A-Bay too crowded? Sri Lanka has options… Photo: Victor Gonzalez
By Sean Doherty
Arugam Bay has been a pencil scratch on the hippy surf map since the ‘70s, and it’s not hard to imagine why… an ancient spiritual culture, an island oasis, and an endless, palm-fringed right. But while Bali today is largely unrecognisable from the Bali the first surfers visited 40 years ago, Sri Lanka’s Arugam Bay has largely been frozen in time. The backdrop of jungle and rice paddies, single- laned potholed roads, temple ruins, fishing boats, tuk-tuks and elephants all retain the same exotic allure that seduced the first surfing refugees… not to mention the odd half-mile righthander.
Surf consistency : 5 Wave variety: 4
Climate: 9 – Radness: 7 – Budget: 7
The wave at Arugam is long, forgiving, and as much fun as you could ever possibly want. On a good day, The Point can run anywhere up to 500m, long enough to scupper any plans of paddling back out, making the walk back up the beach a more enticing proposition even if it is 35 degrees in the shade. The Point breaks over a mix of sand and reef, and will occasionally barrel, even though it’s more renowned for long, workable, fun walls. The place picks up more swell than any break in the area, and this, combined with the global notoriety of the wave, means it’s pretty well always full of punters.
The good news for the surfer who knows what he or she’s doing, is that a large chunk of this crowd is constituted of the clueless. While the local guys surf the place well and throw their weight around in the lineup, your main competition for set waves might come from visiting Israeli surfers, fresh from military service and not real big on the whole surfing brotherhood thing.
If solitude’s your deal, there’s an even longer point an hour’s tuk-tuk ride back up the coast in the town of Pottuvil which you may need to surf to regain your sanity. In fact the whole south-east coast of Sri Lanka is home to several long righthand points, and the more effort you make to get to them, the less company you’re bound to have.
The southeastern corner is also one of the most beautiful areas of the island and if the surf goes flat there’s plenty to see. The area is fringed by the Lahugala and Yala National Parks, and just back up the coast at Pottivul are the ruins of a 2000-year-old temple.
Conversely you could sit back in a bar on the point, drinking dollar beers and letting the day drift by. The living at A-Bay is cheap, the food incredible, and the locals super friendly, more Murali than Ranatunga. And with the bloody civil war that raged in Sri Lanka’s north for 20 years – occasionally spilling down the cheek of the teardrop island into the quiet southeastern corner – ending a few years ago, and the country largely recovered from the Boxing Day tsunami, Sri Lanka could become the Bali of the twenty-teens.