No pictures on this trip. Just this video of one of us, flailing.
From a distance, surfing has always epitomized freedom with its rapturous promise of the power to ride the ocean. In reality it is every bit as exhilarating, though not as easy, as it looks. If you want to learn, make sure you pick a good beginner’s surf spot, a skilled teacher, and keep at it; perseverance will pay off.
Having barely managed to stand up on my board for 3 seconds (on a cumulative basis, on two previous trips) I was a little skeptical of how I’d do on a third try. Sinhalaya Travels’ previous attempt at this confusing sport at Matara ended up with one of us getting stung by a sea urchin and spending the rest of the day facing the full horrors of needles, gruff government medical staff and general anesthesia; at Pottuvil Point I narrowly avoided crashing into big rocks and could barely stand up after two hours of negotiating the battering rams that pass for waves over there; surfing is not a sport for pansies.
You’ll need to know how to swim. The surfboard is always securely attached to your body, keeping you safe even in deep waters, but in rare cases the cord actually breaks; and then if drowning doesn’t kill you, sheer panic probably will.
And to the bright sparks thinking of avoiding this disaster by surfing with a life vest on; know that your surfboard will probably give you a concussion the first, and maybe last, time your fool ass wipes out (surfing jargon for falling off the board) into the foamy water. You will need to go under when you fall, and stay out of harm’s way.
But you needn’t worry about these things at Weligama Bay, located some 24km South of Galle on the Matara Road. Think of Weligama Bay as surfing pre-school. The gentle breakers feel like congratulatory pats on the back, the sand is clear and obstacle free and the water is so shallow drowning is only possible via suicide, or murder (or stupidity).
So after a short lesson on the basics (it went something like this), I strap on my longboard and walk to the ocean’s edge. December is just the beginning of the season, and the waves are not as frequent as we like, but this is how Weligama is for most of the year, a plus for beginners who’d like to avoid the crowded tourist season.
We wade in. At first, Priyal holds the board and pushes in order for me to catch a wave. I immediately beat my previous record of standing up for three seconds on a moving surfboard, significantly boosting my wounded confidence in the process.
Catching my own wave is something I must graduate to. Maneuvering the board exactly so that it points perpendicularly away from an approaching wave requires experience, and your paddle muscles must be in good order. I get hammered by the water and tip over the side repeatedly before I get it right once, and then I fall in again.
Things get even more challenging soon, as I graduate from breakers and move on to ‘green’ waves; these are waves reaching their highest swelling point, just before their tips betray the signs of white froth. We are in deeper waters now, and I need sharper timing and faster reaction speeds.
The board struggles like a living thing; and I crash into the water in wipeout after glorious wipeout before even getting the hang of how to balance on it. You need to be calm and relaxed. And as expected, it involves a lot of your core muscles. But balance is also about the eyes; you basically go where your eyes point to.
Experienced surfers can cross, go up, down and run circles around these waves. I of course manage no such thing, nose diving into the water as often as not, but two hours after I start, I feel like I’ve picked up the basics.
Shaka Sign Surf has been in the business for nearly 3 years. In 2010, 20 year old Priyal, fresh from his CIMA graduation party, decided to chuck a career in accounting and just, you know, surf instead. He has since converted this prudent career move into a successful business. Founded with his partner Akilah, the company is now going along ah, swimmingly.
They specialize in surf tours and camps. Packaged tours include accommodation, surf lessons at Weligama and, for more experienced surfers, tours of the island’s best surfing spots with the occasional excursion to Sinharaja or Yala.
For locals half day lessons taken over a series of weekends are probably a better option. Call Priyal on 0771806932 for an appointment, the season is usually booked out by tourists, but in Weligama you can find waves even in off peak months. Charges are very reasonable and they give discounts for bigger groups. You get a full morning or afternoon’s worth of training with personal attention. Quite worthwhile I think.
A version of this post was originally published for the good people over at Yamu, yeah we’ve been kind of lazy with the blog lately. We apologize. And to all those emails that went un-replied, please consider the offer of a full course meal of egg hoppers and katta sambol with your choice of meat gravy as reparation. We really do believe in building relationships with our armies of readers.