Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Walrus on a Surf board! - Surfing lessons and Life lessons in Srilanka

Ok who loves funny animal videos? Raise your hand.
I know everyone does. I mean how else do you kill time in office. * Thank God for Buzzfeed and funny animal vids*

Now imagine this, a big brown tanned wobbly walrus trying hard to get on a slab of slippery ice. Yeah? Funny? Now replace the walrus with the sight of me and the ice slab with a surf board.

That was my first time surfing!

Here I was in Srilanka, backpacking and beach-hopping along the south and south-west coast. How I did it? And which were the beaches I bummed on is another story, a pretty interesting one too but for another time. This story is about why I came to Srilanka. To surf.

Weligama beach
My Instagram feeds had been killing me with these amazing go pro surf pictures of these men with chiselled athletic bodies and all I could do was drool over them. In India, surfing options are very limited. You have some schools in Mangalore, Pondicherry and Varkala but I think that’s about it. It is still evolving but I learnt about these places after this trip. Ever since I had heard about the Srilankan surf scene and the beautiful beaches and the turquoise blue water and the CHEAP exchange rate, I had it on my bucket list! There was no reason for me to NOT go there and give it a shot.

Except, I never swim in the sea. I go the beach and dabble my feet in the water alongside the shy salwar suit clad aunties. Plus you may think I am exaggerating but not even a year back I was nearly about a 100 kgs. Eeeeyeaaahh. True story. I was definitely not my fittest when I thought of surfing. My mind and body, as you can see, do not relate or see each other. My body is still, what I call WIP (work in progress). And on top of all this, I wore spectacles.

Despite all this I went ahead. I researched all I could. I searched the internet for everything and anything related to surfing in Srilanka and surfing for beginners. Youtube, blogs, website, Instagram, you name it!

Finally I had my plan ready.
Step 1. Buy the tickets to Colombo
Step 2. NOT mention the surf plan to my parents
Step 3. Backpack my way to Weligama town
Step 4. Head to the beach and figure the rest out.

I know pathetic planning. But that’s how I did it.

Weligama is a small coastal Srilankan town. It is, so I had read, a surf learners’ paradise. As I went looking for a place to stay, I could see tuk tuks stacked with surfboards. Foreigners on their mopeds with surfboards attached to their side, and sign boards all ready to give you surf lessons. This was a surf town. I could smell the surf. I have no idea what that means but everywhere I looked, I knew I was closer to what I was here for.

The next morning I moped-ed my way to Weligama beach. As I parked the moped, I couldn’t stop smiling. Just like how Goa beaches are lined with shacks or how chowpatthy is lined with vad pav walas, this beach was lined with surf shops. All the shops either rented out boards or sold boards or wetsuits for surfing.

I walked around the beach with a silly smile stuck on my face. The water was blue and the horizon was teeming with people of all ages and their brightly coloured boards. *Perfect*

At the south end of the beach I came across this board which said Surf N Lanka. I knew I had seen this somewhere in one of the internet search pages.

Without a second thought I headed to the shack. While walking I tried to gather all the confidence. I had no clue about surfing, I didn't know what I was going to do, and I didn't even know if I could ever even manage to stand on that board. But as I approached the first guy I saw there, I flashed my most confident smile and asked, “Hi, do you teach how to surf here?”

I wondered if he would take one look at me and laugh out loud with a reply, “Really? You?”

But that’s the thing about Srilankans, they are really sweet, especially to women.

This guy gave me the biggest sparkling white toothy smile which shone against his dark brown skin.


He reminded me of someone. “We rent and we teach. Will get you up on the board with one lesson only.” And he continued talking about how this was the best beach to learn surfing, how everyone around the world has come to learn surfing here, etc etc.

Apparently, he had just got out of the water after teaching some Russians how to surf and was still wearing his cap. Suddenly he removed the cap and out bounced curly brown and blonde hair. I knew it!

He reminded me of Malinga! The kinda- scary looking Srilankan bowler. Again I am not kiddin. And I have pictures to prove it too. His blonde tipped curls bounced as he talked with excitement and the more he talked, the bigger his nostrils flared. I kept nodding my head involuntarily as I zoned out at my own joke of similarity just to be woken up when he quoted the price of the 2 hour personal surf lesson including the board.

