Me and my Philippines: surfer Elaine Abonal

Surfista Travels founder and GoPro ambassador Elaine Abonal on life as a surfer girl and the best places to catch a wave in the Philippines

interview by Amanda Lago. Photos courtesy of Elaine Abonal

Elaine, in her element. All photos on this page courtesy of Elaine Abonal

My best holiday in the Philippines? The first time I was in Siargao in 2005. It was surfing in paradise. I met the local people and just experienced island life and surfing life. Siargao is now my home. I’m here once a year and stay for months at a time. Other times I’m in Manila.

I learned to surf in La Union in 2002, learning from one of the locals, with four other boys. I was the only girl. Back then there were no surf schools or resorts. You just look for a local surfer and borrow their surfboard.

I go around the Philippines pretty much where the surf is, for Surfista Travels, a surf tour company I started. In the Philippines, you can surf all year round.

In Union, Siargao, her surf paradise

My top surf spots here in the Philippines are Siargao, for the advanced surfers, because it’s tropical paradise. La Union is the best place for learning because the waves are nicer and it’s closer to Manila. And Baler (in Aurora province) is the same but it’s on the East side. I’ve also surfed in Zambales, Lanuza, Catanduanes. Catanduanes is cool. Nobody goes there yet.

I love being a surfer girl in the Philippines. I’ve surfed in other countries.

"There’s no better place in the world to be a surfer girl than the Philippines. Other surfers treat you like a princess in the water."

On a shortboard in Siargao. Photo by Kyron Rathbone

And then of course there’s the tropical waters, the weather, and our people. We have so many beautiful surf spots around the Philippines that people don’t even know about yet.

When I started, nobody knew about surfing, and girls didn’t surf. Now, so many people are learning. It’s becoming part of the beach culture of the Philippines.

Hosting a weekend surf trip with Surfista

My ideal travel partner is somebody who surfs. Somebody positive, open to cultures and new experiences.

What do I always pack? My cellphone camera, my GoPro camera or my nice camera; my phone, so I can share what I’m doing on social media; and sunscreen. I use VMV Hypoallergenics Armada sunscreen. I also take a journal. I like remembering what I do.

Taking a dip at the Mapupungko tidal pools

I’ve just started a gratitude journal, so everyday I write what Im thankful for. If I’m going to remember something each day, it’s the good stuff. Instagram is kind of my journal. I post a picture and write what I’m thinking.

I’d like to go to Pagudpud. I have been to Pagudpud in Ilocos but I’ve never surfed there. And Samar, Ayoke Island in Surigao del Sur, and Batanes.

In the past year I went to Banaue and Sagada. I don’t always surf when I travel, but I prefer having surfing in the itinerary.

Island girl

When I’m not on the beach, Im in Manila. Its where I usually do stuff for my business. I meet my sponsors and my clients. And it’s also where I relax. I have a massage, go to movies and restaurants, go clothes shopping, do the stuff I can’t do in an island.

I don’t really have a social life in Manila anymore. I’m always in Siargao. I can imagine living permanently here, and then Manila will be my vacation.

What I love about living on the island? The simplicity, and how you’re in tune with nature. And the fact that you could be hanging out with a rich kid who grew up in Europe and a local boy who doesn't have anything.

With her surfistas

I’m a nerd. I like reading. And I love the outdoors, swimming, taking photos, just being under the sun. But at noontime, I can’t stand the heat. I stay indoors.

I like waking up at 4 a.m. to surf. I don’t party, so I always wake up early. Sometimes I’ll go for a sunset session but that’s it.

Living the island life. Photo by Doug Koh

When I'm on the islands, resorts sometimes sponsor my stay. For Siargao, I recommend Turtle Surf Camp, where I’m staying now. For La Union, San Juan Surf Resort. Baler, Aliya Surf Camp.

Hurley is my sponsor so they give me board shorts, shirts, and rashguards. My favorite bikini brand is Oy Surf made in Bali. I have so many bikinis of various brands, but when it comes to something that stays on when you’re surfing, it’s Oy Surf.

My first Surfista Travels surf tour was in La Union in February 2012. I used to pretty much organize surfing trips for friends just for fun. I would do surfing on the side and teach languages- English, French, and Spanish. Luke Landrigan and his father said, “why don’t you start your own surf tour business, that’s what you do anyway? This time you’ll get paid, and you’ll reach a bigger audience.” So that’s how it started.

Making a living out of my passion is something Im proud of. I get messages from people in different parts of the world. Half-Filipina girls from Australia or the US would write to me saying, “I didnt think the Philippines was a good place, because my mom says its awful or scary but then I see your pictures and you look like you have a good life there so I wanna visit”. They end up coming to the Philippines and being proud of being  Filipino, so Surfista Travels has become an inspiration, especially for girls to travel alone, to try surfing.

Catching waves in La Union

 Surfista Travels will open its series of Surfista Siargao Surf Camps on June 4, 2016. For a fee of P23,000 (US$500), you can enjoy a daily surfing program, five-night stay at Turtle Surf Camp with breakfast, use of surfing equipment and rashguard, tours to Magkapunko rock pools and Naked, Guyam and Dako islands, a session at Elaine Abonal’s Surfing 101 Theory talk, and more. For more information and other scheduled tours, visit Surfista Travels.

About Elaine Abonal

Elaine Abonal is the owner of Surfista Travels, a company that organizes surf tours in the Philippines, including accommodation, transport, surf lessons, and island hopping. Abonal, an avid surfer, is the brand ambassador for GoPro PhilippinesHurley Philippines, VMV Hypoallergenics Philippines, BreoLightwater, Vitaminboost,  Nalgene Philippines, Sea To Summit Philippines, Zem Gear Philippines and Agos Pilipinas

For more on Abonal, visit or follow her on Instagram.

Published July 16, 2015. Updated February 16, 2016.