I spent the first 58 minutes of my very first surf lesson snorting saltwater and cursing my overoptimistic stupidity for actually thinking I could do this. But then if I’m spending a few days in Arugam Bay, I should totally go surfing, no?
The last two minutes showed me why.
Arugam Bay is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous surf spots. Folks who come here to surf don’t leave for days, and in some cases, weeks. And with good reason. Arugam Bay is said to be vibrant and upbeat. Travellers come from all over the world to enjoy the chill life, go surfing and even visit a national park or two. Arugam Bay is a great base to explore the wildlife of Sri Lanka as well.
Best Time to Visit
April to September is ideal, as the weather will be consistent, with low chances of rain. It won’t be too hot, either. Plus, the waters won’t be too choppy, so whether you’re there to surf or just chill and swim, you will be able to.
I would recommend May, though. I was in Arugam Bay in late April, and it still rained a little, the weather was blustery and dull. Restaurants and surf shops had just started opening up, and the town was slightly sleepy. I think early May onwards is perfect.
Getting To Arugam Bay
I came to Arugam Bay from Ella. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, where we just hopped into a jeep taxi with a few other travellers and sped away. The best way to get to Arugam Bay is by road.
Like me, if you find a bunch of like-minded travellers or at least people headed to the same destination, a taxi would make perfect sense. Seven of us took a taxi from Ella. It took us roughly 3 hours to reach and cost us a total of LKR 10000. That’s ~1500 per head, which is what, $9 per head? Steal.
You’ll find local buses to Arugam Bay as well, but this will involve a stopover at Mirissa or a nearby city and will take double the time of a taxi. If you’re travelling long and cheap and have extra days to spare, it’s never a bad option to take public transport.
You can hire your own Tuktuk and drive around Sri Lanka! How cool is that? It’s one of the most popular modes of transport in the country and definitely one of the most enjoyable. Think travelling at your own pace while the cool breeze whips through your hair as you get unimpeded views of Sri Lanka’s beautiful landscapes and coastline.
Where to Stay
I went to Arugam in late April. Season begins in May. Arugam Bay looked like it was waking up from a deep sleep when I was there. Shacks and restaurants had just about started opening up, and few hostels have resumed business. One such was The Long Hostel. It’s very, very popular, has lots of beds (which get booked out rather quickly) and is well located – walking distance from pretty much everything.
The Long Hostel
INR 550 | $7.5
Surf N Sun
INR 2500 | $35
INR 10000 | $140
What to Do in Arugam Bay
Let’s start with the usual suspect –
When we thing Arugam Bay, surfing is the first word that comes to mind. The coast off of Arugam Bay attracts surfers from around the world. The biggest swells appear from June to August, which makes it an ideal time for intermediate and advanced surfers. For an absolute beginner like me, late April – May still made a ton of sense.
There are quite a few surf spots in Arugam Bay.
Peanut Farm: This is where I went for my first ever surf lesson. There were 20-odd beginners here. The easy waves make it an excellent spot to familiarise yourself with the activity. There is a second spot here with bigger waves, which makes it a great spot for intermediate surfers. Peanut farm is one of the most popular surfing spots in Arugam Bay.
Whisky Point: Another surf spot that is great for beginners.
Two spots for intermediate to advanced surfers are Pottuvil Point and Arugam Point.
Surf shops line the main street of Arugam Bay. You can walk into any and ask them how much they charge to rent out a surfboard. It usually costs around LKR 1000 (INR 400, $5) for a day. If you’re planning to stay for a longer time, you could consider buying your own surfboard and selling it off before you leave.
After a lot of consideration, I took my first ever surf lesson in Arugam Bay (yes, I know I’ve mentioned this a bunch of times before, but firsts are SPECIAL, okay?).
Was I nervous? Yes. Was I excited? Also yes.
I met a guy at the hostel who had taken his first lesson the previous day and was very happy with Ajay, his surf instructor. He gave me Ajay’s number and suggested I call him. I did. Ajay and his girlfriend, Elise, picked me up the next day in a Tuktuk and took me to Peanut Farm. Ajay is an excellent instructor. Extremely patient (I needed that), very clear in his instructions and so encouraging. When he found out I spoke Tamil, he began talking excitedly in the language, only to be met by a blank stare from my side. Turns out, the dialect of Tamil spoken in Arugam Bay and the dialect speak (and which is spoken in other parts of Sri Lanka) are VASTLY different. Still. Friendly chap.
Reach out to Ajay at +94 77 653 9112 if you want to book a surf lesson. I would recommend.
2. Cry because you can’t surf.
Okay, technically, this is not an actual POINT on this list, but if you’re a beginner, you’ll know what I mean. How was my surfing experience, you ask?
I fell. A LOT. I couldn’t stand on the damn board at all, and I was getting irritated with my own clumsiness. How could someone fall so much? People around me were doing it. I asked Ajay, and he said it usually takes at least two sessions for someone to be able to stand and balance on the board. He might have said it to make me feel better, but it did help reinforce my confidence in some way.
I spent the first 58 minutes of my very first surfing lesson snorting saltwater and cursing my overoptimistic stupidity for actually thinking I could do this. At the end of the 58th minute, Ajay said we were at our last wave. Hopelessly, I thought to myself what even was the point. Meh. Let’s just ride this wave and be done with it.
The 59th minute, when the wave hit, was nothing short of miraculous.
Somehow, in giving up all hope of ever standing on the board, I lost the ability to give in to fear. And I stood up on that damn wave and rode it till the end. I could hear Ajay’s whoops of victory and Elise’s shouts of encouragement over the waves, and I was overjoyed. My first ever surf lesson and I had managed to stand at the last minute.
My surf lesson cost me LKR 3000 (INR 1200/$16), including instruction, pick up and drop, and surfboard rental.
It’s worth it, fellas. If you’re a clumsy beginner like me, who’s always up for trying something new even if it means crashing and burning and making a complete fool of herself, or if you just want to try your hand at a new sport, give surfing a shot! I went in nervous, came out elated and was looking forward to catching more waves at Weligama (more on that later).
Here’s a video of my surf lesson.
3. Visit a national park or two
Sri Lanka is famous for its wildlife, and there are plenty of national parks around the country where you can go and catch a glimpse of some exotic animals. You’ll see plenty of deer and peacocks, but if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of crocodiles, elephants or leopards.
Two parks accessible from Arugam Bay are Kumana National Park and Yala National Park. Kumana is an easy half-day trip. If you are planning to visit a national park. Make sure you’re going in a covered vehicle, like a Tuktuk or a jeep. We hired scooters to explore the town and went till Kumana but weren’t allowed inside because scooters aren’t closed vehicles and animals roam about freely in their natural environment. But it wasn’t a total loss, because we did spot a lot of deer and peacocks, a couple of elephants in the distance and a crocodile perched merrily on a rock.
4. Do yoga
Where there are surf schools, there are yoga classes. I don’t know if it’s a thing, but this is just something I’ve noticed. A lot of hotels and hostels offer yoga classes, some free, and you might even find classes being advertised as you walk along the main street of Arugam Bay. Never a bad idea!
I spent just two days in Arugam Bay. I would’ve loved to spend more, especially after I started getting the hang of surfing (mild exaggeration, I believe, for having stood up once :P). Or at least, developed a proclivity to it. My time here was quite chilled out, punctuated with some great food (try the Mexican nosh at Water Edge. It’s delicious), and fun company. I’d definitely head back here during better weather and catch some waves again.
If you’re travelling around Sri Lanka, be sure to check out my other posts!