500 Srilanka rupees. Did he just say 500 Srilanka rupees!!!! That is nearly about 250 Indian rupees.
It was such a steal!! This was like getting a Vero Moda top in Sarojini Nagar for just 100 rupees!

Quickly I closed the deal. Before he changed his mind and quoted me a higher price. I signed up for the evening class.

The best time to surf here is usually in the morning from around 7AM to 9AM or around 4AM to 6PM.

By 3PM I was back on the beach. Anxious. Excited. Terrified too.

I didn’t have the guts to get into a swimsuit lest show my thunder thighs. So I got into a wet suit and shorts. I learnt that surf boards came in various sizes and material. Basically as you get better, the smaller the board becomes. I was handed over the 8 feet soft board, the largest, meant for beginners.

For an hour, Amma (that was the instructors name…apparently) gave me surf lessons on the beach.

Surf lesson on the beach with "Amma"

Amma lookalike :) Malingaaa!
From figuring out your strong leg to understanding how the center of gravity works to standing up on the board. It was basically a crash course on doing yoga on the board. First you lay flat with your belly button on the center of the board, then start paddling, get into the bhuj asana pose and jump on the board in squat position and try balancing on the board with your legs and hands. I must have done this exercise at least a hundred times before “Amma” agreed to let me try this in the open water.

Now unlike other water based activities, this one has no life jacket. Plus I was wearing my lenses. The only thing I had was my board which was attached to my ankle.

Covering the thunder with the board... 
As I walked with Amma and my board towards the water, the soundtrack of jaws kept playing in my head. Such a wrong time.

The instructions were simple.
Get on the board. As soon as you see a wave approaching, start paddling fast. Keep paddling until you gain momentum and once you are on the wave, jump up and try to balance it out.
As simple as it sounded, it wasn’t. Just getting on the wobbly board with me slipping in all directions was a sight. This was when I felt like a walrus. But I tried and tried until I had bruised myself and had gotten the hang of getting on the board.

Paddling in wasn't so difficult until you feel the piercing pain in your arms the next day.
After countless times of paddling in on every wave, I finally managed a half stand. On my knees. This was an achievement by itself.

Another hour later and after drinking gallons of sea water and hauling myself up repeatedly, there was this one wave.

My wave.

I paddled furiously, and it took me on its shoulders. I squatted on it and it held on strong. I kept standing on it until it died on the shores of the beach. As I stood on the board riding my first wave, I could hear Amma shouting victoriously. His child had just taken the first step.

My first surf lesson was over. As I sat across my board exhausted, looking at the sun go down, I felt jubilation running through my body along with a hell lot of sea water.

Never in my life had I thought I could surf. I was scared. Scared of the deep water, scared if I could do something new, scared about a shark attack and scared about what people around might think. But nobody laughed at me.

While bobbling up and down on the soft golden waves, I learnt it is only your doubts that shrouds what you want in life.  *Original line btw *

Philosophy aside, for the rest of the days I spent in Weligama, I rented out a surfboard every morning and evening until I could. It was physically exhausting but one of the most exciting things ever.

Though I must tell you, I did bruise myself pretty badly.

Today the bruises have healed and the scars have faded away but the memory of feeling the wind running through my hair, the salty feeling on my lips and zipping over the water has been etched in my memory forever.

After many days, I was still pathetic at surfing but I don't mind going back to Srilanka and try surfing again. This time to the Srilankan East coast, Arugam Bay!!!


  1. Hey Priyanka, reached your blog (though tripoto) while looking for surf lessons in Sri Lanka. Lovely pictures, minus the bruises ofcourse!

    I plan to take 3 day surf lesson in Weligama. Could you help me with details of your surf school (costs) and where you stayed. Just wondering if dive school is called surf n lanka?

    1. Hey Preeti! glad you liked the pictures.

      You couldn't have chosen a better place than Weligama! it is the best for beginners. So yeah, I went for Surf n Lanka. They are based right on the beach, somewhere on the south end. I paid 500 bucks for a 2 hour surf lesson. This was including the board. for stay, i stayed at a home stay which honestly I wouldnt recommend coz the owners ver a pain! you can go to booking.com and look for better options, or u could look at mirrissa too. the beach is amazing and not to far from weligama.

      *PS- if you go ahead with surf n lanka n meet "Amma", tell him I wrote about him!

      hope all these details help. All the best!