Sri Lanka has an allure that few places on the globe can match. A mystical island steeped in verdant rainforests, topped by tea fields, speckled with ancient fortresses, and writhed in enthralling tales of Hindu demons and enlightened Buddhas, it’s a mishmash of cultures and creeds and natural landscapes that always manages to surprise.
Then there are the surf spots in Sri Lanka: Sheer quality; sheer fun. They fringe two main coastlines – the east (mainly at Arugam Bay, which we’ll chat about later) and the west (the most famous surf region of the two), and are generally among the most accessible and forgiving of waves in Asia.
There’s always something in season because the two coasts work at opposing times of the year. Plus, the atmosphere here is downright fantastic. You’ll dine on taste-bud-tingling dals and have morning swims with sea turtles on the coral reefs. Lovely.
Sri Lanka is one of the areas I specialize in as a surf-travel writer. I only discovered the stunning Teardrop of India back in 2018 but it was love at first sight. I’ve since lived for a whole month in Hiriketiya – if you ask me, the coolest surf town in Asia – and traveled extensively throughout the southwest coast region for surfing and chilling and sunset beers.
A U-shaped bay on the far south coast of Sri Lanka that’s tucked away from the maddening crowds of Matara and Colombo, Hiriketiya is for hammock swinging and surfing from morning until night. There are two waves here, both on the same beach but at opposite sides.
The first is the Hiriketiya beach break, on the western side of the bay. It’s a plump and cruisy little number that has about two or three take off points, depending on the size. You can ride short rights into the reef that lies in the middle. Or you can peel off to the left and surf gently into the rows of palm trees, which usually host groups of onlooking macaques.
The second break is for intermediates and up. It’s a pure point break reef that works on the eastern edge of the bay, close to where the waters join up with the open ocean. You’ll need some moxie to make the sucky take off, which pulls back on shallow rocks festooned with urchins. Manage that and you’ll be straight onto a long, open left shoulder.
Hiriketiya was once a best-kept secret of southern Lanka. These days, it’s well known but the vibe remains tropical to the T. Seek out the hidden surf villas back from the main beach road to sleep in the company of chirping birds of paradise and naughty monkeys.
Uber-cool Ahangama is the new kid on the block when it comes to surf spots in Sri Lanka. Spreading across 2.5 miles of shoreline between Midigama and Koggala, it’s an accessible run of beaches and coves and reefs, all of which have surfable waves.
There are a few spots that stand out from the crowd. First up, there’s Marshmallows, a deep reef that’s great for minimal riders and folks looking to graduate from beach breaks to their first corals underfoot. Next, there’s Sticks, a cluster of peaks that are steep and wedgy over shallow rocks, though a latent degree of localism makes it a bit sketchy at times.
Those are just the named breaks. One of the joys of Ahangama is that you can seek out unbusy spots pretty much everywhere. Navigate between the coast hotels and shacks on the shoreline and you can almost guarantee that there will be a wave waiting to be tried.
On top of that, Ahangama is the hipster hub of Sri Lanka’s surf scene right now. Edgy cafes serving up avo on sourdough mingle with artisan pizza joints and chichi cocktail venues with sunset shows that are to die for.
Hikkaduwa was one of the original surf-chill meccas of the southwestern zone on the island. Much closer to the airport and Colombo than the other towns mentioned here, it tends to get busy with both locals and holidaymakers. There’s also a whiff of overdevelopment about it all, what with colossal hotels crowding the golden sands and more curry shacks than you can shake your stack of chapatis at.
If you can look past all that, then you get the gorgeous surf run of Narigama Beach. It’s the perfect place to learn; a factory for knee-high cruisers that are rarely too powerful. Up the coast a touch from that is Benny’s, a point break that pushes fat and rippable left waves over a jagged reef. That’s better for experienced riders and only really works when there are BIG swells in the offing.
I see Hikkaduwa as a great first stop option on a surf trip around the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. It’s welcoming and easy, has an abundance of affordable coastal hotels (some of which are downright luxury), and – crucially – is on the way down from the big airport in Negombo.
Like Hiriketiya before it, Kabalana is a tale of two breaks. There’s the easy-mode beach break, which is the reason that so many of the local Ahangama surf schools track up this way with their learner classes. Then there’s the real star of the show: The Rock.
