A couple of months ago my best friend Amy and I packed up our surfboards for an epic 10-day adventure in Sri Lanka, where we would surf clean waves, learn to make our own coconut milk, spot elephants and bask in a general sense of stoke and awesomeness.
I’ve done some worldly wave-chasing in my time in Fiji, Morocco and the misty Pacific North West of the United States (where The Goonies was filmed). While I’m grateful for all these experiences it has been challenging to find the right conditions with many spots sporting at a minimum, overhead waves or fast hollow tubes breaking on shallow reef. As a surfer who struggles to get deep with their duck dives, facing off a four-foot monster on shallow reef in Fiji is utterly terrifying (and now that I live to tell the tale – life affirming). Contrast Sri Lanka: two to three foot clean waves, easy paddle outs and friendly locals. This place is heaven for intermediate surfers.
1. Small Waves
As an intermediate gidget I’m quaking at four-foot waves but don’t want to be charging whitewash! Ideally, I like to practise steep take-offs, turning on waves and gaining speed along sections.
In Southern Sri Lanka we based ourselves at Talalla, a sleepy fishing village a short drive from a number of right-handers and beach breaks. East of Talalla we surfed a picturesque bay called Unakurawa, about 40 minutes by tuk-tuk from Talalla and home to another small fishing village. It has a right hand wave that peels off the point, with a take-off next to a large rock. We went back three times and were met with long waves ranging from one to two and a half foot with abundant fast and slow sections, just perfect for practising our turns.
After five days in the south (more on its other spots later) we were itching to see Sri Lanka’s surfing mecca so we took a taxi 240km north-east across the desert to Aragum Bay. Pottuvil Point quickly became our favourite surf spot in Arugam Bay. Another right-hander breaking off a point, this wave is a little bit faster than Unakurawa and has two take-off points; one next to a big rock on the point and another closer to the beach on the inside. The farther point is more difficult because it requires you to make it over a section that closes out before you can enjoy the fruits of a very long ride.
2. Sandy Bottoms
With the exception of the reef break Unakurawa all of the spots we surfed had sandy bottoms, which meant no sketchy duck-dives when the tide was low. In addition to Pottuvil Point, we surfed Peanut Farm in Aragum Bay. This wave is a smaller and slower right-hander than Pottuvil but there are a lot of fun rides to be had and rumour has it that elephants can sometimes be seen walking the beach!
If you visit the South you will probably hear people talk about Weligama Beach, which is perfect for beginners because it’s a long beach-break with plenty of whitewash to charge on. On the bigger days it has some decent waves out the back so we decided to give it a go. Weligama was probably our least favourite place to surf, mostly due to the crowds and the pollution – Amy did a duck-dive under a wave and emerged with a plastic bag strewn across her board – eeew!. A few fun rides made it worth the effort.
3. Easy Paddle-Outs
Where I learned to surf on the mid-coast of South Australia, the waves are small but the paddle-outs are easy because most of the breaks are on reef. The channels and point breaks of Sri Lanka reminded me just how nice it is to cruise out to the waves.
Unakurawa’s channel is a strong current straight down the middle of the bay, where it isn’t uncommon to see a sea turtle bobbing about. The channel is also the best place to cheer each other on; if I wasn’t on a wave I was paddling back out in the channel watching Amy cruise down the next one and sharing her stoke.
Pottuvil Point’s wave wraps right around the point and you find yourself a long way down the beach at the end of a ride. There’s nothing like the walk (of pride) back along the sand, past the fishermen and their boats to the big boulder at the point, where you can paddle straight in to the line-up if you time your entry well. Easy.
4. Cool Stuff – Like Elephants
Elephants, turtles and water buffalo. Nobody warned us surfing in Sri Lanka doubles as a safari! Watching an elephant go for a morning stroll is one of the coolest things I have ever seen on the way to the surf. In fact, on the way to Pottuvil Point we not only saw elephants, but water buffalo that lazed about in shallow puddles to escape the heat.
Food also rated pretty high on the spectrum of awesome. In Ullawatu (a 50-minute drive west of Talalla) lives Sonya, a gorgeous woman with the shrillest laugh you ever heard, who runs a cooking class from Sonja’s Healthfood Restaurant. Hot, sweet and sour, Sonja’s eggplant pickle is the stuff of culinary dreams. We also learnt how to use beetroot in curry – it’s delicious – and how to make dahl and other curries. Sonja even gave me a massage – this woman is amazing – before sending us home with full bellies and a notebook full of recipes. And who knew that real coconut milk is made from kneading the flesh of a freshly craved coconut with water and straining it out!
5. Friendly Locals
I’ll never forget arriving in Unakurawa for the first time and gazing out at the break with nobody on it. We scanned the beach lined with colourful fishing boats looking for evidence of other surfers. When we saw the tail end of a tuk-tuk with boards on the roof we knew we were in the right place. We sucked up our caution at surfing a new and unfamiliar place and plunged in to the channel. Then we caught sight of a couple of figures running across the beach with surfboards. Three local guys paddled out, introducing themselves and quickly becoming our friends. In Sri Lanka it’s uncommon for women to surf – in fact these guys could only tell us of one female surfer they knew of. Yet that didn’t stop them from showing us where to sit and cheering us on to the best waves. Now that’s localism at its finest!
When we travelled?
October. This is at the end of the high season, which is typically April through to October.
Where we stayed?
In the South we stayed at Talalla Retreat. The Resort has surf camps but Amy and I went solo. The surf guides running the camp were (relatively) helpful with information on conditions and surf spots. The bungalows are clean and the buffet is abundant, but the retreat is tucked away in a fairly secluded spot so it’s not for the party animals!
In Aragum Bay we stayed at Hideaway Resort. The Resort in right in the middle of the town, so there are plenty of places to eat and drink. The restaurant at the Resort is pricey but brilliant and has healthy western style food.
By Bridget Cormack
Bridget Cormack is long-time gidget and cake advocate based in Sydney. She is a communications professional and former newspaper journalist.
** I’m ecstatic to announce that after 11 years of surfing I can finally duck-dive thanks to the Girl Surf Network camp with Bec Woods. My surfing is improving out of sight and I’m more comfortable charging in the (mostly male) line-up at Maroubra Beach. Yeeeow!
LLB(Hons), B. Media