“You know this road is very dangerous? Many, many elephants along here…sometimes they crush tuk-tuk,” said my driver J.J, as we drove along the tuk-tuk crushing elephant road in a tuk-tuk.
Unsure whether to be more nervous about why he said ‘many’ twice, or the emphasis and even delight with which he delivered the word ‘crush’, I tried to think instead about the end result; ‘Secret Point’ was the destination, a supposedly delicious surf break about 40 minutes’ drive north of Arugam Bay on Sri Lanka’s east coast.
A ‘secret’ break brings with it a healthy dose of scepticism – especially when tuk-tuk drivers know where it is.
But coming over the crest of the sandy hill I found the water, at two in the afternoon, completely vacant. And although they weren’t completely clean waves on this day, having a decent break all to yourself is like a dream. Welcome to Sri Lanka’s east.
Earlier in the day I lay like a crescent in a hammock out the front of the Cuban-style arched-roof cabana I was staying, and entered the Wi-Fi password into my iPhone: Keepsmile2022.
To keep smiling is something Sri Lankans have certainly had to remember over the past few years, with COVID and an economic crisis making life exceptionally difficult for the 25 million beautiful, laconic people that call this gorgeous subcontinent island nation home.
I imagine this to be what travelling the sub-continent would have been like in the 1980s, when Australians first came across waves at Arugam Bay, then a tiny fishing village. This industry still chugs along – the smell of freshly caught kingfisher and snapper wafts pleasantly along the main street at night, and colourful boats line the foreshore in-town.
Tourism boomed in Sri Lanka after the civil war ended in 2009, and you can tell that this place has been brimming with western travellers in the past – there are shops, bars and tuk-tuk drivers to take you from beach to beach. It is no secret, but the relaxed vibe that courses through the veins of the entire country surely peaks in Arugam Bay.
Sri Lankans ride (slowly) three at a time on single-seat bicycles, dishing out shakas and high-fives, and a very stoned Tony Armstrong lookalike serves me a delicious mango smoothie with the most gigantic smile I’ve ever seen in my life.
Having not been for a surf in almost a year, I was a little wary when I strolled down to the Main Point with Orry, a tan Israeli man with very impressive facial hair.
“What is the phrase in English?” he queried. “Is like bike. You remember it like a bike.”
Located just off the main road, Main Point is the busiest of the East Coast’s breaks, but at sunrise only a mere handful made the effort. Though it begins to crowd as the day wears on, multiple sections mean there is enough space for everyone to get on the slow, crumbly wave that seems to echo this place’s cruisy approach to life.
On get lost’s first night in Arugam Bay, a local band threw down both local bangers and classic western anthems at the trendy Surf and Sun bar on the main strip, a mushroom themed night. All sorts of mushrooms from a nearby jungle were on display for smelling and tasting and ask at the bar for ‘the chemist’ and you shall receive mushroom-infused cocktail – not the sort you’re thinking of.
Another 20 minutes north (halfway to Secret Point) is Peanut Farm, a truly stunning beach, lined with palm trees and with another cruisy right-hander off some large rocks.
A few hours further north is Pasikudah – a sleepy fishing town located at the centre of a large bay. From the vantage point of Maalu Maalu Resort’s private beach, it is possible to walk 500 metres out into the (what sea?) and still have your head above water.
Maalu Maalu’s ocean villas are literally eight steps from your bed to the beach…maybe nine or ten if you’re a little bit shorter. This town is the perfect place to unwind and take it easy, but then again you could say that about the entire country.
Sri Lankan Airlines fly direct to Colombo from Melbourne every day, and direct from Sydney 3-4 times a week.
Transport is possible by train, and Infinity Vacations are a great option for more flexible transport along the east coast.