The Southern Expressway has had all sorts of Lankan life changing effects. For one thing Galle is now, in terms of travel-time, next to Kottawa. Another little consequence of those four lanes to the south is that people don’t go to Hikkaduwa anymore. With Unawatuna’s neon-blue bay now just two hours away Colombars seeking a sea and sand fix seem to be bypassing the ocean-side playground of our youths and heading straight to Galle. Hikka, with its degraded coral gardens, but still attractive coves and broad beaches, has been left to the roasting European and Russian hoards.
The Colombar withdrawal from this once favoured party-town is regrettable as it remains a very serviceable beach destination. The beach here is broader and longer than at Unawatuna so at the height of the season feels less crowded. There’s also more space for lounging on the sand where in Unawatuna you basically go directly from your guesthouse into the water. It benefits from a range of dining options and the transit time even on the old Galle road is 1.5- 2 hours (still a little shorter than CMB-UNA).
An added advantage is that you can surf at Hikkaduwa. It’s no Bali, Bondi or Hawaii but there are pretty reliable little beach-breaks, which makes it a great place to learn to surf (further down the coast the breaks are mainly on more dangerous reefs/rocks). And mucking around with a surfboard making, by turns, comic, disastrous and thrilling attempts to successfully ride a wave is really an excellent way to spend the day. It allows for more active engagement with our friendly, neighbouring Indian Ocean than lounging/posing with shades and cocktails in the shade (a classic Colombar activity), without the equipment and safety complications of kite surfing, sailing or scuba diving.
Hikka is in fact full of surf schools (basically just enthusiastic beach boys with boards) and all day you see the young men (and even women) of Hikkaduwa instructing fumbling tourists in the ancient art of wave riding. Disappointingly (but not surprisingly) despite the fact that there’s a pretty ideal beginners surf beach and eager instructors less than two hours from town very few Colombars ever bother to learn to surf. In fact when I turned up seeking a board-riding lesson the boys at why-not surf school were initially puzzled and worried that I was drunk and couldn’t swim (apparently Colombars are famed for their drunk drowning.)
To their credit though the various ultra-toned and lithe instructors quickly warmed to the idea of giving lessons in fluent Sinhala rather than broken English and seemed to take a real interest in my (limited) progress. It’s Rs. 2000 for a 1.5 hour lesson (you can bargain down, off season its much lower and two people can also share the lesson and negotiate). For your rupees you get a starter long board (not cool but good for learning), a little bit of a demonstration, some pretty unsexy practice on the sand and then about an hour in the water being towed out to the breaks.
While this is clearly not Australia’s finest surfing academy it’s sufficient. The beach boys inspire confidence, explain where to put your feet and give your board subtle pushes which help enormously when catching waves. Also the simple fact that you’ve shelled out 2000 bucks means you’ll keep trying (the most crucial thing) where otherwise you might have given up.
In an hour under the tutelage of a good beach boy you can make remarkable progress. It’s an absolute rush when you manage to stand for the first time. Even as an ungainly beginner you’re standing/gliding on water, it’s like being a god, for 2 seconds. By the end of my session though I was happily riding to the shore (ok, on a exceptionally fat long board and I’ve done this a bit before).
After the lesson you can rent a board for Rs 800 a day or 500 for two hours and just keep at it. It’s fun and an incredible work outs. You don’t feel it when you’re in the water but the next day your muscles will scream while after just two days of riding you’ll begin to develop the proto six-pack of a seasoned beach- boy.
You will honestly look and feel better, learn a new skill, and work up an enormous appetite for the pasta dished out at Spaghetti and Company, for just Rs 2000 rupees or less if you want to grab a board and try teaching yourself. This is a pretty unbeatable sea-side activity and more Colombars should give it ago and revisit the party town of yore. There’s really no point abandoning it to the Germans or Russians….
For my afternoon on the waves I went with Why Not surf school, slightly north on the broad Narigama stretch of beach(492 1261). It was really just the first place with boards and instructors I came across but further south there are plenty of others. Prices are similar, I recommend Vijay a superior beach-boy surf instructor.