Youngsters from Arugam Bay swap fishing for surfing

From fighting the waves to riding them
By M Naushad Amit

Sri Lanka has some excellent up-and-coming professionals in the sports field who are making a name for themselves as players, trainers and coaches. Cricket and rugby top the list while many in the track and field sports have also come into the limelight recently.

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Arugam Bay Surf Club

Strangely a bunch of youngsters from Arugam Bay are on the verge of swapping their traditional profession of fishing to take up to surfing, an internationally popular sport hitherto alien to Sri Lanka and confined mainly to occasional glimpses of foreign events on television.
The Arugam Bay surfing break which was recognised by the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP), the global governing body in surfing has now developed to be a popular destination for international surfers. Many in Arugam Bay who were battered by the ethnic war and the raging tsunami are now gradually picking up the threads of their shattered lives and moving on by taking to surfing along with the unceasing number of international surfers who come here on training or holiday.

To cater the demands of the tourists who come to stay in Arugam Bay for long periods, a young set of surfing enthusiasts took the initiative of forming the Arugam Bay Surf Club (ABSC) seven years ago. At the beginning these youngsters only knew to balance their body weight on a surfing board with their natural talent to swim. But during this period the ABSC has grown to become a dominant force in surfing in Sri Lanka.
a??When we began seven years ago we knew nothing on surfing. We had only ten members then who knew to swim well but had no idea of how to handle a surf board. As years passed by our boys learned a great deal on surfing through the huge number of international surfers who came down to Arugam Bay. Now our membership has grown to 35 and all are equally talented,a?? Krishantha Ariyasena the secretary of ABSC told The Nation.
The ABSC were further boosted by a group from England who had come down to uplift the living standards of the people of Arugam Bay after the devastating tsunami. The group a??Paddle for Reliefa?? headed by Tim Tanton consisting great surfing enthusiasts promoted Arugam Bay to the outside world as an ideal surfing destination while engaging in social welfare work. The local surfers who used to train on borrowed surfers were presented two brand new surf boards by Tantona??s Group.
a??Tim and his group were really behind our efforts in promoting surfing among the local youngsters here. Over the years they helped us in many ways and we also came to know a lot of foreign friends through them,a?? Krishantha added.

The ABSC who are now affiliated to the Surfing Federation of Sri Lanka has become a leading club in the sport by holding many locally organised events throughout the country. But their greatest break in surfing came during late June with the SriLankan Airlines Pro Surfing 2010, a six-star event recognised and organised by the ASP. Sri Lanka was presented two wild card entries and through a qualifying championship the local surfers from Arugam Bay Duphalac syrup cost won the slots to represent Sri Lanka along with over 100 professional and international surfers. The ASP officials were really impressed by the local talent who competed without less technical knowledge.
a??This was the greatest moment for us at ABSC. AH Milan and WL Asanka from our club won the wild card slots for the event. The officials of ASP identified our talent and they were good enough to share their experience. We never requested them for financial support or surfing boards. All we asked was their advice and guidance. In reply to our humble request they conducted special workshops, training sessions by top professionals and even used our boys as beach marshals and for ground operational activities. They appointed one of their coaches to stay back for two weeks after the championship and conducted coaching camps. They were keen to uplift our standards and bring us to a level where we can conduct our own events,a?? said thrilled Krishan.

The ASP tour manager for Australasia, Dane Jordan who commented on the talent of Arugam Bay surfers emphasised that they had the ability to spread the sport among other locals who were interested. a??The surfers of Arugam Bay are really impressive. They have the potential of becoming professionals but what they lacked was the technical aspects of the sport. Otherwise they had the in-born talent.a??
Arugam Bay surfers who battle the sea for their bread and butter for six months of the year are now amateurs in surfing. Professionally they are fishermen but during the off season they find ample time to take part in local tournaments and earn an extra buck by helping tourist surfers. The area itself had become dependant on tourism and more than half the population are engaged in tourism in one way or the other.
a??Even during the war Arugam Bay had tourists coming down throughout the year. Tourism has become the main source of income for people around here. Our surfers too are part of it but still we continue our traditional profession and our fishing harvest is efficient enough to supply the local hotels. But with what we have learnt during the past seven years we want to move full-time into surfing. Therea??s a lot of potential in that,a?? Krishan went on to say.

After the training programmes conducted by the ASP, the Arugam Bay surfers are now eligible to obtain coaching licenses in surfing. This will give them hopes of becoming full-time professionals in the sport. As a start the ASP presented them with two brand new professional surfing boards during the awards ceremony of the SriLankan Airline Pro Surfing 2010. a??With the demand we see here for surfing, it will be timely to begin a surfing school for beginners. We have the blessings from the ASP and it will also help out locals from all parts of the country to learn surfing. Our surfers have the talent but we lacked the technique and teaching methods. But after the workshops, coaching camps and experience with ASP, they said we can now start teaching the newcomers. Ita??s a major turning point for Arugam Bay surfers and ours will be the very first surfing school in Sri Lanka,a?? Krishantha said.


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