The Rock is a wedge of an A-frame wave that draws in loads of power from the Indian Ocean through channels cut in the coral reefs below. When there’s 5-9 foot in the forecast it transforms into a world-class left and right, with fast drop ins straight to pitching faces. The right is the better of the two ways to go, as it cruises and bends and bowls neatly on a tapering line, finishing with some loose sections where you can hotdog to your heart’s content.
Kabalana itself doesn’t really have a town center per se. It’s more like a steady string of camps and lodges, curry houses and board shops that clings the Matara Road.
5. Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay whisks us over to the eastern side of Sri Lanka. It’s a whole world away from all of the other places on this list; a land of long, wiggly, white-sand beaches that face straight east towards Southeast Asia.
The location is actually key, because Arugam Bay gets its best surf conditions at the total opposite time of the year as the west coast. The swells get regular and the monsoon rains drop away around the middle of spring, ushering in a summer of offshore winds and glassy water. It’s the place to surf if you’re hitting Sri Lanka between May and September.
The Main Point is the money-shot wave. As the water pulses in there, it hits a headland of salty boulders and starts spurting out long, 100-meter lines that oscillate between semi-hollow faces and even barrel sections if it’s big enough.
Arugam Bay sits smack dab in the middle of a coastline of around 50 miles that’s riddled with breaks. Some – like the super-fun, all-level spot at Peanut Farm – are well known, but can be tricky to reach. Others remain complete secrets, hidden behind rows of coconut palms and cow-spotted farm fields.
Weligama is sandwiched right in the heart of the southwestern surf zone. You’ve got Mirissa to the southeast and Midigama to the north, so there’s no shortage of breaks for those willing to hop in a tuk-tuk and do some exploring.
But Weligama isn’t really for the exploring surfer. It’s 100% dedicated to total beginners and is now, simply, the very best place to learn to surf on the whole island.
The main reason for that is down to the geography of the bay. It measures a whopping five miles in all, curving from a coconut-strewn headland on one side to a cluster of reefs on the other. Meanwhile, the opening to the ocean is two miles across, enough to push in regular swells that then refract and loose power before they caress the beachfront with easy, leg-high waves and whitewash.
If I had to focus on a downside of Weligama, it’s the looks. The town is a ramshackle mass of concrete hotels that straddles a very busy seaside motorway. It’s loud and you’ll spend your walks to the waves dodging traffic.
As you move north from Weligama, the town of Midigama picks up the baton. It also cranks up the quality of the surf a whole notch because the nooks and crannies of this bending and curving shoreline are just about perfect for creating point breaks and reef breaks of all shapes and sizes.
There’s a real Sri Lankan smorgasbord to get through but, if you’re tight on time, consider heading straight for Coconuts. It’s a fun, punchy right hander that runs off the side of a manmade breakwater. The reef is deep when the tide is high, so there’s not too much risk of meeting an urchin. Plus, the beach itself is a stunner – think daffodil sands and the odd palm tree ducking low for shade.
The more famous breaks of Midigama Left and Midigama Right couldn’t be more different. The latter is a quick, zippy number that’s for shortboard hotdoggers. The former is a sleepy gurgle of water that’s better for those bringing eight foot or more to the party.
These days, Midigama has some of the finest surf stays on the island. They run the gamut from bohemian lodges with polished-concrete suites to bargain hostel stays that have in-house surf instructors.
Little Mirissa is a party town at heart. It throngs a seriously lovely beach to the east of Weligama, spilling out onto the sands in a montage of bamboo-built bars and ginger-scented curry houses. As evening approaches, the happy hours kick in and Mirissa becomes a hedonistic cocktail of beer drinkers and dancers; a little touch of Koh Phangan in Sri Lanka.
There’s decent surf here for those who can dodge a hangover. The best spot is the right-hand reef that works at the northwestern edge of Mirissa Beach. Hit that at high tide because low will make it so shallow you’ll scratch toes (your own) and nose (the board’s) without a doubt.
If that’s too busy or too daunting, there’s always the option of hailing a tuk-tuk and making the 20-minute drive around to central Weligama. In fact, lots of folks do that because Mirissa has more good vibes and better nightlife than its next-door neighbor, plus it’s a whole load prettier. So, surf in one, stay in the other. Sorted.