A quick guide to honing surfing skills in Arugum Bay, Sri Lanka.
Arugam Bay on the East Coast fo Sri Lanka is widely known as a surfers’ mecca. Most guidebooks describe it as a great place for intermediate surfers to catch long, slow waves.
Personally I have a rather funny history with surfing. I always said it would be a hobby I would take up in my old age. Well I guess at 32 I am now old enough. For Christmas this past year I was given a beautiful colourful old second hand board that I lovingly dubbed ‘the Rocket.” Along with a friend, Rocket and I spent a summer getting pummeled at famous breaks like Bells Beach, Kilcunda, and Spooks (famous for being a place an Australian prime minister disappeared), not to mention other romantic spots on the Victorian coast, like Desperation Bay and Suicide Point. While this was all in good fun, these are really difficult breaks and not good for a beginner to get their surfing feet.
Having a bit of the travel bug my wife and I decided to spend a month in Sri Lanka and enjoy the South Asian lifestyle while trying out our luck on the slow break that Arugam Bay offers. This article is for those pre-intermediate to intermediate surfers who are considering coming to Sri Lanka for some surf. I have broken down the review into broad categories.
Late May to August. We were there for the shoulder season, which were the first two weeks in May when the waves were a bit smaller (good for beginners) and prices were lower (good for long term travelers). Several people told us by June the waves are really big and only fit for advanced surfers.
We only really looked at three points although there are quite a few dotted around Arugam Bay. They were Peanut Farm, Whiskey Point, and Main Break. Peanut Farm was the smallest of the three, which is good for beginners but also draws the biggest crowds with many of the surf schools. We took two trips to Whiskey Point and both times the waves were far too big and choppy for novices like us. Main Break is the easiest to get to as it is within walking distance, but unfortunately it has a rock floor and some coral which requires a bit of expertise.
Advice: We found the best chance to have some waves to yourself was to get up very early and try to hit the beach around 6am and then surf until about 10am. This avoids the heat of the day and most of the holiday surfers who show up around 8 am or 9 am. You can also go in the later after from around 3 pm – 6 or 7pm.
This was my biggest beef with Arugam Bay. All of the breaks beside the Main break required a tuk tuk taxi to transport you there. Pretty much to get any of the main surf points was about 1000 rupees return. This is a little under ten Australian dollars. Not super expensive, but damn annoying all the same. The biggest complaint is that it makes it hard to get a read on how good the surf is, you pay no matter if you surf or not. If you are away for a month and going back to work this is not a great expense, but if you are a long-term traveler then this money really adds up.
Advice: Negotiate with one tuk-tuk driver to take you everyday when you want to surf. With this strategy you can negotiate to 800 rupees a trip. It could be possible as well to hire a bicycle (300 rupees a day) and ride with a surfboard to some of the breaks. If you could find a cheap way to hire a motorbike and carry your board around then this would be ideal and give you a lot more freedom than the tuk-tuks offer. Also be very clear about where you want to go. We got burned one day when we told our driver we wanted to go to Peanut Farm and he insisted that Whiskey Point was better. In reality, he had made previous arrangements to pick someone else up at Whiskey Point. He had no knowledge of the surf and we were burned out of 1000 rupees and our afternoon.
“If the ladies are happy, then the holiday is happy.” That was the biggest piece of surfing knowledge I was given by our instructor. As for the rest of the lesson, don’t bother. Lessons tend to be about 2,500 rupees for an hour, per person. These seemed to be designed for holiday surfers and people just wanting a laugh. We actually got burned twice by being talked into hiring another teacher after the first one was a disappointment.
Advice: If you need some tips or are a bit nervous head to the local watering hole and make some friends with other surfers and buy them a couple of beers. Ask them for some advice and then you get your lesson and make a couple of new buddies on the way.
We were only hiring long boards that were 500 rupees for a half day or 1000 for a full day. Usually my wife and I would just hire one and share it. It seemed they had all types of boards on hand for about the same price. I was warned about checking the boards carefully, as the unscrupulous dealers will sell cracked ones ready to break and leave you on the hook for hundreds of dollars. I didn’t find this to be anywhere near the truth. All the board dealers were very friendly and we encountered no such problems.
Advice: Of course, if you are in Arugam bay for the long term then you can probably arrange a cheaper rate on your boards.
This varies widely. We were lucky to get there during the shoulder season . This is before the place is a full power tourist resort town, and the prices go up accordingly. We found a very nice room in a hotel for 1000 rupees, which I think ‘in season’ would be around 2,500-4,000 rupees.
Advice: We stayed in two places. Blue Ocean hotel offered basic rooms with an absolutely gorgeous garden right on the beach. It was 1000 a night or 900 for stays over a week. The second place we stayed was Sunrise Hotel, which had a bit larger room (my wife needed the room for yoga) and a much cleaner bathroom. The garden was not nearly as nice but still directly on the beach. The owner, Mohammed, was super friendly and a great cook. There are more guesthouses than you care to poke a stick at so look around and bargain for the price you find acceptable.
The town itself is not much more than a collection of hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops, but Arugam Bay has a pretty funky and relaxed vibe, and it has a nice collection of locals who make it interesting.
Advice: I would highly recommend veering off the main tourist street and walk around the village backstreets. Within minutes you are the only tourist in town and the villagers line the streets to say hello. Several of the villagers told us you can even see elephants in the fields around the town.
Speaking of Elephants
Surf’s low? While most tour operators will be quick to sell you an expensive safari trip to Yala national park there is another national park call Lahugala, which is about 23km from Arugam. Here you can spot elephants and not pay an overly expensive national park entry fee. Quite easy to get to with a hired motorbike or a tuk tuk can take you there return for around 1500 rupees.
Arugam Bay is a great place for more advanced surfers, but for beginners it can be a bit frustrating and annoying, unless you are happy to hire tuk tuks to get around.
This review is not meant to be definitive review, if I left something out or if you have more observations (or a great tip!) then leave them in the comment section and it can be updated.
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