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When the classic waves of Indonesia were first dis¬covered in the late 1960s, and the news spread through the international surfing community, a whole generation of international surfers came to the re¬gion in the quest for perfect waves. Many followed the "hippie trail", and word soon spread that Sri Lanka not only had great waves, but also offered the poten¬tial for a superb hedonistic lifestyle. You could surf, eat and sleep with a roof over your head (if desired) for "a dollar-a-day". Those days are over – the hip¬pies are gone and the continuing civil unrest has slowed the growth of tourism – but a hardy band of surf travellers still enjoy Sri Lanka's waves and af¬fordable lifestyle.

Sri Lanka is a big, spectacular, tropical island, and the whole of the southwest, south and southeast coasts have surf. The two best and most popular ar¬eas for surfing are Hikkaduwa and Arugam Bay. Hikkaduwa, on the southwest coast, is one of the most popular watersports centres in the country, and during peak season is packed with tourists. The best time to surf here is during the northeast monsoon -¬from November to March — a dry season when the winds are predominantly offshore. The area has five recognized breaks – most of them on reefs — which all respond differently to various conditions, so one of the breaks should always be working. The biggest waves are over 3m high.

On the other hand, Arugam Bay, on the southeast coast, works best from April to Octo¬ber. Old hands say A-Bay has the best waves in Sri Lanka, but visitors are warned not to go for safety reasons. Getting there is definitely a hair-raising experience: the route is lined by seven army checkpoints, and you're constantly re¬minded not to leave your car because of the risk of land mines and charging elephants! The road is often closed due to fighting, and you'll find most local taxi drivers are too scared to take you there. If you eventually make it, the rewards are cheap guest houses, great waves and few surfers. In all, there are nine right-hand breaks in the area. The Point is a fast, world-class right-hand point break that offers a super-long ride when it's work¬ing at its best around 2m. One group prepared to make the hairy 8hr trek from Hikkaduwa to A-Bay are the "Hikkaduwa Boys", a close-knit group who enjoy taking newcomers under their wing but who are known to take strong action against those who don't pay them the respect they're en¬titled to. Though Arugam is known for its relaxed atmosphere, some Italian surfers at Potuvil Point, a nearby break, recently complained about gunfire in the jungle and soldiers running across the beach.

As far as the local surfing scene goes, not much has developed. Most surfers are from abroad, espe¬cially Australia, though the locals who do surf are good. There are no local competitions, no local surfing association and no surfing tours.

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