Surfing Hikkaduwa

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End Mar 25, 2009

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Friday, February 20, 2009

After getting smashed by what seems like an infinite number of waves, run though the "washing machine" a few times, and snapping one safety leash, some of what I learned those years ago in Arugam bay on the other side of this island has come back. I have actually even stood up on one of the damned things for maybe. . 3 seconds . .or so.
Hikkaduwa, situated on the Galle-Colombo road is much more touristy than Arugam, though this year has seen a sharp decrease in visitors from the steady rise after the tsunami.
Perhaps it is global recession, maybe the war, maybe terror threats, or all of that, but all the locals tell me that there are many less than half of last year's quota.

However, this does not deter the surfers who cluster around the "main break," just in front of our guest house, and the "beach break," just a 3 minute walk down the beach. With a mile or two of ocean in front of us, you might think that there would be plenty enough for all, but these two main areas are just about it, and apparently the surf itself has been fairly low.
Watching the good surfers on the main break is fun in the morning as the sun rises and all day long, but for such as me, and more than a few others, the Beach Break is the kiddie pool of the hikkaduwa area, where (at least reputedly), one can do some paddling, get some balance, some board rash, and a sore ribcage from laying down on a hard surfboard waiting for the intermittent larger waves to break close enough topick you up but far enough from the beach not to break a fin (or a neck) in the shallows.
All seems well and good, an area for those who really know how to surf the big waves, and a gentler place for those just learning, but it doesn't really work that way. Yesterday afternoon I counted no less than 25 on the beach break, some ten or so being of such a talent level that they should have been out surfing the main break with the big boys. The problem is that many of these hotshots like to come over and hog the waves in the beginner area, going from side to side, and generally being dangerous to those of lesser ability.
One first learns to paddle and balance on the board, perhaps to sit, and with close observation of the swells learns to 'read' the breaks. In other words, you get used to the board, then you get used to where the wave picks you up. If you are lucky, you can catch that wave and not panic, and with a little more experience, stand up for a few seconds as the break turns into "white water." Problem is, though when at this point in one's surfing career, the only direction one can go in is straight. "Turn" comes later, and "stop" is simply to fall off the board, so that when one of the hotshots catches a wave, they provide a nice near-death experience for the poor novice, paddle in front or behind you to "steal" a wave you have been waiting for, and generally create an "every man for himself" attitude which lessens the experience for most.
This was not so true in Arugam Bay a few years ago--there was a sort of understanding of "surfing" etiquette, the beginners and not-so-good surfers having panama and crocodile rock as well as the main beach, and the experts stayed out more towards "the point." If mixed, however, it is the more experienced surfer's responsibility to look out for and steer around whomever may be in front, especially if the newbie is facing inwards and cannot see what is coming behind. After almost being beheaded from the rear by an Aussie kid (all aussies are issued surfboards at birth, you know), I felt a little spooked for the next couple of days. This morning I actually had to comment to one of these guys "Hey there, hotshot, don't run me over!" Of course my English friend Andy thought this was quite funny, as somehow it came out with a Bostonian/New England lilt, and he thought it reminded him of the movie The Departed, or as we might like to say "the depahtid."
Anyway, hawt-shawt saw that I had staked my territory, as it were, and paddled on to slip a foot or two in front of the next hapless victim.
Collisions are common, especially when the hotshots come down to the learner's beach, broken boards or broken faces sometimes result, but they also happen over on the Main Break, where the big boys play. Yesterday I saw 5 people all trying to get the same wave, 3 succeeding, and 2 colliding, since it is a double break and goes both ways. Neither one had the humility to bail out or to change course (the proper etiquette), so as a result they collided diagonally, leaving both in the water and cursing the other.
Fights have broken out over such collisions, and I can say it is mostly because of yahoos who think they are better than they are playing an ego game. There are some good surfers here, sure, but I have seen much better in Arugam, and the best ones go to Bali, Fiji, Hawaii, or some such other place.
There are simply too many people in the water--the beginners don't collide often, as all they know is to go straight in toward the beach, but when you put them together with the more experienced who don't have the wherewithal (translation "balls")to surf the Main Break, problems may and do happen.

All that said, yesterday was quite a good day in the afternoon, the waves not providing enough force to propel the hotdoggers to ego-stroking on their way to "nobody really gives a shite non-stardom," so it was basically all of us who are just learning. The result? No collisions, but a lot of cheering on and a couple of smiles. Nice to finally not have to worry about being impaled on the point of some aussie kid's board, emergency crews on the way from Colombo, and a half-hearted "oh, sorry, mate," in my dying ear.
When I told Noel of the "hotshots" down on the beach break, he just shook his graying head. "Bastards, this wave stealing. Bastards. Bastards."
The old man has it right.
So when coming here to Hikkaduwa learn two things: With a room you get what you pay for (watch for giant cockroaches and bedbugs), and when surfing, remember that high-tech equipment and Billabong accessories do not an expert make. Always watch your back, even in the water.
Well, then having done my current installment, it is time to go on my afternoon surf. Wish me luck.
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