Saturday, 31 May 2008


The paradox of the Bay is that the reason it’s so peaceful, sleepy and detached is through fear. Fear of the LTTE related troubles in the region, fueled by western government warnings, has kept many tourists from visiting this season, yet this enclave seems nonchalantly unaffected by the bombs, landmines and battles going on within earshot. The firecrackers I wrote about on arrival transpired to be a battle between the Tigers and the government troops in nearby Yala East national park and every day we hear the sound of gunfire. Is it a training maneuver? Is it a battle? Another game of shit-head? Oh, ok, one more before a snooze… The soldiers that cruise the strip on their tractors smile and wave, damn even the guy on the machine gun turret of an armoured vehicle gave us an stiff yet genuine wave despite his heavy flack jacket.

We’ve been without power, internet and associated western conveniences a lot this last week allowing the mind to focus on the more palpable fear that has been rising in me as the waves have risen these last few days. The crescendo was yesterday morning as waves pushed over the reef with twelve to fourteen feet faces at some points. Stop for a moment and look around the room. Work out a spot that’s over twice your height from the ground and imagine a wall of water looming over the horizon and pitching forwards over itself with the fetch of the Indian Ocean behind it, powering it, as you lie at sea level looking up at it. Tell me there’s not a little drop of fear in you…. These waves aren’t big in surfing chronicles and seasoned surfers will laugh a macho laugh at my mention of fear, but I certainly have the fear of God within me as I frantically scrabble for the horizon amongst the surfer ‘pack’, me desperate to just make it over the beast without being driven into the reef like a pin into a steel plate, they desperate to get their spot at the peak, where the wave curls and begins breaking so they can ride it. The fear, as I name it, or the buzz/stoke/excitement as the veterans name it is tangibly crackling. The atmosphere has shifted to alertness, aliveness, the moment, certainly in the water, but is also residual for a time back on land. I may be a chicken, but I love it!

On big Wednesday as I’ll now call it, I was the absolute greenhorn in the water. Usually there’s a few more down the pecking order from me so I didn’t get too many waves in that session. Survival was my primary aim, from the big set waves, but also making sure my inexperienced decision making didn’t put me in the path of a six foot lump of sharpened fiberglass with a person leashed aboard. But the handful of rides I did get were intense. There’s no real memory-record of those rides as the moments were devoid of thought… frustrating as I try to replay the thrill in my mind, but I guess that’s what makes it so special.

[this was written a good few days ago but we’ve been without power and internet since then. I’m sending this from Colombo airport as I prepare to depart. The digital equivalent of posting your postcards at the airport]

Friday, 23 May 2008

Band of brothers

I like the company of men as much as the next man, but it dawned on me after a few weeks that I do miss the softness, beauty, wisdom, care and openness of female company…

Why don’t women surf? Well, of course they do, but not in the numbers that men do, and there certainly aren’t many here… in fact there’s only 1 Japanese woman who is surfing here, and the only other females I’ve met are Mel, Rosie and Flora who were all here with surfing boyfriends. In fact the same was true of Bali when I was there unless you were in Kuta with it’s ‘resort’ facilities – beaches, bars, restaurants, shops etc. – the female count was disturbingly low. I know women are different, but why isn’t there a comparable urge to surf between the sexes? So here’s the theory I’ve come up with: Women are more naturally connected to their Self and are less driven by their ego therefore they don’t have the physical urge that men do to find complex ways of suppressing the ego to glimpse that true inner self by surfing or engaging in other ‘danger sports’… still they’re missing out, and so are we!

As many travellers in Arugam Bay have gravitated to Sooriya’s for Ram’s hospitality and culinary skills the evenings are spent round a communal table, playing cards, eating, drinking, smoking, and telling stories & jokes… which is all well and good but some of these young men are here to party aswell as to surf an getting desperate to just see a woman. My needs aren’t quite so primal as my intention for this trip was more as a retreat than a rave but A-Bay is beginning to seem like borstal-with-a-view but with more beer, surf and better food.

