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All You Need to Know About Surfing in Sri Lanka

by Octavia Drughi

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Tea and coffee, coconuts and cinnamon, crystal-blue water, palm-fringed beaches, stilt fishermen, and mellow surf breaks. No wonder Sri Lanka is on every surfer’s radar.

Surfing in Sri Lanka is just as mellow as the country itself. The daily schedule is very simple – dawn patrol, lazing in the shade drinking coconuts during the day, and another session at sunset followed by a beer or two at the local beach bar.

Most of the surf breaks are user-friendly and thanks to the large number of surf camps in Sri Lanka, this teardrop-shaped tropical island is a wonderful place to learn to surf and hone your skills.

From the surfing seasons and the best destinations to what to eat and more useful travel advice, here’s everything you need to know about budgeting and planning your surf trip to Sri Lanka:

 

Surfing seasons

surf-arugam-bay-sri-lanka

Image credit: Bay Vista Hotel

Sri Lanka is one of the most reliable surfing destinations in the Indian Ocean, and has two different surfing regions – the Southern Province and the Eastern Province. Each is exposed to different swell and wind conditions, making it possible to surf in Sri Lanka all year round.

The island has a tropical climate, mostly hot and humid, with two distinctive seasons: the dry season and the monsoon season.

In the Southern Province, the best conditions can be found during the dry season, between November and April. The waves are usually clean and reliable, around 2-6ft (0.6-1.8m) tall.

During the south-western monsoon season (May-October), some surf breaks stop working due to unfavorable wind conditions and swell directions. However, sheltered surf breaks that offer wind protection can still work during this time.

In the Eastern Province, the main surfing season runs from May through September. This is the dry season on the east coast. The wind is offshore in the morning and onshore around sunset.

During the north-eastern monsoon season (October-April), most of the surf breaks go flat.

As you can see, the best time to surf on both the south and east coasts coincides with the hot, dry season. Expect temperatures in the 30-40°C range (86-104°F), which is why it’s recommended to surf in the morning or afternoon in order to avoid the midday heat.

The water is warm year-round, staying at a toasty 27-29°C (80-84°F). Boardshorts and bikinis are enough, but wearing a rash guard is highly recommended to offer protection from the powerful sun.

 

The surf vibes

surf-vibes-sri-lanka

Image credit: The Salty Pelican

Sri Lanka is a paradise for beginners and intermediate surfers, with very friendly locals that take hospitality to the next level. But being such a popular destination, the top surf breaks tend to get crowded.

Luckily, the south coast offers a wide variety of waves. If you’re willing to travel farther away from the main surf hubs, you’re sure to find some spots that are less crowded.

If you’re an advanced surfer, you’ll be happy to know that the more challenging breaks aren’t usually that crowded. There are mostly beginners and intermediate surfers in Sri Lanka, and they’ll usually steer clear of hollow reefs.

Arugam Bay, the mecca of surfing on the east coast, is often described as what Kuta in Bali was like some 30 years ago. It is the most traveler and surfer-friendly destination in the area, hosting local and international surfing competitions. The vibes are very laidback, both in and out of the water.

At Arugam Bay, your best shot at avoiding the crowds is to surf very early in the morning. In fact, seeing surfers paddling out even before sunrise is quite common. The farther from Arugam Bay you’re willing to go, the thinner the crowds get.

nightlife-weligama-sri-lanka

Image credit: Elsewhere Surf Camps

The nightlife in Sri Lanka is pretty mellow, and almost entirely inexistent during the monsoon season.

In the most popular surf spots, it’s usually the surfing communities that bring life to the beaches in the evening. You’ll find some hip beach bars in Hikkaduwa and some rad nightlife in Arugam Bay, which is famous for its crazy reggae parties.

 

The best surfing destinations in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has two main surf hubs: the Southern Province, around Galle, Ahangama, Weligama, and Matara, and the Eastern Province, around Arugam Bay.

 

The Southern Province

surf-ahangama-sri-lanka

Image credit: The Nuga House

The southern coast has the highest density of waves in Sri Lanka. There are small and mellow beach breaks, long peeling points, hollow reefs, and barreling waves for all levels of surfers to enjoy.

In the Galle District, Hikkaduwa is a long, picture-perfect palm-fringed beach with slowly peeling waves that are great for beginners and intermediate surfers. Off the coast of Galle, Unawatuna has a shallow beach break with gentle waves, as well as a reef for more advanced surfers.  

