Above and Below—Tales of Sri Lanka

Enticed by the multitude of possible adventures, Sri Lanka was the obvious destination for two people with an interest for just about everything. A land rich with culture and scenic attractions, the two months to come would undoubtedly be nothing short of incredible. As photographers, surfers, divers, hikers and yogis, there was a lot of ground to be covered, people to meet and places to see.

A typical beach view in Sri Lanka. Photo by Morgan Woods and Christian Quinlan

The ocean has always been a great source of inspiration in many aspects; physical, spiritual, emotional and a place to feel humbled. Our unique perspective towards the big blue has made for many great experiences together. Diver meets surfing and surfer delves deep below. Whatever way you encounter the sea there is no denying its power. Spending a month in Hikkaduwa to earn our Dive Master certifications, we explored the southwest coast underwater. From shipwrecks dating back to the 1800s to deep diving into black coral forests lying at depths of 30m. The sunken ships made you feel like a pirate searching for treasure, scouring through every nook and cranny hoping to find a doubloon. Though, quickly you realise that the real treasure is the marine life that has flourished here over the years.

Diving underwater with fishes in Sri Lanka. A typical beach view in Sri Lanka. Photo by Morgan Woods and Christian Quinlan

Sri Lanka has a lot to offer. However, for many reasons it was clear that the reef was in need of attention. We chose to dive deeper into the scientific side to better understand the impact of human activity in these areas. We contacted the head coral scientist of the Blue Resources organisation, Nishan. Nishan spoke of the many aspects of marine conservation, how we must act on all fronts and resist from investing in 'Band-Aid' solutions that fail to solve the problem at its roots. A huge part of regenerating the aquatic life, in any part of the world, can be supported by the individual.

A huge part of regenerating the aquatic life, in any part of the world, can be supported by the individual.

Simply enough, without dragging on, say no to single use plastic, enquire about the source of your seafood and use your personal power to petition or vote for progressive environmental movements. As mankind relies so heavily on the ocean's resources, it is imperative to ensure that we protect our sea and develop a far more sustainable, respectful relationship. Fun fact: 70% of Earth's oxygen is produced by marine plants! Acknowledging how this platform supports so much life for land and sea, it is in everyone’s best interest to take initiative in the conservation of the ocean.

After the final tests to qualify as dive masters, we parted with this funky little surf town with nothing but fond memories. From our local fruit and veg guy Sarunga, to the boys running the best $2.50 all you can eat rice and curry hut, and our dear friends and mentors from the Poseidon Dive Station. Making our way down to the coastal highway, playing a game of chicken with oncoming buses sitting on speeds 80km/h sure does get the blood pumping. It’s fortunate the secluded reef breaks are beyond worth it. Our days revolved around a sunrise surf or yoga flow, a great combo to warm up the muscles to start off your epic day. Breakfast curry, lunch curry and most dinner curries were eaten at the same amazing restaurant overlooking the view of Sri Lanka’s best east coast wave, Rams. You would say life was pretty good.

Diving underwater in Sri Lanka. Photo by Christian Quinlan

Midigama epitomised the laid back surf lifestyle. The fellow travellers of these roads shared the same good humour and enthusiasm for Sri Lanka. Of all the coast we saw, it was here that offered a break for everyone; waves to progress upon, challenge you or on the smaller days allow you to give tandem surfing a shot (with varying success). Out on that water, we witnessed so many unbelievable sunsets, clouds larger than life looming over the horizon one way with islands and forest on the other. These pastel landscapes reminded us to be humble in this big and beautiful world we live in, to be grateful for every moment.

Leaving the large supposedly essential bags behind, we strapped nothing but two small back packs and two yoga mats onto the dirt bike for our journey to the mountains. It was a liberating experience; freedom to stop anywhere and everywhere, following your intuition rather than a guided path. Through safari parks, torrential monsoons and scorching hot days we trailblazed through the Sri Lankan countryside. The lush green fields, the villages untouched by tourism and finally the mountains nestled in the clouds. Udawalawe was the first stop on our journey to Ella. Staying with an eco lodge—La Pentera—we were shown beautiful local rivers, mountains and cuisine. We rode around all afternoon spotting elephants and racing down dirt tracks through the bush. 

Yoga at sunset in Sri Lanka. Photographer: Christian Quinlan

From there we continued up the winding roads to Ella where the next few days were dedicated to hiking and yoga. By a completely unexpected chain of events we were brought one afternoon to the mountain temple of traditional Buddhist monks to practice yoga and meditation. To say the experience was extremely special is an understatement. Being taught the values of kindness, compassion and respect seems obvious yet these sentiments are so often put aside to facilitate our busy lives. “It is not my place to judge another on their path, it is simply my responsibility to make the best choice I can, be my best self at every opportunity. Act with honesty and love”... words they shared that we could all live by.

What are the options? Sit with the crowds and pray for a half decent view … or climb over the side rail and find a perfectly secluded roof ledge overlooking the entire valley.

There was only one mountain in mind to conquer and that mountain was Adam’s Peak. Raved about by locals and tourists alike we ventured on the four hour train ride, mostly seated on the ground due to overbooked carriages and lack of foresight. It's all a part of the experience that is Sri Lanka. 

If Sri Lanka isn't your surf paradise, we don't know what's wrong with you. A typical beach view in Sri Lanka. Photo by Morgan Woods and Christian Quinlan

Arriving at the base of the mountain we curled up as tight as possible in the drastically lower temperatures, preparing (mostly mentally) for the 2am wake up call. We awoke from our slumber to start moving like zombies up the mountain. After several kilometres of stairs the temple was in sight. Anxious to reach the top quickly for prime sunrise position, the scurry began. In a sea of people, even off season, there was no space or clear sight of the horizon. What are the options? Sit with the crowds and pray for a half decent view … or climb over the side rail and find a perfectly secluded roof ledge overlooking the entire valley. Taking option B, we nestled over the edge of the temple awaiting first light, where we were able to witness the full uninterrupted sunrise, moments before being escorted off the ledge by police. With a slap on the wrist it was obviously worth the risk as we both agreed it was one of the most incredible sunrises we ever witnessed.

Where the culture meets the sea. Sri Lanka and a girl. Photographer: Christian Quinlan

The loop continued, heading back towards the sea after two weeks roaming inland. We explored every break along the highway, literally testing the waters. From shallow reef breaks, heavy shoreys and more forgiving point breaks, we had a taste of it all. On our way to return the bike, we spotted a local surf comp being held by Red Bull. Instead of driving past we slammed on the brakes and raced over to see if there was an available spot. With a stroke of luck there was! With less than a minute before the heat and no board or boardies at hand, a local surfer lent Christian his things, highlighting the good nature of the Sri Lankan surf community. Swiftly slipping the rashy on and jumping in the water, the fun began! Whether you’re out there getting a wave or watching with a coconut and roti in hand, these days were a great way to connect with people from all over. Three rounds later Christian met his match ... a pro surfer from South Africa grinning from ear to ear. It was a good thing we stopped. The final days of glorious surf and scenery were savoured, knowing that whilst home is a beautiful place, it certainly comes with its responsibilities. Sri Lanka is truly unique.


Words & Photos by our contributors,
Morgan Woods & Christian Quinlan


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