Sri Lanka, the emerald island

Elena Altukhova

From the British colonial period, the Sri Lankan people inherited left hand drive and a certain sluggishness of the administration. Nonetheless, they knew to preserve through the years the richness of their proper identity, culture and gastronomy.

Recently Sri Lanka has become one of the top destinations for european travellers, and especially surfers, due to its relative accessibility (11 hours of flight from Western Europe), cheap prices, safety, and of course, a constant all year long swell. This country suffered a lot during the long civil war and was hardly damaged by the recent tsunami. So now it’s opening the doors to the outside world, showing all its beauty. Me too, I decided to explore the emerald treasures of this island.

The first thing I faced was the huge contrast between the poverty of the local population and the exuberant traditional clothing, colorful temples, savory cuisine. The well known kindness of the people seems true, sincere, shy, and a little bit proud.     It is very moving. A lot of people here earn their living thanks to the tourism, included surf tourism. They are thus dependent on the foreign travelers, but at the same time, they cherish their precious identity and culture. You are welcome, but don’t forget that you are a guest here. That’s how I felt about Sri Lankan people.

As a woman I felt safe, both in the streets and in the water. And this is very important for me. You will just have to get used to people staring at you with curiosity from time to time, because even if there is a lot of tourists, they are still an outside element for this society.

My trip was planned for the end of October, which is the monsoon period on the East coast. So I obviously spent the most of my time on the South-West coast. Basically, you can plan a surf trip to Sri Lanka at any period of the year. The only very important thing is the choice of the region where you go. On the South-West coast the best season lasts from November to March, and for the East coast it is from Mai to September. In fact, two different monsoons cross those regions at different periods of the year, so you’ll always have beautiful conditions above your head in at least one part of the island.

My first stop was in Mirissa, a tiny fisherman village in the South. For me it was a love at first sight and it is still one my favorite places of the whole trip. In the small family resort, with a jungle view, where I spent a few nights, they helped me to rent a bike with a surf rack and a helmet. I was ready to explore the coast.


It became quickly obvious that the vast majority of the Sri Lankan spots are mostly accessible for every surfer (except, maybe, the East coast when the swell is huge). On the South-West coast, I could find a lot of attainable and non-dangerous peaks, which are easy to locate just by following the main road from Hikkaduwa till Matara.

Arugam Bay

The most well-known and developed spots (and thus the most busy ones) are Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa, Weligama.

Weligama is a long and soft beach break that is perfect for beginners and longboarders. There are plenty of bars, restaurants, hotels (not always very beautiful), and board rental on the beach. The water is always warm, the sand is soft and the rip current is weak. It was perfect for me to warm up. But the first session was tougher than I imagined. The waves were so soft and relaxed, that they didn’t push enough. Even with a longboard, I had to paddle more and faster than I usually have to.

Arugam Bay

Compared to those big popular spots with lots of tourists and locals in the water, the Mirissa village is much more quiet and “confidential”. There is a wave in its small bay and several nice peaks all around. Here too, longboard will be your best friend, because the waves are not very powerful. The beach is one of the prettiest on the whole South coast, and in the evening you can treat yourself with a delicious local meal in one of the restaurants on the sand. However, beware of the abundance of a too-much-spicy food. You’d better love it, because the milder alternative is not always easy to find. After a week of curries, rotis and papadum, my biggest desire was a plate of olive oil pasta. It was impossible to find! Finally, I settled for some noodles with a tomato sauce (still spicy!). But this is also what makes your trip a little bit more of an adventure.

Hiriketiya bay

Another « secret spot » worth visiting is located in the prettiest bay of the South – Hiriketiya bay in Dickwella. The way there is not easy to find and the waves can be messy somehow. That is why this place is not too busy and this is great! The spot is good for both the beginners (a beach break just in front) and the advanced surfers (a fast reef break further in the water). There is one or two surfing camps on the beach, but the place is still quiet and preserved. This is my second “crush” of the trip. I loved spending the whole afternoons here, sitting in the shadow of the lush vegetation, observing the waves dancing in the bay.

I wanted to keep those moments in my memory forever. I’ve always been a big fan of journaling, especially while travelling. But for this trip, I took the surfbook, which is a journal specifically designed to write down surfing sessions. It was very useful. Writing down the best sessions and drawing my favorite spots in this surfbook let me create my own surfing travel story. For me, it is not just a tool for noting the important parameters of a session, the weather conditions etc. but it is also about creativity and introspection. Today, far from the ocean, I adore flipping the pages of my surfbook and rememorizing the best moments of my trip.

One day, I will surely come back to surf the East coast waves. It seems that the surfing is different out there, more powerful. I am intrigued by the famous Arugam bay with its beautiful, blue, long right wave. Or maybe, I’ll go to the Pottuvil point, with its playful right beach break close to the shore. There is still so many spots to discover!

A piece of advice

The island’s surface is really not big: approximately 400 km from the North to the South and 225 km from the West to the East. But beware! Every travel within the island takes a lot, A LOT of time. The average speed on the road is about 30 km/h, the traffic is dense and bus drivers are crazy! That is why it is important to choose your surfing zone in the beginning, depending on the season. Another thing that I discovered was that you cannot really make a road trip in Sri Lanka, because you only can rent a car with a local driver who will ride you everywhere for 50-60 €. This is law. Well, I understand the reasons, it helps to employ local people and they are entirely right to do that. But, as for me, it takes away some part of freedom and independency that I could expect.

So, if you have only a limited period of time to spend in Sri Lanka, you’d better avoid moving too much. Except, of course, the travel by the famous Sri Lankan train, passing through the picturesque tea plantations, connecting Nuwara Eliya and Kandy. It is one of the most beautiful in the world! For only a few euros, you’ll take place on board of a true steam locomotive moving at 15 km/h through the mountains, lush tea plantations and waterfalls. The show is even more delightful because you can freely open the windows and the doors of the moving train. It is an absolute must-do!

The illustration of the surfing spots in the South of Sri Lanka from my surfbook

Think sustainable

During your stay, you’d better avoid this popular touristic attraction which is an elephant ride. It may seem innocent, but this activity supposes the elephants’ detention in a slavery conditions, their violent, fear-based training, frequent injuries, exhaustion, premature death. These majestic animals deserve being observed and admired from afar, treated with respect, in their natural environment. Any living being and especially a wild animal, is not born to serve as an entertainment in a circus, a zoo or a touristic park. Your stay in Sri Lanka can be an excellent opportunity to observe wild elephants in their natural conditions in one of the great national reserves located on this island.

To discover more about the surfbook, go here and check their website 😉