I’ve learnt to exist well in these testosterone fuelled environments from my school days but I’m not entirely comfortable . As evenings progress and otherwise decent aussies show their deep seated bigotism and racism – I haven’t met an Australian man who isn’t racist yet – I’m disappointed to find most others at the table laugh and join in with the “abbo” jokes, except perhaps Panu, a warm and gentle Finnish man. It must be born of ignorance over contemplation because on every other level I really get on with these people.
As we all get to know each other better the sessions at the point are getting more and more convivial. The brotherly concept of surfers calling us ‘tryers’ into makeable waves and pulling out of waves to let us get the tail end is a beautiful thing. Whoops go up when a good wave is ridden and there’s genuine shared joy as the learners improve.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Point

The point of me being here is the point, Arugam Point. Twice a day I make the fifteen minute walk from my hut, up the south end of the bay to the coral prominentary jutting into the Indian Ocean which causes swells from the south to form into waves as they hit the shallow reef and then refract around the point into the bay giving long surfable waves which peel from left to right.

The evening I arrived I threw my bags into The Nest and made straight for the point to get half an hours water time before dark. The set waves were 8-9ft on the face and barreled in one section. I paddled out in the lull between sets but my timidness amongst a pack of seasoned locals and travellers ensured I didn’t snag one of the big fellas, but I snuck onto a couple of smaller waves on the inside. Since then the size has dropped to not much beyond head-high but I’ve surfed the best waves of my life. I’m really getting to know the wave, and surfing with the wave like never before. I’m paddling into position, making the drop and immediately taking a high line along the wave to gain speed in order to make it round the fast breaking section 20 metres down the line, after which the wave slows so a cut back gets you back into the curl of the wave to begin generating speed down the line to make the next section. You can connect these sections up from the point down into the bay, probably one hundred metres or more, but as the season progresses and more sand is pushed over the reef these sections connect up to give rides of nearly eight hundred metres! I’ve by no means got this wave dialed and continue to get tumbled over the reef as waves close out on me or I completely misjudge a turn but the simple joy when it all comes together, as all thought disappears and you exist purely in the that moment with that wave is pretty special…. then Crunch! You snap a fin plug out of your board and begin a satisfied trudge back to the A-Bay board repair shack.

There’s a laid-back and friendly atmosphere in the water with the same faces - Aussie, American, Sri Lankan, English, Japanese, South African, French, Finnish, Spanish and Israeli – appearing day in day out. I would guess there are about twenty five surfers in town but there’s usually no more than 10 out at any one time and apart from some sour faced israelis there are smiles, waves, chats and the waves are shared by all.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The Nest

I’m living in a wooden shack on stilts, like a tree house, called The Nest at the bottom of Ram Sooriya’s garden. I have a veranda on two sides with a hammock and a chair and table. Inside I have an electric light and a Tilley lamp as a bedside reading light, I have a bed with a mosquito net and a large lockable wooden box for keeping my things away from prying monkey hands, some large spiders, a huge centipede, some geckos, a few cockroaches and a bat. About 20 metres away is a well with an electric pump which draws water up through a stand-pipe and acts as my shower, and the banana tree leaves surrounding it are my soap tray. The nearest toilet is a couple of hundred metres walk towards the main building so I’ve been taking a leak in the surrounding flora and fauna. In fact in the spirit of going feral I’ve felt compelled to mark my territory with strategic urinary deployments about the perimeter. Such bestial instincts weren’t effective enough to save me from the devastation that greeted my return from breakfast this morning. Having changed into dry shorts after an early surf I left The Nest to see an upside down monkey face peering at me from under the apex of the roof. “Good morning” I waved as I headed for eggs and fruit salad thinking nothing more of it. That cheeky money had obviously been casing the joint whilst waiting for my departure before whistling his firm in to do the place over. As I walked back towards home I saw the porch light was on and swinging slightly, as I neared I saw my erstwhile drying boardshorts strewn on the sandy floor beneath the hut, approaching further I spied some of my toiletries and other nick-nacks dotted around the area. As comprehension dawned on me I opened my door to the full carnage within. Anything and everything that was accessible had been ransacked. There was kerosene from the lamp mixed with citronella all over the floor and walls, forming a nice paste where it had merged with my soap powder. The bed was covered with incriminating muddy paw prints, the mosquito net torn down, my pillow nowhere to be seen. Luckily my muji wash bag was sturdy enough to save most of it’s contents but my coconut after-sun tube was riddled with tiny teeth punctures, it’s contents sprayed across the walls looking like the scene of a coconut massacre. Bizarrely my photocopied yoga sheet had been removed from it’s plastic wallet and sat neatly in the middle of the floor… But the icing on the cake was a monkey poo-present at the foot of my bed…

