A Sri Lanka Surfing Comeback

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December 26th 2012
Published: December 30th 2012
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Use it or lose it. It's a mantra that rang loud 2 minutes into my first surf session for 10 months. A couple of head high waves on Hikkaduwa's beach break peaking directly in front of me was followed by duck diving and frantic paddling. Already the arms were strings of spaghetti dangling from jellied shoulders. I felt like a bird suffering vertigo. I hadn't used it and thus had lost it.

No age is ideal for a surfing comeback from such a lengthy hiatus but 56 is way less ideal. Ruthlessly humbling.

What didn't help was the $4 a day rental board that would be ignored by scavengers if it was sitting on a rubbish pile at a council cleanup in Sydney. The guys renting me the board told me I would also need to compensate for any damages. Damages? You could put this thing through a meat grinder and not notice any discernible changes. More holes than a second hand dart board, the colour of chain smoker's teeth from salt water cancer, re-glued back together after being snapped in two sometime in history. Beggars can't be choosers.

Sri Lankan surf will never don the cover of magazines but boy it's consistently mediocre. There's something rideable every day, the water feels like an ayuverdic massage, the waves small to medium, a hint of power and palm trees cram the postcard backdrop. A hand picked destination to break a surfing drought.

Not only was this a surfing comeback, it was also a Sri Lankan re-coming. As an early to mid twenties gap year surfer, I spent 4 - 5 months here between 1980 - 1983. On the other hand, this was the bride's first visit and I was eager to get Penny's opinions through a different set of eyes, even if she was dreading my pub bore reminiscence. Hey, nostalgia may be wimpish weapon of choice for old farts, but;

"If you can't recall it - Forget it".

30 years is a long stretch but all things considered, little has changed, down by the coast at least. In fact, use Bali as your barometer over the same period and Sri Lanka has been in a relative time warp.The beach fronts are more elbow to elbow with eateries, watering holes and accommodation options, but it's all low level and snuggles cosily amongst the palms. The most obvious morph has been the price tags. Shoe stringers can still survive on a modest sum but the rupees bleed significantly quicker these days.

What hasn't altered a single iota is the people, despite a pair of life changing events. This is a gentle loveable race. Sri Lankans can melt your heart with their omnipresent unforced smiles and a charming blend of innocence and naivety. Even local surfers, generally among the first to adopt a "my turf" psyche, seem to enjoy westerners in the surfing lineups. Sri Lankans are genuinely chuffed to open their arms to tourists braving their shores once again.

Once again? This country has had a tough time of things since my previous visit, keeping tourist numbers way down. A 27 year civil war and a sodding big wave could do that.

Sinhalese have been more than willing to unload on us their own personal accounts of the 2004 tsunami. Their stories are tragic but that wound has been cauterised effectively through a combination of elbow grease, hat in hand and an ability to confront adversity.

A tougher mission is coercing a local to broach the issue of civil conflict. One man did offer a few snippets from his Sinhalese perspective but it's a topic that is generally deemed off limits. If you do decide to buy into that avenue of conversation, consider some self editing of the rhetoric in order to leave yourself a touch of wriggle room. I suspect an alternative slant of the "truth" could be recounted from a Tamil perspective.

Sri Lankans are content to now leave well enough alone and they have a point. Why open up old wounds whilst they are are still licking them. There may be a cosmic balance of disrespect between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka but that has to be preferable to that dark quarter century.

The upshot is that it's now Sri Lanka's time to enjoy their moment in the sun. As a destination it's always been an open secret. Travellers have been stalking, waiting to pounce. Now that the dead weight of the war has been discarded, the nation has been re-enfranchised wholesale back onto the tourism map. In we flock.

Beachside is the prime attraction but after a fortnight it's time to "head for the hills Ma".

Oh, and how is the surfing coming along? So far so average. Imagine surviving on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches for 5 days before someone plates you up 3 days worth of Michelin hat cuisine. You begin to feel darn good about yourself when suddenly you are thrust back onto the peanut butter sandwiches. After 5 days of floundering on the rental board, a very generous compatriot leant me his spare Al Merrick pod. Surfing became fun again for 3 days until that board went back to Oz with the owner and I regressed to the fibreglass sponge. Ouch.

At least there was light at the end of the barrel and the search is on for something more appropriate for our return to the coast in a week's time.

Watch this space.


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30th December 2012

awesome Gary... and Penny...
think it even betters Palm Way atm... look at all those Lefts and Rights!! I wonder what its like to get barrelled?? Oh, its pretty good :) take care you two :)
30th December 2012

Surfing companion
Hi Gary and Penny I see you in Sri Lanka at present. I have two other friends there at present, Tony Van Merrick and his wife and daughter. Keep an eye out for them, they will be in the surf. I'm sure Tony will sort you out with a board if you see meet him. Have a good NY. From what I remember, Sir Lankans know how to celebrate. Just don't mention the cricket!! Rod
31st December 2012

I'll keep my eyes peeled
Off to the hills for a week then back to the coast. I will look up your mate if he's still around. Thanks.
30th December 2012

Happy New year. Speaking of comebacks, I made my volleyball comeback on Saturday after a similiar hiatus. Seemed like a good idea at the time , but three days later , still feeling like I should be in a retirement village somewhere. A kayak around the bay this morning loosened me up for the challenges of new years eve.
31st December 2012

and the winner is...
Hi Gary! Another brilliant post! very entertaining - I didn't know you had it in you! Just in case you hadn't heard, the 2012 Trainer of the Year was..... the Bottlo! Not bad given that he finished off the year geting over a hernia operation (uncontrolled sneezing from bad hayfever so he reckons, I wonder how he'd be if he wasn't training!). The Honda is doing fine - I didn't know there was a car that could make my Corolla seem powerful, but it's been great to us. Wok, Mick & all the boys are well. Take care & God bless :)
31st December 2012

About time
The Bottlo was overdue although that's a lame excuse for a hernia. I'll try and send him an email.glad the car is still kicking. Any chance you'd like to sell it back when we return?
31st December 2012

Surf, surf
It's all you Aussies think of! I have a husband who will have to be persuaded to go to Sri Lanka for other reasons then...
1st January 2013

What can you do.....
We are sons of beaches
3rd January 2013

we see ur photo .nice.come again sri lanka.

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