- This blog entry has nothing to do with King Island - quite the opposite. I just returned from a surf trip to Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka and thought I’d share my experience for those of you who may be interested in surfing this part of the world. It should be said that this is only based on my experience travelling to Sri Lanka over a short 12 day trip - you should do your own research on surfing and travelling here.
It’s mid winter in Barwon Heads, Victoria (where I live) and the water is starting to get damn cold - I’ve just started to put the booties on. My girlfriend had been harassing me for a while now to go somewhere tropical, warm and… “Not King Island this time”. I’ve done well to have my way the last couple of times so I thought I best not push my luck again.
“OK. Where would you like to go?” I asked.
“Maldives?” She replied.
“The surf is really inconsistent there Babe…” Making up any excuse for the fact that I couldn’t afford to go to the Maldives.
“How about Sri Lanka then?”
I’d heard good things about Sri Lanka… relatively cheap, as a great place for couples, user-friendly waves for us both to co-exist, and just left field enough that we might beat the commercial tourism explosion - like Bali in the ’80’s.
“OK let’s do it!”
Quickly I checked my bank account to see whether I could actually afford it... O-shit... I’ve already said yes can’t back out now.
Fortunately we found cheap flights from Melbourne to Columbo with Air Asia for $400 per/person return so before I had any chance to do a backflip we had locked it in.
Landing in Columbo we booked a driver through our hotel to pick us up at the airport and drive us to Arugam Bay for about $200 AUD. It seemed a bit extravagant to me but it made it very easy for what I could imagine would be a real hassle either catching the train or bus with surfboards in tow.
From Colombo International Airport to Arugam Bay it's a 6-9 hour long terrifying drive with fleeting moments of joy as we pass some spectacular scenery along the way. Maybe I could have coped if it was an hour long horror movie, but the 6 to 9 hour journey had taken us through every human emotion possible. Our driver must have been late for his Tinder date as he mostly drove on the wrong side of the road dicing with our and other lives along the way... trucks, buses, tuk-tuks, dogs, cows, school children, elderly poeple, no-one was safe! Plus it’s over 10 hours of transit from Melbourne to Columbo when you factor in a KL stopover plus the 6.5hr drive, so already we were in need of some “serenity now”. There is plenty to see on the way though and you get a real feel for the place as you cross the mountains and villages along the way. We even saw blurry elephants at 200kilometres an hour.
When in Arugam Bay the pace of life slows down and fortunately so does the traffic. Tuk Tuk is the preferred mode of transport around town although hiring a car would also do the job. Our Tuk-Tuk driver “Jaya” was great, he was a surfer himself taking us to all the best breaks and a few secret spots too. A Tuk Tuk costs around $10-15 for a couple of hours or $30-60 for the day - pretty good value when you think that you also get your own person personal driver that doubles as a local tour guide, surf guide, food guide, jungle guide, etc, etc to show you around and share with you their local knowledge.
Arugam Bay is on the SE coast of Sri Lanka which works from May - September. “Main Point” in the heart of Arugam Bay is the most consistent being mostly a reef break - but also gets the hungry crowd. There are more than half a dozen right hand point breaks within 30 minutes of A-bay that are fun and variable, breaking off granite boulders into sandy bays. They all vary in quality depending on the sand - generally sand fills the points in towards the end of the season making it better to go later in the season for better waves. I overheard one guest say, “waves in Sri Lanka are kinda novelty”. This is true from what I've seen of other waves around the world which makes it a special place to surf, but also occasionally leaves the more “hardcore” surfer wanting. However, for those looking for a holiday that combines culture, awesome wildlife, and user-friendly surf it ticks the boxes.
Our favourite place to surf and get away from the crowds was around a surf break called "Peanut Farm" where we surfed with the rest of the punters as we watched empty great waves breaking down the beach within the military area - A “no-go zone”! We eventually gained access from the chief commander and mustered up the courage to walk past the guards with their AK47’s and surfed it to ourselves for most of the trip.
It’s definitely worth checking out as many of the breaks as you can, as they can all work on their day and they are all surrounded by beautiful scenery where its just a pleasure to surf in such locations. Note; the National Parks and the military zones are mostly off limits to the public via driving or walking - although knowing who to speak to and getting a boat to take you there might work;)
There is an eclectic crowd that surf in Sri Lanka with Europeans, Aussies, Japanese and the local Sri Lankan crew getting the majority of good waves. A large mix of beginners and experienced surfers make the line-up chaotic at times with boards and people flying everywhere typically at the main breaks like A-bay Main point, Whisky point, Peanut farm and Elephant rock. Though it’s easy enough to hunt around and find waves that are uncrowded close by.
For me personally as a surfer I get just as much pleasure from surfing quality waves as I do surfing different places - the location, the experience and the people you share it with.
Accomodation & Food.
We stayed at Hideaway Resort which was is slightly more up-market than most, but there are plenty of cheaper options available for those on a budget. Hideaway is a family owned business managed by Sharon and her extended family and they and their staff were all fantastic hosts with extensive knowledge of the local area. It’s great when the owners of the business are also the host’s and really care about their guests experience - inspiring us at King Island Surf Safaris to do more of the same. The lads (Yanik, Yhevin & Travish) that manage the bar and cafe at Hideway Blue are super friendly and cool to chat to, making it the hippest place to get a coffee in the morning and a drink at night in A-bay before the party goers move to Mambo’s later into the night.
The food at the resort was 5 star! Sharon has a background in culinary food in the USA and Australia which she combines with her local Sri Lanka background and it shows through the delicious food that's served up. We often ventured out to other restaurants and street food for cheaper eats but kept returning to Hideaway for the quality. The street food and cafes all served good quality food and despite our concern about getting sick there was no need to worry.
People, Culture and Wildlife.
Since the civil war ceased between the government and Tamil Tigers in 2009 and the tsunami in 2006 the town of Arugam Bay has seen a quick spike in tourism and investment particularly among surfers. The local people are generally very friendly and welcoming to tourists, typically as with most tourist destinations you do get a small element of people trying to rip you off - apply normal commonsense when travelling and you’ll be right.
The main mix of religions around A-Bay is Hindu and Buddhist and there are some beautiful temples to visit nearby. One such place definitely worth checking out is the ancient buddhist temple in Okunda - take your surfboards too as there are a few sneaky surf spots nearby also;)
The highlight of my trip (apart from surfing & meeting new friends) was the wildlife and nature reserves Sri Lanka has fortunately protected. Surfing and getting to see wild elephants, buffalo and deer literally on the beach is such an incredible sight to behold. Hopefully the Sri Lankan government and people can continue protecting and maintaining these nature reserves as tourism increases in this part of the world and the two can co-exist.