Young Star

Kahuna sunrise

- Nicola M. Sebastian -

MANILA, Philippines - There’s a new silhouette on the shoreline of San Juan, La Union, and it definitely does not belong to a coconut tree, bahay kubo, or even an unassuming traveler’s hostel. Somehow, as this sleepy little seaside community went about its days, witnessing the coming and going of visitors whether Manila surfer or Scandinavian backpacker, a fancy, Balinese-inspired resort has managed to spring up along Urbiztondo Beach.

But, really, it’s no surprise, considering how much this quiet beach in San Juan has grown from a secret surf spot into the thriving surf epicentre of the Philippines. Kahuna Beach Resort & Spa, the oh-so-stylish outline in question, is a nod to the fact that, yes, La Union, or LU as it is more casually known, has truly arrived as a destination in demand.

Interestingly enough, no one is in a better place to appreciate Kahuna’s arrival than travel-weary Manila surfers like myself, who have religiously returned, time and time again, to share in San Juan’s rolling waves and sunny vibes. One would expect honorary locals (as we imagine ourselves to be) to be a bit piqued at this flashy newcomer, Bora-fying our beloved, charmingly backward beach with its sleek lines, urban comforts, and super-sparkly infinite pool. But this is just not the case. Rather than throw an intimidating shadow across the beach as a mega-hotel boasting five stars, a thousand rooms, and zero soul, Kahuna Beach Resort & Spa maintains that tenuous balance between sea-breeze charm and quiet class, its scattered villas tastefully done in the tropical modern style and connected by meandering garden paths.

Somewhere along the way, grabbing a bite to eat at the world-class Kahuna restaurant became part of a visiting surfer’s weekend habit—browsing the Ñet on the free Wi-Fi, or taking in a La Union sunset from its open-aired veranda overlooking the beach (although the resort’s infinity pool is another prime sunset spot). It helps that the Big Kahuna Bar & Restaurant offers pocket-friendly dishes like the Spicy Thai Green Chicken Curry Rice Bowl (P125) or Thai Spring Rolls (P150) aside from its higher-end entrées. Kahuna’s excellent massages also have become a recurring indulgence, the secluded Spa Luana offering deep, soothing relief from surf-sore muscles.

And most us don’t quite know how it happened, but all of a sudden there’s a scene in sleepy little Urbiztondo Beach, brought together on the resort’s breezy veranda by the starry LU night sky, acoustic music by guest bands, and Kahuna’s sinful cocktails. It hit me and my friends one particular open-mic night, as we watched some sunburnt first-timers from Manila struggle to converse with these fashionably scruffy, French surfer dudes over the strains of yet another drunken rendition of With or Without You. Stories are traded, unforgettable waves are reenacted, and, despite the luxurious comforts that this new resort offers, the laidback beach vibe that is at the heart of San Juan surf life—kissed by the sun and blessed by stoke—remains.

But Kahuna embraces the surf culture it has recently become a part of with more than just good vibes. The resort has tied up with pioneering adventure sports retailer Stoked Inc., housing not just a fully stocked shop (a lifesaver for those surf wardrobe fails), but also the Stoked Inc. surf school, headed by pro surfer and San Juan poster boy, Fil-Aussie Luke Landrigan. Kahuna also supports surfing events like the recent 6th Manila Surfers Cup, which saw competitors battle overhead waves to win the annual Cup, and then don crazy costumes and paddle out to win a year’s supply of ice cream, in the FIC costume surf competition that was held right in front of Kahuna. Here’s to hoping that the sparingly clad, be-wigged He-Man and a disturbingly older and more masculine Dora the Explorer, sporting hotpants a size too small, didn’t traumatise any young children splashing about in the hotel’s infinity pool.

Of course, the best way to enjoy the Kahuna experience is to call it home for a weekend. Nestled in lush gardens and angled to face the endless Western horizon, the cosy, tropical modern villas promise a private, indulgent getaway.

Whatever way you look at it, the Kahuna Beach Resort & Spa has added another colorful facet to San Juan’s beach lifestyle. And I don’t hear anyone complaining—probably because they’re too busy posting a photo of themselves sipping margaritas by the beach on FB.











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