The Maldives may be the Jewel of the Crown but it’s neighbour Sri Lanka is the Indian Ocean’s hidden gem. It receives a watered down version of the same swells that light up Indo, but most surfers think it’s flat meaning small crowds and plenty of waves.
If you’re not quite sure, Sri Lanka is the little teardrop shaped island dangling vulnerably underneath India into the Indian Ocean. Westerly, Southerly and Easterly facing coastline, it’s smoothly contoured shore grabs all the swell the Indian Ocean offers and wraps, dumps and peels waves into a selection of mellow / gnarly reefs and foamie friendly / heavy board breaking beaches. We headed for Ahangama, a small local town and probably your best bet if you’re after good waves, food and a true taste of Sri Lanka.
Coming from the UK there’s only one way to go and that’s direct on a 10 hour flight with Sri Lankan air. They didn’t comp my flight or anything so I’m not sucking up to them, but they are genuinely the most accommodating airline around giving you a very generous 40kg baggage allowance with no restrictions on the amount of boards you can take (unlike Iberia who are shit and charged £100 per board), great food and a consistent stream of cold beers.
When you arrive into Colombo, you have two options; get a taxi from the airport to the train station (no more than 2,000RS / £10) then take the 240RS (£1.20) train down to your intended destination. This is a beautiful and pleasant journey, however takes a few hours and when you’re carrying a couple of boards + some boards for the local kids and your other kit it can be tedious, so you may want to opt for option 2; Share an air conditioned taxi which will get you to the coast in 2.5 hours and costs between 10,000RS – 15,000RS (£50 – £75) depending on your haggling skills. I always opt for the latter as you’re usually knackered, hungover and frothing to surf off the cobwebs when you arrive into the midday mayhem.
As for when you arrive into said destination, make sure you have got your international driving licence as mopeds are cheap and definitely the way to get around. They cost around 700RS and 1000RS (£3.50 – £5) depending on whether you’ve made any local friends yet. I usually hire a Tuk Tuk off a mate for 500RS (£2.50) per day. The trick is to make genuine friendships with the local boys and they will sort you out with ‘local price’. Petrol is also well cheap and often sold in empty coked bottles on the side of the road.
Sri Lanka has been on the map of traveling surfers since the 70’s so I’m hardly giving away any secrets here, but I am leaving out a few nuggets as I love the place and would rather keep my favourite line-ups empty. Selfish I know. Anyway, here goes:
Stop 1. Hikkaduwa – Apart from some picturesque closeouts, there’s not a lot going on wave-wise from the airport to Hikkaduwa. Combine this with the naughty nightlife and Hikka is the first stop on the map and the main surf spot in SW Sri Lanka. The wave itself is actually very good, breaking over reef with a long (3-5 turn) left and short barrelly right. It gets a bit backwashy at high tide and as mentioned, it is a party town where you can get some spicy medicine from the local pharmacies so be prepared to share the waves with at loads of Aussies surfing off their ketamine comedowns. The beach break to the left was actually my favourite; peaks all up the beaches with smashable sucky sections.
Stop 2. Galle – No one really surfs here but I’ve seen waves breaking beyond the ancient fortresses. My mate and I actually watched a perfect left peel mechanically in the same place with each set opposite a perfect right doing the same thing without a surfer in sight. So naturally we assumed it was un-surfable and got a curry from mamas roof top terrace and bought moonstones for our girlfriends.
Stop 3. Unawatuna – Never surfed here but has a great Sri Lanka swanky (Lobster £10) evening dinner vibe. Surf did always look shit though so skip it unless you’re learning.
Stop 4. Ahangama – This is the spot. A proper local town, bursting with energy, delicious rotis, colourful markets and home to two epic waves; possibly the best waves in SW Sri Lanka. A fast, shallow, Indo style left and an A-frame peak that picks up all the swell in the area.
Stop 5. Midigama – from Ahangama to Midigama there’s a couple of gnarly reefs, but I don’t know their name and they are fickle as hell, so I’ll leave them to the locals. Midigama is the main spot for surf, with no distractions and four good reef breaks all within walking distance of your cabana. First up is Lazy Lefts, as the name suggests it’s a slow left hander, hideous on a shortboard but great fun on an alternative shape and you can get easily half a dozen cutbacks on one wave. Always take off deeper than you think, even rocketman the whitewater as it always reforms.
