Sri Lanka: Girls Make Waves

From August 7 to September 7, 2015, a team from Surfing The Nations travelled to Sri Lanka.

Read this first-hand account blog written by STN staff member, Meredith Jones!

A team of eight individuals coming together with a mutual hunger for adventure is how this trip began. We really didn’t know what to expect as we headed off to the teardrop of India, Sri Lanka – we just knew our purpose was to be surfers that give back and make a positive impact. Sri Lanka has been voted as one of the best surf spots in southern Asia… so it’s really no surprise that STN has been sending a team to Arugam Bay for the past 11 years. The years of relationships that were built provided a way for STN to purchase property in Arugam Bay, and opened doors to put our motto into practise: “Surfers giving back, through selfless acts of service.”  

Sri Lanka is a place full of vibrant culture… and is one of the few surf destinations where you can dawn patrol while watching wild elephants graze only a mere distance from the beach. Along with that, it seemed to be quite an ‘ironic’ surf location because you see tourist girls wearing bikinis right next to a local girl wearing a full on burqa, covered head to toe. Our team also noticed that directly on your way to the beach, you pass a village where the majority of the locals live, and rarely would you ever see a tourist wander down that way; this is unfortunate because that was where our team found the most amazing, welcoming and happiest people of Arugam Bay.

We quickly realized that being a “surfer giving back” there required us to completely immerse ourselves in their culture. If that meant wearing full on ‘Sawas’ and ‘lungis’ (Sri Lankan traditional wear), we were doing it. Walking in blazing heat through the village so we can meet people? Absolutely! Feeling a bit silly trying to speak the local languages? Yep, that was us! We found that immediately after taking steps to be involved in the culture, relationships would form. 

As we got to know the people of this village, we got to see their immense joy. You would never guess all that they have gone through the past 15 years. In 2004, the disastrous tsunami wiped out all of Arugam Bay. In 2006, a twenty year religious civil war ended. Almost everyone you meet has lost a loved one and have had to completely rebuild their lives because a natural disaster. Alongside this, the people also have been in the midst of a religious civil war that has lasted twenty years. This is when STN got in the picture of serving Arugam Bay, not realizing that this was the beginning of us establishing a base in Sri Lanka as well as taking yearly trips to cultivate relationships in the community.
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Surfing The Nations partners with like-minded people who also have the goal postively impacting Arugam Bay. In Arugam Bay you immediately notice the local women stay in their houses most of the day. They typically do not work outside their homes at all, therefore a big part of their life consists of simply cooking, cleaning, and tending to their families. One of the women we partner with is a lady named Lydia, who lives her life investing in the women of Arugam Bay. She has always wanted to get to know the local women better and provide opportunities for them to get out of their houses and have fun! That’s how Lydia came up with an event called, “Girl’s Make Waves”. This purpose behind this event to build relationships with the local women and see them enjoy surfing and have a good time. Every Saturday, around 25 local women arrive at her house, ready to surf and swim. Their enthusiasm and joy for this sport is incredible.

In Sri Lankan culture it is rare to see women in the ocean. On top of that, almost all of the villagers are terrified of the ocean due to the tsunami. However, step by step, their fear has been vanishing and the women now can enjoy surfing, seeing the ocean in a whole new way. Because of Lydia’s heart is to see these girls enjoy surfing and be surfers that give back, the community is open to see their sisters and mothers learn this sport. This “girls make waves event”, is for every age, from fourteen to forty.  The reality is, this doesn’t normally happen in countries like Sri Lanka.

“Sri Lanka is changing.” said a local seventeen year old surf boy. Bringing out his two younger brothers and forty-five year old mother to surf has brought an immense positive transformation to his family. Without Lydia’s passion to teach surf this would never have been possible. He was able to see the power of surfing, the walls and barriers it breaks… and then go out and share it with the people around him. Our team was so excited to be a part of this. We could have never imagined the amount of joy we felt by helping others enjoy surfing, the love we felt from the people by serving them in any way, and the powerful impact it is to give back and to be apart of the change happening in Sri Lanka.

-Meredith Jones

To check out a video about the Girls Make Waves event, click this LINK!

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