Luckily I heeded Ram’s advice and stowed anything of value in my wooden chest so the damage was peripheral, but caution is the operative word until I can figure out how to keep the buggers out.
Monkeys -1, Ed -0.

Monday, 12 May 2008

things come and go

the internet is at best intermittent here in crazy lazy aragam bay - so this post may have a long gestation period. a nine hour, two hundred mile drive from colombo through the hill country navigating horrendous roads delivered me to this bizarre enclave of peace in a crazy civil war ridden, election frenzied (the first in twenty years!) eastern sri lanka. the sound of gunfire and bombing whilst out surfing this evening turned out, of course, to be fireworks at a local buddhist festival!

it was sad to lave the ashram family, they made me very welcome and unusually I felt at home immediately upon arrival which is testament to the spirit of the place. I'd love to see them again, and my imagination has been captured by india. wouldn't it be great to do a road trip around the coast finding surf spots along the way... anyone interested?

having spent two weeks in lacsidasical coastal karnatika I got an intense blast of what india can offer a rooky when I transferred from mumbai's domestic terminal to the international one for my flight to colombo. it was a thirty minute ride but it packed in a middle-england's lifetime's worth of sound, colour, traffic, dirt, poverty, mayhem and all round sensual overload. there's almost too much life happening there for my tiny mind to comprehend!

i only managed to get my camera around the lagoon in mulki to the beach for one morning's photography - that's a damn shame as we had much better sessions than the one recorded here but on reflection i realised i've only put one surfing image up so here's a few more...

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Super Glue

Over these last couple of weeks I’ve surfed 4 or 5 spots either side of the Shambhavi River mouth, all within paddling / walking distance from the Ashram. We did venture to Mangalore jetty one afternoon when there was some transport available. It’s reputed to be about a foot bigger than Mulki and with more regular form as the groundswell wraps around the jetty… alas when we arrived the 3ft waves we’d been riding earlier in Mulki were non-existent. Another of life’s harsh lessons: don’t venture too far from home - you’ll only be disappointed.

I’ve had some really fun sessions every day, and as my energy drained after 8 days on the trot the swell conveniently dropped so I’ve been taking one of the Ashram’s longboards out for some easier bouts. I’ve been surfing mainly with Dustin who’s such a lovely bloke, really fun to surf with and great to chat to on the long paddle to and from the waves – he’s a good man. Pre & post surf confabulations have been easier these last couple of days as we’ve timed the tide to perfection, taking a ride on the outrushing tide as it drains the lagoon to the sea beyond and taking the incoming tide-expressway on our way back. That’s living alright!
I managed to slice the palm of my hand open on one of the many oysters lurking on the lagoon bed. They are razor sharp and as I paddled toward shore it cut me deep. As I reached the shore upon examination i could see my inner-workings, straining to get a better look I stepped back, onto another oyster and cut my foot… thank goodness there wasn’t a mop & bucket, a rake and two men carrying a sheet of glass nearby or the farce could have taken on Frank Spencerian proportions. After dousing the wound in salt water (for a couple of hours as I surfed) Dr Dustin hydrogen peroxided it and then super-glued it up – apparently super-glue is or has been used as a battlefield wound sealer – and it’s really done the trick.

