[PHOTO AT LEFT - RIDING THE WAVES: President Arroyo tries to balance herself on a surfboard at a surfing site in San Juan, La Union as part of the First Familyís holiday vacation in the North. - Photo By AP]

SAN JUAN, LA UNION, December 28, 2005 (STAR) By Jun Elias ó When the going gets tough, the tough goÖ surfing?

President Arroyo enjoyed a 45-minute surfing session here yesterday, but not with First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo who suffered mild hand cramps due to the cold seawater, according to a surf instructor who assisted them.

Luc Landrigan, one of the four local surfers who trained the First Couple, told The STAR that Mrs. Arroyo was a fast learner and showed good balance even though she is a novice surfer. "The President is okay, she enjoyed the session and she is a fast learner," he said.

Together with their daughter Luli, the First Couple traveled down from Baguio City to celebrate their vacation at La Union, known for its imposing waves. Luli and her father arrived early in the morning while the President arrived at 1:45 p.m. along with grandchildren. Brothers Datu and Mikey Arroyo were not present.

The Arroyo outing was strictly a private affair and local media were politely asked not to take photos and not to conduct interviews with the First Family. However, some media outlets were able to shoot pictures and footage.

Luc, a member of the La Union Surfing Club, said he was "overwhelmed" at the prospect of teaching the President surfing techniques. "I canít imagine, I was able to teach the President. She easily did the basics (of surfing). Itís only her second time to do surfing," he added.

The STAR was there to watch as the President had her surfing session. Mrs. Arroyo had no trouble climbing onto and lying on top of the surfboard; but she had a harder time keeping her balance while standing and maneuvering. Still, itís a skill not many first- or second-timers can master right away. The surfing lesson was held at the seashore of Urbiztondo in this town.

Luc said Luli took to surfing a bit quicker because it is one of her regular sports activities whereas the First Gentleman had difficulty balancing atop the surfboard, perhaps due to his weight.

While surfing, the First Couple mixed with local and foreign surf enthusiasts. Their security was tightly enforced with Navy and Coast Guard patrol boats and policemen.

Joining the First Family were local officials led by Gov. Victor Ortega, San Fernando City Mayor Mary Jane Ortega, City Councilor Pablo Ortega and San Juan town mayor Arturo Valdriz.

Meanwhile, the First Family plans to spend some quality "private time" in Baguio City, away from journalists, public engagements and her usual presidential routine until Jan. 2, 2006 since flying there on Monday afternoon.

Except for being one of the principal sponsors at a "government and police official-studded" wedding held at the Baguio Cathedral Tuesday morning, Mrs. Arroyo is expected to keep away from public engagements aside from her scheduled Dec. 29 and 30 functions.

The President, together with a 16-pair government, military and police official entourage of sponsors, witnessed the wedding rites of Sonia Camantiles, the Presidentís police aide-de-camp, to another police official, Jonathan Calixto, a Kankanaey from Mountain Province.

Arroyo was joined by an array of ninongs and ninangs ó godfathers and godmothers at weddings and baptisms ó from the civilian government sector, military and police and politicians like Baguio Rep. Mauricio Domogan who was paired with the President as she walked down the aisle in her mostly red-accented Cordilleran woven cloth business suit.

Although said to be enjoying "her private time," the President did not turn away from the cheers and greetings of those who attended the wedding that ended before noon Tuesday.

Palace and MARO officials were especially careful not to divulge the Presidentís schedule after the wedding on Tuesday, but insiders hinted she might just make the rounds during her "private time" to meet with Baguio residents. "They are planning a gimmick," said one insider who refused to be named. ó With Artemio Dumlao

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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