After his first trip with Surfing The Nations to Sri Lanka way back in 2008, Brendon Johnson is looking forward to leading the surf adventure to the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. We accompany him down memory lane to his trip 6 years ago to the war-torn nation and hear his thoughts about what the next month in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka is going to bring.
I’m excited to go back and see the change from 2008. Sri Lanka is a really rugged environment and only the really adventurous tourists would go there. The trip was incredible back then: we really had that surf safari approach checking out surf spots, riding those little three-wheel tuktuks loaded up with boards, just going out to explore. It was a really awesome way to be immersed in a culture that still wasn’t really used to foreigners. We came face to face with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and all of them had their own subcultures within Sri Lankan culture. I was just soaking it all up, seeing how they relate to one another there. Being open to that created a big awareness for me – it taught me to be flexible in building cross-cultural relationships. I had a lot to learn!
The surf is really fun. Every morning I went out, it was really glassy and pumping right hand waves. It would barrel in some sections and then go really flat and then connect again and go around this point. Then when you’re done surfing the wave, you basically walk onto the beach, walk around the point and start all over again!
I was around where all the local hardcore surfer boys were and they knew exactly where to take off and knew how to scoop around the tourists. If you stayed of their way, they were cool with you but they don’t want you getting in their way –everyone eventually learns the hierarchy.
We know a bunch of local people, since we’ve been going consistently for the past 11 years, especially this kid named Babu. He is a young surfer who’s really open to enriching his life and who has always been an amazing help to us on our trips.
The three-day Red Bull “Ride My Wave” surf contest happens right as we touch down and Babu is going to be in there with all the other hardcore local surfers.
We’re going to support him at the contest and he’s going to be getting his own special surfboard to compete with. We see him as someone who is going to bring some of that positive change to Sri Lanka’s surf environment, which has been a “taking” environment in a lot of ways. Some of the young guys learn to surf on their own and don’t know how to properly teach others about surfing, or giving to the community. We’re really trying to nurture that “giving back” aspect to this young man and he is really receptive.
What the local guys know about surf culture is almost exclusively from surf magazines, and it’s so far from their Sri Lankan and religious culture that it brings this contrast and conflict. The older people don’t respect it and the young kids just think they’re supposed to chase girls, get drunk, and live a wild life. They see surfing as a life of self-gratification.
We’re saying that that’s not what surfing is! Maybe that’s what marketing uses to sell the brand but it doesn’t show that positive side. Surfing is a fun lifestyle, and you can teach kids about the ocean and water safety, about taking care of the environment and enriching their lives.
We’re also going to be doing some community projects like beach clean-ups, working on some poor families’ properties, where we can get really hands on.
We are also lining up a teaching opportunity at a local Muslim school where we will be teaching English. We’ll go spearfishing for sure – the fishing is incredible! Whatever fish we catch, we give away to help feed local families, like Babu’s. It’s a good way to model that service and “giving back”.