Global Opportunities: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's a secret surfers' paradise with lots of reef breaks, surf-tour operators say

Australian Julian Wilson at an international surfing event held at the eastern coastal resort of Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka, in June 2010.
Ishara S. Kodikara | AFP | Getty Images

With miles of sandy beaches, quality reef breaks and consistent swells, Sri Lanka's coasts are fast gaining a reputation as a premier surf destination.

Sri Lanka was a "hidden gem for travelling surfers until around five years ago when the surfing tourists, mostly from Europe, came flooding in," Max Hepworth-Povey, a surf holiday advisor from U.K.-based Errant Surf Travel, told CNBC.

"Arugam Bay on the East Coast has one of the best waves in the world and the whole southwest coast from Hikkaduwa down to Matara is full of hidden, empty reef breaks."

The crescent-shaped Arugam Bay is undoubtedly the most popular surfing spot in Sri Lanka because of its many good surf breaks with names such as Whiskey Point, Elephant Rock and Peanut Farm. (A break is where a permanent or semi-permanent obstruction such as a reef, sandbar or a headland causes surf-able waves to break reasonably reliably at that location.)

Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is a tropical island that sits south of India in the Indian Ocean and has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites. It hosted close to 1.8 million tourists arrivals in 2015, up 41 percent from figures in 2013, according to data from Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.

A resident drives past a memorial to the victims of the December 26, 2004, tsunami that killed 31,000 people in Sri Lanka, including in the Hikkaduwa region.
Lakruwan Wanniarachchi | AFP | Getty Images

Despite the big jump in visitor numbers, it's not just the waves that have caught the attention of the global surfing community, but also Sri Lanka's rich history and relatively undeveloped state, according to Jacqueline Brinck, the camp manager at Lapoint Camp, a Swedish travel company which runs surf camps in Sri Lanka.

"Sri Lanka is more for the surfer looking to meet new people and surf in an area that is local and unexploited," she explained.

Brinck said Sri Lanka is also great for surfers who wanted world-class waves without the crowded line-ups seen in the more popular surfing destinations.

Another big perk of surfing around the teardrop-shaped island is the affordability factor.

"Sri Lanka is considered one of the most affordable Asian surfing destinations for both learners and pros," Pamela Knaggs, Singapore and Malaysia marketing manager at Skyscanner, said. The country featured on a Skyscanner list of "Budget surfing destinations in Asia" last year in part because surfing lesson cost only about $18 per hour.

Having undergone a lengthy civil war, as well as being badly hit by the devastating Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, Sri Lanka is one of the less-traveled countries in Asia. But surfers shouldn't expect to keep their favorite spots to themselves forever.

Martin Maddell, owner of Beach House Hiriketiya in Sri Lanka, said he'd observed more people at his local village "grabbing the chance to make money by renting out rooms or offering surfboard rentals."

The country's air carriers, leading travel agents and private railway operators began offering online bookings in late 2013, helping simplify the process of making reservations and bookings from outside the country, which boosted tourism, according to a 2015 Euromonitor report.

And since being elected in January 2015, Sri Lanka's government has made the tourism industry a priority, announcing budgets for trade fairs in several countries and initiating private-public partnerships for the development of tourism in Sri Lanka, Euromonitor said.

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