I keep meaning to go in to detail about the amazing food I’ve been gorging on here, but keep getting sidetracked by other trains of thought…. Maybe tomorrow…

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Simple Things

I’ve been having a good time, relaxing, surfing, diving in to ‘lake me’ and whatnot but the really special moments so far have been a couple of afternoon cricket games with some boys from the village. India is cricket crazy at the moment with the multi-billion dollar IPL but the grass roots passion for the game rather than the corporate dollars are what make it so.

Shyama Kunda, Rassica, Diki and I took a stroll to the village cricket field a few days ago as the scorching sun was beginning to cool. Word got round that a foreigner was in town so some of Kolechi Kamla’s finest soon emerged and everyone agreed that I was the spitting image of Ryan Sidebottom (which I can’t see myself – I guess we look all the same).

Conjuring up the spirit of a Flintoff-esque all rounder I hit some 14 year-olds for six and bowled some un-playable in-swingers – partly due to the high moisture content in the air and partly due to the tennis ball bouncing wildly off the recently ploughed pitch – arousing cries of “bowl, bowl!” on occasion, but even that herculean performance wasn’t enough to save us from losing both matches. To be frank, the local lads were pretty darn good!

About ready to collapse in my own personal sweat-lagoon, we retired to the lagoon proper for a post match sunset bath. Walking back for dinner I was exhausted with an aching bowling arm and cut feet, but I felt a tangible sense of contentment having connected with village life in a small way.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Ashram Aspect

The place I’m staying is a Krishna Temple / Ashram. The Krishna Consciousness devotees who live and run this place are part of a bigger organization lead by their guru Bhakti Gaurava Narasingha Maharaja and they have another Ashram in Mysoor and are opening one in Switzerland and are looking to do another surf-oriented one in the Seychelles – and it’s no coincidence that it’s a tax haven over there, these guys are businessmen. The Ashram has many businesses to generate income to support it’s activities and the elders in the community (Americans predominantly) tend to have their own business interests ranging from farming to mining, from import/export to surfboard manufacture, from web development to property development. There’s no conflict between earning money and being spiritual in Hindu life, rather the opposite. Krishna is, after all, the wealthiest, prettiest, strongest, most powerful entity and boy does he like to show it!

They get up at about 5am and meditate privately from 5.30am till 6.30am at which time the conch is blown and the fun begins. We meet in the small temple room and various melodic chants are sung accompanied by a mrudanga drum, bells and cymbals all culminating in bellowed rounds of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna as the swaying sometimes spills over into dancing… at 6.30 in the morning! I’m slowly becoming more comfortable with all this strange, dazzling ritual. My body is softening to it as it becomes less alien to me. From my stiff, awkward, repressed-English-male demeanor to begin with I’ve loosened from uneasy stock-still silence to a sort of mumble-hum and a sway. At times now when I know the words I’ve sung my little heart out accompanied by full on Uncle-at-a-wedding style dancing…. Sweet.

I figure if I’m staying in this kind of environment I should live it, so I join in most morning’s and evenings. I haven’t broken free of the shackles of my false-ego to live forever with the divine… yet. But chanting Hare Krishna is apparently the fastest way to achieving this breakthrough in the current era, so we’ll see. If you notice a funny glint in my eye when I next see you, you’ll know the source.

The surf has picked up over the last few days – head high, fast and hollow peeling down the sandbanks deposited by the river with the surface almost unnervingly smooth making it hard to judge the pitch of the waves as they sweep toward shore. It’s breaking in waist high water and sometimes barreling, sometimes closing out so a mouth & shorts full of sand is a regular occurrence. I haven’t been able to take my camera across the lagoon to capture any of this magic so you’ll have to take my word for it.