Sri Lanka is one of the up-and-coming surf gems of South Asia. Everything from crumbly beginner breaks to rippable points is on the menu, and there are tangy eggplant curries and mist-shrouded tea fields to get stuck into when you're finished.
With one coast facing the open Indian Ocean and the other peering into the Bay of Bengal, Sri Lanka has a seriously enviable location for hitting the waves. Both sides of the island work at different times of the year – the southwest in the winter, the east in the summer. On top of that, the vibe is mega chilled, with reggae-surf bars dotting the shorelines and boho surf camps welcoming all levels.
Wondering where to surf in Sri Lanka? Look no further than this guide, which scours both halves of the Teardrop for the eight top spots.
Hiriketiya Beach: one palm-threaded beach, two great waves
Wherever you go on the island right now, the name of Hiriketiya is whispered like it's some long-lost Shangri-La of surfing. All that buzz has kick-started loads of development in the small town. The worry? Its low-key days are probably numbered. For now, though, it remains a little slice of surf paradise in the Sri Lankan southwest.
A perfect hyperbola of a bay that bends in just around the headland from Dikwella city, Hiriketiya is a land of bobbing sea turtles and bowing coconut palms. It's flanked by two headlands that help to shape and refract the swells into two separate breaks. The first is the Hiriketiya beach break, a super-mellow ride where beginners can practice all day long. The second is a fast left-hand reef that offers ripping rides over urchin-caked rocks for intermediates and up.
Salt House is a chilled yoga-surf hotel just a stone's throw back from the main beachfront. Casa Vana offers something more secluded in the jungles, along with a couple of resident dogs for company. At night, be sure to stroll over to Dikwella Beach for Smoke & Bitters – it's been rated among the 50 top cocktail bars in all of Asia!
Getting to Hiriketiya Beach: Aim for Dikwella first. Cheap buses go there from Colombo and Ella. An onward tuk-tuk to Hiriketiya should take under 10 minutes and cost no more than 200-300₨ ($1–1.50)
Weligama: the learn-to-surf mecca of Sri Lanka
Weligama might not be the prettiest town out there, but it's firmly established itself as the place to go for those first ever waves in Sri Lanka. The reason? Well… how does a huge, horseshoe bay with almost 4.5 miles of lapping beach break sound?
The center of Weligama fronts the best waves of all. It's tucked onto a finger of land with the murky Polwatta river to the back and runs of cinnamon-colored sands to the front. What's great is that there's a good primary and secondary swell. Surf schools tend to stick to the latter, which is crumbly and forgiving. But you can catch some bombs out back when the forecast reads a big period and something over 7ft.
You've got the pick of countless surf schools. Sadly, some of the beachfront places don't have the best reputations. Lucky's Surf School is well established and run by a member of the Sri Lanka National Surf Team. Alternatively, Layback runs surf and yoga packages with dorm and private options from its pad in the heart of Weligama.
Getting to Weligama: It should be easy to find someone to share a transfer with from the airport – Weligama is one of the most popular surf towns of all. However, cheap trains take about four hours to do the trip from Colombo and cost just 220₨ ($1.10) in second class.
Ahangama: secret reefs and uber-cool surf camps
Ahangama isn't just one surf spot, it's about 10. They're all strung along a shelf of reef that runs between the resort town of Unawatuna and the next door surf hub of Midigama. The whole area is linked up by the frantic Matara Road, a steady stream of hurtling tuk-tuks and swaying buses, so it's hardly peaceful but it is easy to navigate.
Kabalana Beach is the one that really put Ahangama on the map. Out back there, you'll find The Rock, a steep A-frame that's hollow on big days and sectiony on smaller days. But there's a sand-bottomed beach break for learners, too. It's a good one, and now oodles of surf schools from Weligama and beyond make the pilgrimage up for the forgiving lefts and rights.
As you travel south from Kabalana through Ahangama proper, you'll spy more surf breaks than you can shake a brinjal curry at. Lots remain secret spots, but it's worth knowing about Marshmallow – a very mellow deep reef for all levels – and Sticks – a more challenging spot for intermediates.
Getting to Ahangama: As many as seven trains go from Colombo Fort to Ahangama station every day. Most surfers get a private transfer from the airport, though, which costs around 10,000₨ ($50).
Arugam Bay: the place to surf from May to October
Arugam Bay is the surf town of choice during the south-western monsoon. That brings rough ocean currents and loads of rain to pretty much all the other places on this list between May and October. All the while, the east coast of the island where A-Bay – as it's come to be known – makes its home gets blessed by regular groundswells and sun-filled days.
