Go There: Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
Where: The villages of Arugam Bay sit on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka, the teardrop-shaped isle off the southeast tip of India in the northern Indian Ocean between the Maldives and the Nicobar Islands.
What: Sri Lanka, which means meaning “resplendent land” in Sanskrit, is a beautiful, diverse island, and amazingly so for its small size. The pretty coastline around Arugam Bay (aru-gam) is no exception, being the southeast’s most traveler- and surfer-friendly zone. Although many of its original structures were leveled by the 2004 tsunami and the country’s civil war hangover still lingers, things have slowly come back around, and Arugam’s long, user-friendly right points are as good as ever.
When: Anytime between May and October, with July and August being the peak surf-tourist months. The southwest monsoon is Arugam’s primary swell-maker along with clean, distant southern groundswells that originate in the Roaring Forties. This is also the season that the prevailing west and southwest winds are fairly offshore for part of the day.
Why: Because Sri Lanka is one of the last truly cheap places to go, because the aura is friendly and relaxed, because there is a lot to do if the surf sucks, because it’s an exotic place, and, last but not least, because the surf is reliable, consistent, and fun. The only downside is the actual surf size—it rarely gets bigger than head high or so. Still, Arugam is dreamy for a longboarder, a fish rider, or anybody with a penchant for small, rippable rights. There are one or two lefts in the vicinity, also.
How: From many major cities in Europe and southeast Asia, you can book a flight with Sri Lankan Airlines to Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) near Colombo. From there, surfers generally will hire a local bus or taxi for the ten-hour drive east to Arugam, which is on the island’s opposite coast. Stopping overnight in Kandy is a popular option to break up the journey and ease the jet lag. Once you are in Arugam, you can hire a local tuk-tuk to drive you to various surf spots. You can also rent a motorbike.
Places To Stay: There are several options around Arugam, from beachfront bungalows to tree houses, and most are about $30/night; cheaper if you don’t want air-conditioning, more if you do (and you probably will because Arugam is one hot, muggy place). Stardust Hotel is popular, as are the Siam Hotel, Tri-Star, Ranga’s Beach Hut, and Blue Ocean Guesthouse.
Places To Eat: The town’s main street will present you with an abundance of epic Sri Lankan cuisine (you’re in luck if you like spicy food), from the standard local rice-and-curry dishes to more globally oriented fare to satisfy both the Eastern and Western palates. The Gecko sells epic breakfasts all day, plus ice cream, sandwiches, and steaks. Also check the restaurant at the Hang Loose Guesthouse. The Stardust Beach Hotel is good, too.
Dudes And Babes: Since Arugam is pretty heavy on tourism, there are loads of people there during the surf season, everybody from massive Israeli surf posses to Danish backpackers and Australian honeymooners and Brits learning to surf. It’s an eclectic mix, and with eclecticism, you have options. And it’s perhaps possible to partner up with a local Sri Lankan if you’re keen. But don’t expect any Vegas-style nightlife.
Crowd Factor: In August at the main point at Arugam, you might as well be surfing at Malibu or Noosa. Hordes of surfers hang in Sri Lanka at that time, particularly Israelis, but there are crews from just about everywhere else, too. So you may want to skip August. Still, there are numerous spots in the area, so a few more minutes on a tuk-tuk could deposit you at an empty, sand-bottomed right point of your liking.
Stuff To Bring: A surf hat and a long-sleeved white rashguard are important because the Sri Lankan sun is positively scorching. Reef booties aren’t really necessary as the reefs are friendly and most places are sandy. Regarding surfboards, bring whatever you’d normally ride in fun, user-friendly waves—we recommend a fish in addition to your normal shortboard. A longboard can never hurt, but they suck to travel with, and rentals are available in Arugam.
If The Surf Is Flat: There are heaps of things to do, but one of the most popular is wildlife viewing since Arugam is on the edge of Yala East National Park. On any given day you can see elephants, wild boar, water buffalos, crocodiles, and exotic birds. There are also some good snorkelling and diving areas. Bronzing on the beach with a cold Lion Lager is a good option, as well as just doing nothing at all.
More Information: For something in hard-copy form, Lonely Planet’s Sri Lanka (11th edition) is great. Otherwise, there’s a lot of information online. Try srilankatourism.org, go-lanka.com, arugam.info, and arugambay.com. Surf packages are available from companies like Atoll Travel (atolltravel.com) and Sri Lanka Surf Tours (srilankasurftour.com).—Mike Kew
Sri Lanka Surf Consistency (chances of getting head high surf or bigger in prime months)
May – 84%
June – 87%
August – 88%
September – 90%
October – 90%