Midigama is a preferred base camp for most of the well-known surf spots on the south coast. Lazy Left and Lazy Right are both just as mellow as their names suggest. Rams Right is a hollow and shallow reef break for advanced surfers. The Rock is considered the second-best wave in Sri Lanka, after Arugam Bay.

surf-matara-sri-lanka

Image credit: Camp Poe

In the Matara District, Weligama is one of the best beginner surf spots in Sri Lanka, and a great longboarding spot too. Plus, there are 20+ surf breaks in its vicinity.

» Join a surf camp in Weligama.

East of Weligama, Mirissa is one of the most popular surf breaks on the south coast and also one of the most crowded. The mellow right-hand reef break is great for beginners and an awesome playground for intermediates.

 

The Eastern Province

surf-arugam-bay

Image credit: Mellow Hostel

Arugam Bay is the surf capital of the Eastern Province. There are two main surf breaks in the picturesque moon-shaped bay: Baby Point is the beginner surf spot and Main Point is recommended for advanced surfers.

South of Arugam Bay, Elephant Rock is an unbelievably scenic surf spot where you might even get to spot wild elephants cruising down the beach at sunset. This is considered the best beginner surf beach on the east coast.

More experienced surfers can check out the waves at Pottuvil Point, Whiskey Point, and Okanda, all within easy reach from Arugam Bay.

» For more on the waves, read our guide to the best surf spots in Sri Lanka.

 

How to budget your surf trip to Sri Lanka

surf-matara-sri-lanka

Image credit: The Salty Pelican

Sri Lanka is an affordable surfing destination, and you can find anything from budget to luxury accommodation. In fact, the most expensive part of your trip will be getting there and the accommodation. Food is quite cheap and you can save on transportation if you opt for trains, tuk-tuks, and scooters.

Do keep in mind that the monsoon season is the off-season in Sri Lanka. Many businesses close shop during this time due to the lack of tourists. There will be fewer eating and sleeping options available.

 

Accommodation

surf-accommodation-sri-lanka

Image credit: Cheeky Monkey Surf Camp

You can find a dorm bed in a low-budget hostel for 4-6 USD. Keep in mind that this is basic accommodation, without air conditioning.

The average price for a double room in a mid-range hotel is 40 USD, usually with breakfast and air conditioning included.

You’ll also find surfer-friendly accommodation in Sri Lanka near the most famous breaks, with prices as low as 20-25 USD per person in a private room, bungalow, or apartment, with all the necessary amenities included.

 

Surf camps

surf-camp-midigama-sri-lanka

Image credit: Elsewhere Surf Camps

If you’d like to save yourself the hassle of having to book accommodation and surf lessons/guidance separately, as well as finding board rental and transportation, opt for a surf camp. All of these will be included in the package, while some camps also offer breakfast or daily meals.

» You can join a budget surf camp in Sri Lanka for as little as 30 USD per person/day.

 

Food & drinks

food-sri-lanka

Image credit: Elsewhere Surf Camps

At small local restaurants, you can get rice and curry for 1.10-2.20 USD. You can grab a roti or other snacks for 50 cents. At larger restaurants, meals run between 4 and 7 USD.

Try to stick to the local cuisine. Western food is usually overpriced.

Alcohol tends to be expensive in Sri Lanka, and a beer can sometimes cost more than a meal. A local beer will set you back 1.10-2.20 USD. A cappuccino will cost 1.30-2.80 USD.

If you buy bottled water, throw in another 2 USD per day.

Don’t drink the water in Sri Lanka! You can either buy bottled water or bring a reusable water bottle with a purifier. We recommend the latter, as it’s cheaper (around 20 USD for the bottle and purifier) and you’ll reduce plastic consumption at the same time.

 

What to eat in Sri Lanka

what-to-eat-sri-lanka

Image credit: Bay Vista Hotel

When traveling to the island for the first time, many people expect to eat Indian food or “a sort of Indian food”. While there are indeed many South Indian influences, the spices and cooking techniques are different. Sri Lankan cuisine has a unique flavor of its own.

Rice and curry is the national dish, while coconut is a staple ingredient. A truckload of savory spices are added to each meal, from green chilies and turmeric to cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, saffron, and many more. And being an island, Sri Lankans sure know how to cook their seafood.

