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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Surf Mobbin' in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka

While Arugam Bay is an all around improvement over the surf at my home breaks in San Francisco (think warmer waters, no sharks, consistent glassiness and peeling point breaks), what leaves a bit to be desired is the means to getting to the waves themselves. While the main surf point of Arugam Bay is right at the edge of town and an easy stroll over, it does unfortunately get very crowded because of exactly that ease of access. The other 5-6 myriad surf spots are between 15 min-1 hr long car rides away. I've never missed my trusty GTI from home in SF as much. Getting to the waves was easy, jumping in the freezing wind chop was the hard part. 
Why I am in Arugam!
In Sri Lanka, the common means of getting to the breaks involves hiring a tuk tuk for the day, where you get driven to the break, get waited on, and then get chauffeured right back. While being driven around does sound grand, it can get costly if you are staying long-term like I am - the charge is between 6-20 USD round trip depending on the destination. The tuk tuk 'mafia' is an interesting study in Asian business practices. During surf season (May -Oct), tuk tuks from all neighbouring provinces descend on quiet Arugam Bay and loosely collude between them (and the Police as well) to the effect that the base rates they charge can be quite exorbitant by local standards and subject to arbitrary markups on what they consider the paying capacity of the client. While a decidedly thrify backpacker like me may get the lower end of the inflated rate, an older family vacationer from, say Scandinavia, and staying at a nice resort will definitely get quoted a high rate. More interestingly though is that they artificially follow a limit of two surfboards on the roof (while it could take comfortably 1-2 more) as that allows more tuk tuks to get employed. 

The tuk tuk dutifully adhering to the 2 surfboard limit
In any case, on a budgeted long stay of several months in Sri Lanka I had to look for alternative means of transport. After much much thinking I decided to acquire a motorcycle and get it kitted with a surf rack. This wasn't without some trepidation though - after surviving a rickety adolescence on a Kinetic Honda on hazardous Delhi roads, I had sworn off motos for life. I do admit to renting scooters occasionally and breaking this rule to get around while traveling in Asia this past year. But buying a motorcycle seemed a big and potentially perilous step forward. Why not just rent one you might ask? Not so easy Watson. Afraid of incurring the wrath of the aforementioned tuk tuk mafia, local rental places hesitate to provide surfboard racks. A bike sans rack is only good for an occasional joyride and pointless for surfing. (unlike some of my more skilled and daring surfing brethren, I refuse to ride with one hand while clutching a surfboard with the other!)
The surfing kin of the young tuk tuk driver above.
Consequently, one weekday evening found me returning from the town of Kalumnai with my local friend and shopping advisor Kadafy, on a shiny Honda motorcycle. I chose the latter over a scooter as it would offer bigger tyres, and hence more stability and competence on sandy tracks that need to be navigated to get to the beach from the asphalt roads. I would be lying if I didn't also admit to caving into a bit of vanity too.
The surfrack being installed by a local welder
After spending the next few days making the rounds of the welding shop in designing and fitting a surf rack, I was finally the proud owner of a vehicle that would obey my whims to schlep me around the surf spots at my beck and call. The only thing remaining was a bit of fear I had around raising ire with the tuk tuk drivers. For I have to share parking space with them at the breaks and didn't want to have my bike vandalised! So I have been extra courteous with them - for beneath the ruthless industry they partake in, they are nice people after all -  and resultantly my bike has been quite safe so far. Fingers crossed. What's funny actually is many people, tuk tuk drivers included, have already offered to buy my bike when I get ready to leave end of season. Everybody's looking of a bargain right?!
The surfmobile (and me doing a poor impersonation of Steve McQueen)!


While I'm quite content with the bike right now, I already know my desired means of transport for my next trip here. Yup, a Tata Nano! While my Mom is a proud owner of one back in Delhi, it seems to be a handy (and hardy) means of travel here in Sri Lanka. My Aussie friends Jack and Josh rented one and have been the envy of town!