There's a whole string of breaks on the menu here. Closest to the town, the right-hander of Main Point is a cruisy ride of up to 150m (492ft) on the best days. To the south, there's Peanut Farm, the beginner's choice, followed by the punchy points of Okanda for the pros.
Arugam Bay has developed into a pretty hefty resort town in the last couple of decades. The road behind the beach is now riddled with curry houses and beer bars, which can become pretty lively in the peak of the summer. SAFA Surf Camp is probably the best-known tuition provider, with packages for all levels.
Getting to Arugam Bay: A taxi from the airport to Arugam Bay takes about 5 hours and costs about 15,000-20,000₨ ($74-98).
Midigama: regular rights and lefts over sparkling coral gardens
The coconut palms lean low against the clear-water coves of Midigama, which string around a bend in the Sri Lankan southwest coast between Weligama and Ahangama. This is the land of right-and-left reef points. The best of them is Ram's, a rare expert break over unforgiving coral gardens near the now-legendary guesthouse of the same name.
But there's more in Midigama. There's also Coconut's, a deep-water reef with left and right sections, and a tricky paddle out, but a fun shoulder for cutting back and turning. And there's Lazy Left, a peeling goofy wave that has to be up there with the finest longboard options in Sri Lanka.
Jamu Surf Lodge is right in the thick of it in Midigama. It hides behind a grassy section of shoreline and a phalanx of stick-thin coast palms, offering rooms that are polished concrete from head to toe. There's also a boho cafe on-site where they make some of the fluffiest stacks of breakfast pancakes on the island.
Getting to Midigama: Midigama has its own station, served by daily trains out of Colombo Fort. You could also aim for Weligama, from where tuk-tuks to Midigama cost around 300₨ ($1.50).
SK Town: rare sandbar waves amid the reefs
SK Town is another name for Lakshawaththa Beach, which fringes the rocky coast just east of Matara. It's roughly midway between Hiriketiya and Mirissa, making it a fantastic drop-in spot during a surf odyssey along the southwest shoreline.
It's all beach break here. That's rare in this part of the island, where coral reefs reign supreme. SK, though, is a deep-bottomed run of sand that has shifting banks that create wedgy lefts and rights. They can be pretty punchy, but a good secondary swell makes this one a prime playground for local surf classes.
The key is to get in early and late. Without the reefs to hold shape in the water, the waves are always best before the wind picks up (before 9am) and after it's dropped (post 5pm). If you choose to stay, check out the basic but very welcoming Ocean Breeze Villa. For dinner, be sure to hit Uprising Restaurant, where the fabled Rastaman makes fresh coconut curries to a backing track of The Wailers.
Getting to SK Town: There's no direct transport to SK Town, so you'll need to catch a tuk-tuk from Matara. Haggle for them but expect to pay 300-400₨ ($1.50-2).
Hikkaduwa: surf in the shadow of cocktail bars
You won't find an empty wave set in Hikkaduwa these days. This is one of the most developed of all the surf towns south of Colombo. It's easy to see why. Not only does it have breaks for all levels, but it's garnered a reputation as a bit of a party town to boot.
Benny's is the best-quality wave in the area. That can handle bigger swells of up to 10ft, occasionally gets hollow, and offers open faces to carve with turns bottom to top. There's also the beach break at Narigama, which is a little like Sri Lanka's answer to Kuta in Bali – AKA, a learner's paradise.
If the budget allows, Villa Saffron Hikkaduwa is the place to rest. It's within walking distance of Narigama Beach and has sprawling suites with indoor–outdoor bathrooms that spill into antique-filled common spaces – very cool indeed.
Getting to Hikkaduwa: Trains run on the Southern Rail Line from Colombo to Hikkaduwa. Tickets start at 280₨ ($1.40) and the trip takes under two hours. A private transfer from the airport should cost no more than 10,000₨ ($50).
Mirissa: après-surf abounds
Long a playground for boozy nights in the beachfront bars, Mirissa still gets washed by the same Indian Ocean swells as the rest of the southwest coast…
Between November and March, they power up a pretty fast right-hander that zips over a shallow rock reef at the western end of the sand (for advanced surfers). They also roll into the fishing breakwater in the next bay along to give a crumbly left-hander with an easy paddle channel (for intermediates and up).
Mirissa isn't short on visitors. Everything from whale watching to pub crawls happens here, so don't expect any waves to yourself. To escape the hubbub, you can scramble the hill path to Secret Beach. There's no surf, but a couple of idyllic, conch-shell coves poke out from the coconut groves – just beware of the misbehaved langur monkeys.
Getting to Mirissa: Hop on the express train from Colombo to Weligama and then catch a tuk-tuk around the headland to Mirissa – they cost 300-500₨ ($1.50-2.50).
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