The Sunday Times:
Well before the sun makes its patient ascent into the sky’s magnificent canvas of crimson, blue and white, Gabriel Villaran’s silhouette is etched against Arugam Bay’s think sand dunes.
Ready for the swell in Arugam's crystal clear waters
With his sleek surf board tucked like a wand under his arm, one of the world’s top surf stars makes a beeline to the brilliant blue sea, to conjure his unique magic on the rising tide.
Gliding majestically across the waves, Gabriel evokes two powerful and distinctly different emotions.
First there is the passion which seems to constantly linger over him during his entire time in the water, mottled with boyish exuberance and excitement.
And then a sort of naked aggression, present in each graceful twist of his lithe and muscle-bound body, as he battles to master the raging waters.
The 29-year-old Peruvian has now had plenty of opportunities to size up the seas of Arugam Bay and has seemingly blended seamlessly with its surroundings.
When he first arrived at the popular surf destination in 2010 for official competition, Gabriel realised that the waters near A-Bay possessed huge potential for the adrenaline-fueled acrobatic maneuvers he regularly pulls off.
This understanding prompted Gabriel to respond positively when Red Bull searched its pool of surfers for a suitable candidate to lead its Local Hero Tour in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and unearth a top surfer from each country.
“When they asked for a volunteer athlete from Red Bull I was like, ‘Yea I want to come’.
That’s why it is so important to have international contests because then you show the world that you guys have good waves and a nice country,” Gabriel explains.
Gabriel quickly re-immersed himself in the waters and ways of Arugam Bay, mentoring the gifted local surfers on the finer points of the sport while grabbing every possible chance to test his own considerable powers in the waters.
His artistry at the crest of each wave and his rugged good looks easily communicate why Gabriel is such a top-ranked surfer on the international circuit as well as a global poster child for the sport.
His fearlessness while surfing is exemplified by his regular participation in Big Wave events, which pit participants against tsunami-sized walls of water.
Surf sites across the internet are littered with videos of Gabriel navigating these gigantic waves, which would leave most people paralyzed with fear.
For Gabriel though, these monstrous bodies of water are enormous caches of adrenaline and once on them he is a sight to behold.
His arms confidently outstretched and eyes aflame with focus, he waits crouched in anticipation for the right moment to unleash his own flood of creativity.
Back at Arugam Bay, the waves, although smaller, propose their own unique field of obstacles to Gabriel and a battalion of other surfers from Sri Lanka and the rest of the world.
“It’s a really good wave. It’s a proper wave. It’s long and has good sections which you can do a lot of stuff on. It’s really hard to find a wave like this. There is a lot of potential here and a lot of potential for the near future,” Gabriel opines.
This environment has fashioned a fine bevy of Lankan surfers, and the Red Bull Local Hero Tour threw a bright spotlight on the best of them.
After several rounds of competition and a series of lectures from Gabriel, Praneeth Sadaruwan was crowned the country’s Local Hero, after he was found to be the surfer who demonstrated the most promise in the water while also proving to be the most receptive to the advice given.
Praneeth, who is now in the Maldives with Gabriel helping him search for their Local Hero, says that he benefited greatly from Gabriel’s guidance and would continue to adorn his style and preparation with the technical nuggets and training tips he received.
“Everyone learnt a lot from Gabriel. He kept saying you’re doing good but you need to keep trying new things and do them properly. So he taught us very well,” Praneeth revealed.
After he is done with the pristine beaches of the Maldives, Gabriel will pick up his board and head back into Big Wave competition in his continual quest for the perfect wave and a top place finish.
“The Big Wave event has five contests a year with the biggest waves in the world. Right now I’m in the top six in the world and in the near future I would like to make it into top three and eventually go on to win the title.”
His career is likely to haul him across varying pattern of waves, cultures and people.
If the unrestrained love he expresses for the Arugam Bay surfing landscape is a suitable barometer for his future travel plans, Sri Lanka is likely to see a lot more of Gabriel Villaran and his exhilarating brand of surfing.