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Hikkaduwa, situated 98 km south of Colombo, has been a favourite destination with international surfers for three decades. Because it also attracts non-surfers, this fishing village has a comprehensive and well-developed tourist infrastructure, such as a bewildering number of guesthouses - including many situated on the beachfront - and a cosmopolitan array of estaurants and cafes. Being good value for money as well, it is little wonder that Hikkaduwa has been as popular for as long.
There is a Marine Sanctuary at Hikkaduwa just off the main bay where the largest hotels are situated, which is another eason why this place is popular. It is a shallow body of water, not more than 5 m deep, generally less, enclosed by a reef. espite environmental degradation this reef is still home to countless colourful fish, and turtles can also be found. In addition there are some islets around which there are some interesting coral formations. Snorkelling through the sanctuary observing the reef and corals is excellent local preparation for surfers.
Over the years Hikkaduwa has spread south, absorbing several hamlets. The best spot for surfing in Hikkaduwa is a short istance from the Marine Sanctuary, off the beaches of Wewala and Narigama. Here there are no very large waves but instead ccommodating breaks that seldom become frightening. That is why beginners, who need to feel safe in order to progress with confidence, get on so well at Hikkaduwa. Nevertheless, always remember the coral and wear booties, as well as having a first aid kit handy for the odd scrape.
Local instructors are available for basic instruction, but as surfing is as much about practice as theory, there is nothing better or beginners than to get into the water and get on a board. For encouragement, Hikkaduwa has the equivalent of a skier's nursery slope - a surfing paradise for beginners - for inshore of the main break there is a reef that gradually becomes buried by sand during the monsoon. The broken waves that roll ashore over the clogged reef (that is, until the sand is washed away later in the season), make it an ideal place for taking one's first surfing lessons.
Experienced surfers, however, will want to tackle the challenge of the main break, which is known as the A-frame due to the pex-like peaks of water that form here. The best time to take on the A-frame is very early morning, before the sun gets too hot and the wind veers towards the shore. It's a magical time of day, with the sun rising from the land, and sending shafts of yellow light through the clear water. As you sit astride your board
waiting for a wave you can watch shoals of exotic fish, sometimes even large turtles.
As can be imagined, it's a popular spot, especially in February and March. Less experienced surfers may find it difficult to catch the waves, especially later in the morning, when it is most crowded. No matter if this is the case, for the smaller waves on the beach to the south are less crowded and can be just as exhilarating. If the worst comes to the worst, there are some surfing spots farther south at Unawatuna, Mitigama and Mirissa, where there's a good swell running.
Wherever you may be surfing on this patch of coast, at midday the onshore wind starts to blow, after which surfing is not worthwhile until late afternoon. This is the time to rest weary limbs, re-hydrate and relax in preparation for when the wind drops between 4 and 5 o'clock, and the waves take on a good shape once more. It's much cooler then, and it's an ideal opportunity to get one more surfing session in before dusk.
It is often said about Hikkaduwa that there is a good sense of camaraderie among the surfers, whether they are absolute eginners, surfing travellers or seasoned professionals. This is no doubt encouraged by the number of beachfront cafes and restaurants, where surfers gather to watch the surfing action and swap tips and stories. Beginners and even more experienced surfers can take advantage of this fellowship to further their knowledge of the sport.
Season : December to April
Average water temperature: 28 degrees
Average air temperature: 30 degrees
Every year a surprising number of people - Sri Lankans and visitors - are drowned off Sri Lanka's beaches. Those engaging n water-sports of any type in Sri Lanka should make themselves aware of local conditions. This is especially so where currents are concerned, for along the west coast they can be hazardous. Unless these currents have been experienced, it is often easy to underestimate the dangers they pose. And those prepared to accept danger should remember that there are no full-time life-saving patrols in Sri Lanka, except those operated by some of the bigger hotels (but only on their patches of beach).
Surfers, in particular those with little experience, should be cautious about big waves
because the bigger they are, the stronger the current is that literally sucks the water back out to sea. These rip currents, as hey are called, can be strong enough to drag surfers out with them. They are also deceptive, for the apparently calm patches that are often seen between big waves invariably contain a strong underwater rip current. If you should get caught by a rip current, it is important to remember to try to swim across it rather than against it. There are coastal currents, too, running parallel to the beach in a southerly direction, so caution should be exercised the farther out to sea you go.
Other dangers to beware of are the corals, which can cause painful injuries to surfers, and the underwater rocks, which have claimed several lives when exposed heads have been dashed against them. There are holiday-related dangers to beware of too, such as the exhaustion that comes with the quest to pack the maximum into the limited time, the effects of over-exposure to the sun, and the influence of alcohol and drugs.
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