A mystical island paradise that happens to get good waves, I was fortunate to visit Sri Lanka for a month and this is why I think every adventurous surfer – YOU – should go on a surf trip to Sri Lanka.
There are three reasons Sri Lanka is a standout travel destination for me: the Place, the People and the Food but – you may find it hard to believe – the surf is actually a distant fourth reason. More on that below.
My wife and I visited Sri Lanka for most of July of 2012 and, given this is the ‘dry season’ on the East Coast and the best month for waves on that side of this small island, we headed straight to Arugam Bay, renowned for it’s abundance of long, sand bottom, right hand point breaks.
The trip was to A-Bay was interesting. Our flight landed at 10 p.m. and, in order to not waste a day, a driver drove us (plus two other expats) in a small van through the night – 8 hours roughly – across bumpy, winding dirt roads through the middle of the island. We arrived to the East coast at sunrise a little bit dazed and confused. Greeted by the great Kumar and Sam of Samantha’s Folly and to the above, paradisic vision of the bay, the long trip was long forgotten.
For three weeks, we roamed around Arugam Bay, surfing the ridiculously long, sand bottom points, eating great food and exploring the coastline. Surfed out and eager to see more of the country, we headed inland and made our slow way back to Colombo by way of Ella, Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) and Kandy for the Perahera.
One of the best things about the magical country of Sri Lanka is the price tag. We traveled there on ~US$55 per day (for a couple) and were not roughing it. This is a good mid-range budget with cheaper and more expensive options available. In general, surf trip packages to Sri Lanka are ultra affordable.
A month is not enough to ‘learn’ a new country, nor is a year…or ten years for that matter but during our short stint in Sri Lanka, my wife and I both fell head over heels for the people, the place and the food. We both got some good waves, too!
An island nation in the Indian Ocean to the Southeast of India and Northeast of the Maldives, Sri Lanka is steeped in history, the most recent episode being the end of a vicious thirty year civil war in 2009 when the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers.
While the remnants of the thirty year war are visible physically on the East coast and psychologically for generations of men and women who knew nothing but war for three decades, the new found peace opened the doors to a tourist boom.
On our trek back from Arugam Bay to Colombo, we stopped first in the beautiful, quaint mountain town of Ella, surrounded by tea plantations, waterfalls and famous hikes leading to breaktaking views of the countryside.
Next, we made our way to Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada), where devout Buddhist’s make an annual pilgrimage up 5,200 (LARGE) steps to the summit. Be sure to time the hike right on the day and, especially, go during the right months. We didn’t go at the right time of year and when we left at 230 in the morning to get to the peak at sunrise the view was shrouded by a thick layer of clouds:
Our next stop was to Kandy to take in the Esala Perahera, one of the largest and most elaborate Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka. Fire dancers, gymnasts and elephants adorned from head to toe in elaborate costumes parade the streets in procession to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha.
From Kandy, we took a day trip to the rock fortress of Sigiriya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, complete with it’s intricate rock frescoes:
I find that people are, by far, the most interesting part of any equation. The majority Buddhist and Hindu population in Sri Lanka are some of the friendliest, happiest and most genuinely welcoming people I’ve come across anywhere in the world.
With big smiles and big personalities, we were welcomed into locals homes to eat with their families. On a hike near Ella, a local noticed that we looked lost and decided to help us find our way by guiding us for two hours up a steep path to the top of a lookout. On the way back down, he brought us into his home for tea. Never once did he ask for anything, although we thought it was only fair to compensate him for his time.
In Arugam Bay, I befriended a Tuk Tuk driver who would simply move over and let me drive whenever he saw me coming.
With Indian influences everywhere, curries and rotis are commonplace…and amazing. In Arugam Bay, you can watch fishermen pull in with their morning catches and see the fish chopped up and thrown into your curry for lunch.
Everything is fresh. Everything has bold flavours. Everything is cheap! $1 breakfast for two from the roti shop down the street:
A popular destination for surfers today is Sri Lanka. This South Asian country is considered by many as a surfers’ paradise. There are several surfing spots where the beach breaks are easy and the water temp is salubrious and warm year round. While surfers of all ability levels will find something to ride in Sri Lanka, I found the East coast in particular to be better suited for intermediates, novices and even beginners. I hear the waves down south can get a little bit more challenging but I have not been.
I said waves were not the highlight for me in Sri Lanka and there are reasons for this. First, I found the waves mellow. Main Point at Arugam Bay has some steep, speedy sections at the top of the point with barrels possible but most of the points around Arugam, I think, are better suited for a fish or a longboard.
The second reason is the crowds concentrated on the best wave in the area, the Main Point at Arugam Bay. It’s not only the sheer numbers that are a problem but the complete and total lack of surfing etiquette by a specific group of surfers. I won’t name country names but rest assured, if there were ten of these surfers down the line from you on a wave, all ten out of ten would drop in on you every single time. It was shocking and really ruined the vibe.
Admittedly, part of my problem was board choice. Sri Lanka was the first stop on our world tour and I only had two boards – both performance oriented outlines with a bit of rocker. The Channel Islands Black Flag Whip was my all rounder [See the full Channel Islands Black Flag Whip review…]:
And the JS Industries Prodigy as my step-up:
On my next surf trip to Sri Lanka, I will bring a modern performance fish like the Bing Dharma [See the Bing Dharma review…] and a voluminous performance hybrid like the Haydenshapes Love Buzz [Shop the HS Love Buzz…] or a Hypto Krypto [Shop the HS Hypto Krypto…].
While I only surfed the east coast, there are many local beaches around the coastline that would make a surf trip to Sri Lanka well worth your time, effort and money. Take note of the seasons during planning. The East coast dry season, which is the best time for waves, is similar to Indonesia – April through September. While the south and southwest coasts are dry and have better wave prospects from October through March.
Here is a short list of better known surf breaks around Sri Lanka:
Arugam Bay. This popular surfing spot is located just south of Pottuvil, a city situated at the east coast of Sri Lanka. The coast is teeming with good quality waves and it is possible to find different kinds of points from this area. The Main Point at Arugam Bay is definitely the best and most challenging wave in the area. It also picks up the most swell, which means it always has numbers on it. In fact, it is one of the most crowded (and least well behaved) line ups I’ve seen.
Pottuvil aka ‘Potty’ Point. Need a decent swell to get going but can provide long, fun walls. Again, I would definitely bring a voluminous fish, mid-length or longboard to tackle this and other points in the area.
Elephant Rock. This surfing spot, which is found south of Arugam Bay, is said to have an exposed point break that has reasonably consistent surf. It is one of the best places to surf in Sri Lanka and the waves are suitable for surfers of all skill levels. The best time to go on a surfing trip here is between the months of April and September. Aside from surfing, you can also see many real live elephants roaming in this area.
Okanda. Super cool point break setup that kicks off from a large, round rock outcrop and runs into a bay. Picks up a lot of swell and a little less mellow versus other waves.
Weligama. A favourite destination of novice and beginner surfers, Weligama is located on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. It is a protected and patrolled beach that has small and slow waves and a sandy sea bed.
Hikkaduwa. A busy tourist area in south-west with multiple reef and beach break setups and a party nightlife. Note, the locals here have the best waves wired and have a reputation for intolerance to bad behaviour in the water.
Galle. Also known as Deveta, this area is fast becoming one of the most developed local beach scenes. The waves are perfect for beginners as well since they are usually small. The wave breaks onto the sand and can be surfed any time of the year.
If you want to whet your appetite for culture and adventure while still scoring some fun little waves, you will have a great time staying in the surf and visitor-friendly country of Sri Lanka.