Next is Rams Right. A very shallow, slab-like right-hander that offers a heavy take off barrel section and wall for one turn. Heaps of fun, but don’t be shy and always take off behind the peak to get the best ones.
Plantations and Coconuts are just down the road and favoured by those looking for less of an adrenalin rush than found at Rams, but more so than the infuriatingly fat lefts at Lazy’s. Both fun and a great intro to reef-break surfing.
Stop 6. Weligama – Busiest beach in the area but luckily it is massive and can hold the crowd. The wave is also very long, breaking really far out to sea, often peeling and reforming all the way to the inside. Again I prefer it on my 6’6 Egg, but the locals rip it on their yellow banana boards from the 90’s, maybe I’m just getting old…
There is also sick left to the left of the beach which works whenever the hell it feels like it and a crazy outer reef that only does it’s thing in stormy conditions.
Stop 7. Mirissa – Kind of like a point break, stuck in the corner of a euro trash paradise. The wave is great fun at 2ft and peels all the way to the urchin covered ankle depth reef on the inside. The beach is beautiful at sunrise and sunset but has been described as luxury by too many hotels and therefore is packed with beach front restaurants all offering the same red snapper / mojitos and tourists wanting a slice. This does mean that there’s no excuse for bad food and you can get a lobster, large lion and fries for around a fiver and enjoy the beautiful sunset with your new found Skando friends.
That’s it. Na not really but much further than this and you head into Matara and the South East which is a totally different ball game, home to loads of secret spots, so secret I wouldn’t know where to start.
In summary Sri Lanka is refreshingly consistent and rarely flat, kind of like Kernow. It’s onshore from 11am – 5pm every day, but is often light enough to surf right through it, most UK-based surfers will welcome these warm onshores. The waves aren’t Indo style, you’ve got to think more Tropical Cornwall than pumping Bali. Rams feels like a less scary Leven, Lazy Lefts shares the same leg burning qualities of Crantock rivermouth, Hikka resembles Croyde and the unnamed jewel of the crown is just like epic North Fistral.
Equipment wise, you’ll need your normal shortboard which you will be ripping on once you shed the wetsuit weight and something a bit chunkier for the fatter waves and smaller days. Also bring a couple of old boards for the locals if you can; you will make some great friends out of it.
Eating and Drinking
Like the rest of Sri Lanka, food costs next to nothing. I’ve got a healthy appetite yet have had plenty of 100RS (50p) lunches usually consisting of 2 rotis, a few lentil biscuits and a milo. A standard meal of rice and curry costs around 200RS (£1) however if you go to the tourist spots a decent main course is around 700RS (£3.50). My tip would be to go to the local buffet places where you’ll get a selection of five curries and two rice for about 150RS (£1.50). Despite being skinny pencils, the Sri Lankans have huge appetites and these all you can eat surfer’s heavens more than satisfy their needs and will give you an admirable rice belly after a couple of weeks for sure.
Oh and fresh coconuts cost 40RS (20p). On my return I saw a guy selling coconuts in Covent Garden for £4. Mental.
Where to stay
Hikkaduwa has heaps of places to stay with prices varying on how busy the town is. Jungle side is usually a third cheaper than beach front. Hansa Surf is grotty but cheap (£5 a night for double room) and has a great vibe with surf movies and pirate blockbusters shown every night. Vernon’s is a touch classier, but they are all pretty similar and you get what you pay for. The best bet is to rock up and take a look around.
If you’re heading down the coast to Ahangama / Midigama, the supply outweighs the demand so your best bet is to book something for a week at least. Sion Surf Camp have a great setup, awesome staff and serve delicious food. They also do good learn to surf all inclusive packages for around £300 per week!
If you’re with the missus I would suggest the slightly more up-market Green Lodge in Weligama, where you’ll get a private cabana in this boutique lodge for around £30 per night. Both can be booked safely through Errant Surf Holidays.
If you like the sound of the above I’m running a month long trip for Ticket to Ride from Ahangama to Arugam Bay to Adam’s Peak in March, which is going to be epic. Join us!