A guide to Surfing in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka. Impossible beauty, unreal waves and local soul. Beginner friendly? Sort of.
Ravaged by tsunamis and war in the not-so-distant past, Sri Lanka has emerged as a safe, peaceful country to visit. Lauded by travel agents as a “hidden gem”.
What is Sri Lanka like?
Before going there, I thought of a remote paradise. Handfuls of locals in white dress, temples and tumbledown buildings. I imagined a kind of surf adventure into new territory.
It didn’t take long to realise that my wistful version of Sri Lanka, fuelled by surf films, glossy magazines and nostalgic friends, wasn’t the whole truth.
The Gem Of The Indian Ocean is a stunner. There’s no denying it. The water is crystal, the beaches, lined with palm trees, are chalk-white and the sunsets are something else.
You get a similar version of that famous ‘assault on the senses’ in India, but it’s a softer blow.
“En’sha’Allah” said a Swiss guy when we frantically stabbed at our map and asked for transport help when we first landed in Colombo. “I’ve lived here for 15 years and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that Sri Lanka moves at its own pace.”
After shrugging off the cobwebs of long haul travel we caught a lazy drift of sweetness in the air. Our senses bounced with the cacophony of colours, sounds and smells. Scents of spices and seafood from the road-side grills, the rhythmic swaying of the tropical bush, the thrum of waves on the sandy beaches.
It was also a surfer’s paradise.
Why is surfing in Sri Lanka so popular?
We’re talking all kinds of breaks. Waves for absolute beginners, amateurs and pros, rights, lefts, lazy longboard lumps, snappy performance peaks, reefs, points, beachies. You name it. Warm water too, not a wetsuit in sight! We also found that elusive dream for watermen around the world: predictability.
A country perpetually in monsoon, Sri Lanka has the bittersweet reliability of wet and dry seasons. The wet season shuffles between the East (Oct-Jan) and the South West (May-Aug). With the wind moving like clockwork in the dry season, the schedule writes itself. Dawn patrol, lazing in the shade through the heat of the day, then a sunset session.
As we travelled along we heard more and more that Arugum Bay, the world famous spot in the East, had completely shut down. The best surf we’d have during our month in the country would be nearby. So we stayed on the South coast, east of Galle, where we found a concentrated run of dozens of breaks clumped together.
Weligama. A beachbreak lined up with a dozen or more surf schools, the beginner’s haven. Although there are a lot of other quality waves nearby, this is the perfect place for learners thanks to endless white water and enough space to safely start progressing on to open waves.
When we were there it was handling about shoulder height on the outside sandbars. There could be some really nice rides hidden between the close outs.
Meddawatta, SK Town. Another beach break. This stretch of sand has plenty of peaks up and down it’s length and I’d say it’s the best place to head to when you’ve moved on to green waves. Be warned, if you’re travelling with a non-surfer they’ll get bored quickly. Aside from a surf camp and the odd hotel up the road, there’s not much else going on here. We stayed at “Neutral Wind”. Quirky hosts, decent room rates and surfboards for rent. Say no more!
Midigama, home of the backpacking surfer. You can get to most of the well-known spots anywhere between a 5 minute walk and 25 minutes on a scooter from here. Ranging from the well documented Rams Right and The Rock (pipped by the locals as Sri Lanka’s best wave after Arugam Bay) to Lazy Left (barrels when the timing’s right), Lazy Right (longboards ho!) and Plantation. There’s even a sketchy looking bowl making “Midigama Skate Park”.
Follow the goat tracks through the palms further up the coast to check out more secluded spots.
Mirissa. Party beach at night thanks to the piles of cafe-come-nightclubs. There’s a right hand reef at the Westernmost end, wrapping around a rocky outcrop, easily handling 6ft. One of the more popular waves, there were about a dozen people in the water at a time.
It’s called “Urchin Feast” by the locals, with good reason. Don’t head straight out unless you want to get spiked. Go as far right as you can and pick your way through the rocks until you can paddle out. There’s also a bare naked reef. Watch it on the inside!
Searching for new surf spots
There was a tendency to just let the days melt away (and they did), but when we got moving we surfed all kinds of different waves. Armed with a rented scooter – the only way to get around if you want to go wave hunting – we found loads of easily accessible un-crowded spots. The harder we searched, the quieter the line ups.
Even without the amazing surf, if I’d have taken my camera out into the water instead of my board I’d have snagged some of the best photos of my life.
If you’re planning on heading out, you can get your hands on some really useful guides. Internet is patchy when you’re flying along the coast with your trusty scooter, so it;s a good idea to have something in the backpack.
Here are a couple of recommended guides:
Orca is a publishing house just up the road from me in Cornwall. They’re a bunch of surf-obsessed nuts, so their guides are usually on the money.
Stormrider are the original guide publishers. They usually publish quotes from locals or big-name surfers who hang out at the spots they review.
The End… ish
If I were a promo writer or a travel agent, this is where I’d stop. South Sri Lankan paradise.
But like I said at the beginning of this article, that’s not the whole truth…
Want more on Sri Lanka?
Read about my first time surfing reef breaks and look out for my Sri Lanka survival guide post, coming soon.