3 months my wife, Jess and I travelled through India. The longest we stayed in any one place was at the foothills of the Himalayas in Gangtok, Sikkim for two weeks. Because it was so hard to get up the mountain, we decided to prolong going down it again. India was a maelstrom of crowded buses. At one point a man standing in the aisle managed to comfortably rest his junk on my shoulder. Trains were an entirely different nightmare if lucky enough to purchase a ticket from the window. All eyes on you while you find your berth. Chai, chai, chai. Trying to guess the train’s natural sway while squatting over a hole. We moved every few days mostly. After circumnavigating the subcontinent, we were done. We loved India, but we were done. At times, India felt like a working holiday. It depends where you are but India can either place you into a comatose state of Zen or fling you like an uneaten naan onto the railroad beneath. Let’s go to Sri Lanka. Let’s go to Hikkaduwa on the southwest coast and find a place for two weeks and not move, not once.
The flight from Kochi to Colombo, Sri’s capital is easy. Finding a bus from Colombo down the coast is relatively easy. Getting comfortable on the bus is difficult. Buses overtaking tuk-tuks abuse the narrow one-lane highway. They avoid pedestrians who only have a metre or two of sidewalk. The bus pulls up at Hikkaduwa, a surf town recommended to us by friends back home in Australia. We hop off hoping another bus won’t hit us.
Jess and I begin the cheapskate walk through hot sand with heavy rucksacks asking every hotel their nightly rate along the way. They’re all reasonable, but we’ve been travelling for three months and we’re squeezing every last rupee. Jess notices a little run down shack of four rooms while I gaze out at the reef break. The shack is called Bandula’s Beach Inn, run by Bandula himself. We book two weeks and let the shoulder strap impressions in our skin expand. We unpack; put clothes on shelves, toothbrush and toothpaste together in a cup at the basin. This is home for the next two weeks. Outside our room the sun is setting. Bandula’s wife makes us sugar-filled chai teas while the last visible waves break across the left and right reefbreak directly opposite our room.
Though the waves at Hikkaduwa pump, so too does the night. So for the next two weeks I wake early. Not too early, but a good holiday early, like 6:30 am. I get perfect 3–5 foot A-frames to myself for two hours before the nightclub crew paddle out in pain. I’m hurting, too. I’m not hungover but my ribs are calloused after not surfing for three months.
Our perfectly lonely room at Bandula’s receives neighbours halfway through our stay. Two guys from Bend, Oregon by the names of Tashi and Crosby. They’ve traded cold slopes for warm waves. Every day we drink Bandula’s wife’s chai tea and watch surfers negotiate the drying reef. They like to party. They even drag us down the beach to some DJ set but no one’s into the music. The crowd, some of the faces I recognise from the surf, queue and wait for their turn on the slackline.
There’s been heaps of press in the longboarding scene lately showcasing some pretty epic little Ceylon sliders along the east coast. But Hikkaduwa, once underwater after the 2004 tsunami, is one of the most consistent waves I’ve ever surfed. The friendly roadside village is one of those amazing little microcosms that has everything an individual needs to be happy. For us, it was relaxation and waves. For others, it was boys, girls, beers and parties. If you ever need a break from India or are planning on visiting the more-famous Arugam Bay on Sri Lanka’s east coast, be sure to hop off at Hikka first.
Ever heard of Hikkaduwa?
Up next: Land Lost in the Indian Ocean