Inside the ‘Surfers for Leni-Kiko’ video that made waves in LU

May 3, 2022
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PHOTO: (From Left) Arturo Dedace, Michael Eijansantos

DESPITE THE very long history of athletes, organizations, and aficionados who have used sports to advocate for issues beyond the playing field, it’s a line that’s been heard over and over again: Keep politics out of sports.

And it’s a line that’s resurfaced over the past day, in one of the most popular surf towns of the Philippines, at the tail end of a polarizing electoral campaign season.

On Sunday, May 1, a drone video of La Union-based surfers paddling out wearing pink went viral. Set to the tune of Nica del Rosario and Gab Pangilinan’s “Rosas” song, it featured the surfers taking to the stunning breaks of La Union to form the words “Leni” and “Kiko”, for presidential candidate Leni Robredo and vice presidential candidate Kiko Pangilinan.

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As of posting, it’s racked up more than 40,000 views and has been shared more than 1,400 times.

“It was an open invitation, we invited everyone. We were also quite surprised with the turnout,” said Kat Rances Imperial, one of the organizers behind the event, to Spin.ph.

“Yes, we really didn't do a headcount / registration or anything like that. It was really more of, ‘bahala na kung sino pumunta,’” she went on. “From within our group, we were sure na of probably about 10 or 15, but for the morning paddle out, we were about 40 siguro, and probably around 50 during the afternoon paddle out.”

Photographer Arturo Dedace and filmmaker Michael Eijansantos volunteered to take photos and footage of the event, which eventually resulted in the viral video.

Imperial said that the idea of the paddle-out came about from a small group of surfers who wanted to support both Robredo and Pangilinan in La Union, “which is a known Marcos bailiwick as it is part of the Ilocos region.” Seeing their candidates in the flesh in a campaign sortie in La Union convinced them that they should push through.

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This is not the first political engagement of Imperial’s group of pro-Leni/Kiko surfers. A month ago, they were already active in house-to-house campaigns in barangays along the San Juan surf town. However, the video and accompanying photos were certainly the most visible part of the campaign, featured in the social media pages of major broadsheets.

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    Surfers for Leni-Kiko video causes controversy

    Other surfers in La Union distanced themselves from the video.

    On the evening of May 1, the La Union Surf Club Inc. (LUSC) reminded its members that “the club does not endorse any political party or engage in any political activity. The views, thoughts and opinions of any of the members belong solely to the individual and do not represent the entire club.”

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    It added, “Surf, beach clean up and surf lesson lang po kami dito sa San Juan, La Union.”

    Other social media posts of La Union surfers asked people not to mix politics with surfing.

    One post questioned the use of a paddle-out, saying that giving it an electoral, non-environmental tinge disrespects the original intent of the ceremony. According to Surfer Today, a paddle-out is based on a traditional Hawaiian ritual to honor the dead. The same article stressed, though, that it has also been used in environmental protests.

    Of the organization’s reaction to their video, “We have no response and believe the LUSC's statement is fair,” said Imperial. “The group/LU surfers who joined the paddle out also didn’t mention any connection/affiliation with LUSC. Even LU surf instructors who joined didn't join the paddle out as members of LUSC, but as individual surfers who support VP Leni and Sen. Kiko.”

    She added, “We really just wanted to show our support for VP Leni and Senator Kiko. We hope to inspire other people in the province/region to take a stand and to also openly show their support for VP Leni and Senator Kiko and debunk the myth of the ‘solid north’. We have seen other groups and communities come together and come up with creative ways to campaign for VP Leni and Senator Kiko.”

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    Shortly after the release of the video, Pangilinan thanked the surfers featured in the video.

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    PHOTO: (From Left) Arturo Dedace, Michael Eijansantos
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