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Sri Lanka - Arugam Bay // Culture Clash

Killvan's Sri Lanka. A tale of what it's like to be a western surfer far from home, where life is cheap and riding waves seems to have very little importance to those with far less.


Sydney – Singapore – Colombo.

Boom! Tarmac touchdown, boarding gates immigration, baggage collection and money exchange, the standard third world rigmarole on entry. Then the corner turned and you realise your foot on ground in a new land, the adventure now reality. The humidity instantaneous and scent pungent, air heavy and recognizable as an equatorial location. Almost a small negative creeps in, as you know it’s going to be uncomfortably hot until you get the AC of a homebound hotel.

Bandu greets us on terminal exit, a large man by Sri Lankan standards with good English. Within moments he had a loaded vehicle that would deliver us to Aragum Bay, and with a post Jenga board stack we were sped off into a sweaty Colombo afternoon. The lack of infrastructure ensures the driving simply nightmarish. Impossible to navigate and jammed with all types of vehicles heading in every direction, no regulation or rules just backwards and forwards in a full throttle smoggy blur. This turns a 300km commute into a ten-hour bone-jarring ride in a van resembling a torture chamber. Arriving in the dead of night with twisted spines under a Tomazapan induced haze and the destination was made. Crawling into a wooden makeshift bed under a mozzie net and pass out, it was all we could do…

Waking to squirrels chattering some time mid morning already sweating. Crows buzzing low, testing the ragged dogs sitting dazed and confused in the heat of the day, tumble weed dusting in a dry wind down a battered road, herds of cattle wandering, military patrols slowly passing through delivering silent authority.

This is Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka. The countries best area for waves and a former tourist beachside hub. But in today it’s a ghost town, a fatigued frontier holding weak in obvious decline. Our stay was to be an isolated simple surfing adventure.

With images of A Bay swimming in our minds we immediately headed off to the right point we came to surf. Walking out of the hotel compound that feels remarkably Mexican and down the main street and its empty. No Tuk Tuk’s, no locals and no tourists, nothing. The dust swirls in the hot wind and a sign swings outside an abandoned restaurant. A dog barely has the energy to lift its head as I step over it crossing the road, things looked desperate. Hitting the sand of Aragum Bay with its warm water through our toes was remedial, and wandering through the fisherman as they prepared their boats and nets for a day at sea made it clear that these people are typically poor in rebuilding mode. The bay is a smooth contoured curving bank that has an ankle high shore break spinning down the shoreline, the perfect mind surfing opportunity. 500 metres later we round the sandy point facing the sun, with a reef just under the waters edge and a scrappy palm lined vegetation fringing the beach it began to feel like a tropical surf trip.

There it was. Aragum Bay reeling in the shimmering morning sun. A couple of feet, slightly side shore and 3 dark skinned local boys out. With a brief survey of the coastline to the south its clear there is plenty of swell, with numerous points forming links in the long beaches curves. On first impression it looked as though there were numerous point set ups to the south and to the north.
The heat of the day escalated quickly and by 10:30am it was already penetrating a cotton shirt. It wouldn’t be long before we would be hiding from the sun for the majority of the day, midday surfs came with a facemask of zinc, long sleeves and some form of headwear.





Location: South East Coast of Sri Lanka.
Optimum: May to September.
Weather: Can be stifling hot on the coast, dry heat that hurts.
Surf Conditions: Sandy Point Breaks, Rocky Points and beachbreaks.
Access: Fly into Columbo from any international airport, and cop a hellish ten hour drive south.
Accomodation: Holiday Rentals, Camping and cheap resorts.
Live Free:  3/10.  Poor mans Indonesia post civil war.

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