Here are some staple dishes you have to try in Sri Lanka:

  • Fish ambul thiyal – sour fish curry. The fish is cubed and sautéed in a blend of spices and dried goraka, a fruit that gives the dish a sour flavor.
  • Kukul mas curry – chicken curry with loads of spices: fennel, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, chili, curry, turmeric, pandan leaves, lemongrass, and curry leaves.
  • Roti – flatbread cooked on a hot plate, served with either sweet or spicy fillings.
  • Pol roti – coconut flat bread made with wheat flour and scraped coconut.
  • Polos – green jackfruit curry.
  • Parippu – dhal curry, the most common curry in Sri Lankan cuisine.
  • Lamprais –rice, vegetables, and meat (usually lamb) slow-cooked in a banana leaf.
  • Biryanis – basmati rice with turmeric, cardamom, and garlic, served with chunks of chicken or lamb and mint chutney.
  • Hoppers – or appa/appam, are bowl-shaped pancakes made from rice flour, coconut milk, and palm toddy.
  • Dosas – paper-thin pancakes made from rice flour, usually stuffed with spiced veggies.
  • Kottu roti – chopped roti fried with vegetables and meat.
  • Pol sambol – coconut relish used as a garnish or side dish, made from coconut, lime juice, red onions, chili, and spices.
  • Mallung – a sort of tabbouleh with chopped local greens and shredded coconut.
  • Fish BBQ – choose the fish you’d like to eat from the catch of the day.

Sri Lanka is blessed with an abundance of year-round fruits and vegetables. There are over 20 varieties of bananas! Therefore, the country is a heaven for vegetarians and vegans. You’ll find numerous veggie rotis and curries – green bean curry, lentil curry, cashew curry, eggplant curry, pumpkin curry, you name it!

The island is the third largest tea producer in the world. Naturally, every household, restaurant, and even street food stand serves it. Ceylon tea is typically served very sweet in Sri Lanka.

 

More useful travel advice for your surf trip to Sri Lanka

surf-trip-sri-lanka

Image credit: Elsewhere Surf Camps

Getting there

Unfortunately, both main surf hubs in Sri Lanka are far from the airport. From Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB), it’s a 3-4 hour drive to the surf spots on the southeast coast, and a 7-10 hour drive to Arugam Bay.

You can get to the surf spots by train, bus, taxi, shuttle, or car rental. Traveling by train is the safest and cheapest way to cover longer distances in Sri Lanka. For example, a train ride from Colombo to Galle costs only 1-2 USD!

Car rental is pretty expensive in Sri Lanka. But most importantly, the roads are chaotic, with drivers pulling off weird maneuvers and all sorts of wildlife wandering about.

 

Getting around

surf-tuk-tuk-sri-lanka

Image credit: The Salty Pelican

In most cases, hopping on a tuk-tuk is the easiest way to get to the surf breaks. And it’s all part of the fun of surfing in Sri Lanka. Tuk-tuks accommodate two passengers comfortably, but a third person can be squeezed in as well.

Tip: when hiring a tuk-tuk driver, be prepared to negotiate the price. The driver will start by asking for a high rate, so negotiate until you reach a price you are comfortable with. Never get inside a tuk-tuk unless the rate has been agreed upon. Hiring tuk-tuk drivers is cheap, between 5 and 20 USD per day, depending on how well you negotiate.

On the southwest coast, the surf breaks are quite close to one another, so you can also rent a scooter and drive yourself.

If you join a surf camp, transportation to and from the surf spots will be taken care of.

Currency

Sri Lankan Rupee (1 USD = 181 Rs.)

Religion

Around 70% of Sri Lankans are Theravada Buddhists.

Rest days

Sri Lanka has the highest biodiversity density in Asia so set aside a day or two to take a break from surfing and go on a safari. Arugam Bay sits at the edge of Yala National Park, where you can observe fascinating wildlife, from elephants to elusive leopards.

On the south coast, wander through colonial Galle, an old Dutch fort town. Visit a tea plantation. And if you have enough time on your hands, embark on Sri Lanka’s famous scenic trail route from Kandy to Ella, running through the country’s central highlands.

 

*Cover image credit: Lapoint Camps


Sri Lanka was previously called Serendib (Arab), which became the English word serendipity. Have a serendipitous adventure on an intermediate surf camp in Sri Lanka!

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