t remember the other stories. but I can certainly recall how wide-eyed I was as Aki were telling them to me.
It was around 3:30pm by the time we were done and decided to check out the surf. As we were walking thru the Surf Camp I was still asking questions. I asked Aki what made him stay for good. “What made me stay in LU for good? Of course, always good wave. In Hawaii and other places abroad always crowded while here only weekend and special occasion crowded nowadays. During week days, the wave is for us who reside here and for the locals.“
Of course, I asked him for surfing tips. “My advice, keep on surfing, watch surfing videos for you to learn more about surfing, look at the techniques. Only surfers knows the feeling.”
what Aki does everyday. The gentle man from Japan now resides near the beach with his family. And if there is something the man loves more than surfing, it’s probably his family.
Now learning about and Aki and his colorful life, it’s hard not to be introspective about my life. It actually got me asking questions to myself. Well, shallower questions. I’m poor and the money I earn goes to surfing – will I even afford to buy my own house? I leave my girlfriend back in the city every time I go surfing – will I even have a family to call own? I smoke and sometimes drink too much – will I still be surfing when I get to Aki’s age? Yeah, things like that. But more than all the things I learned that day, all those knowledge, I guess what I got from Aki that I will treasure most – is inspiration. That afternoon was indeed inspirational. Aki is inspirational.
So it was time to surf again. I was so thankful to Aki for giving me the privilege to learn about La Union’s history thru his magazines. Before we parted ways, I asked him for a picture.
“Aki, let me take a picture of you with the beach at the background.” He willingly posed. “That’s great. From 1981 to 2011!” We laughed, and Aki gave me this smile.