Travelling surf photographer, Peter Chamberlain, recently returned from a trip to India and Sri Lanka. This time around, Peter decided to bang out some poetry on his keyboard and deliver some written tales to accompany his spectacular images. Glassy waves, an amalgamation of culture, train rides, treehouses, heat waves and monsoons – Peter shows us why a trip through India and Sri Lanka is worth every drop of sweat…
Words & Images by Peter Chamberlain
We arrived in India in November last year. The extreme heat hit us the moment we stepped off the plane at the Trivandrum airport. Flanked by palm trees, huts and glimpses of the Arabian Sea – the hour-long drive to our destination of Varkala was beautiful.
The best surf spot was just a short ride from Varkala. A fantastic, glassy left hand point break that has both barrel sections and the most ripable walls you could ever wish for. And from a photography point of view, there could not be a more perfect “golden hour”.
The north of India is a hub of sheer chaotic activity. However Kerala is known as “God’s Own Country” and for good reason. Kerala is shaped by lush, layered landscapes, activities and cultures. From tranquil backwaters to the tea and spice covered hills of the Western Ghats to Ayurvedic treatments and yoga to soothe the body after a surf – it is a magnificent mix of religion, language, history, culture, waves and wildlife.
We were treated to fun swell for the majority of our stay. We were graced with former UK and European longboard champ, Sam Bleakley, who along with our resident head surf coach, Nick Kelly, showed us that riding the plank can be all about big top turns, heaps of spray and barrels to compliment walking to the nose. Most days were well suited for longboarding.
Having been compared to a teardrop falling off the end of India, I prefer to stick to Marco Polo’s description of Sri Lanka as “the finest island of its size in the world”. We found this magical island was easier to navigate for the surfing traveller because of the established surf destinations and abundance of surf schools.
We travelled in May, which is a tricky month for waves as it is in the cusp of the swell seasons. November to April brings favourable offshore winds to the western side of the island, springing to life the spots around Midigama. May to November brings the offshore to the eastern side.
We flirted with the west side, surfing and cruising around on scooters. It was evident that the main season had passed with the start of the monsoon season in its place but we still scored great waves with fewer surfers in the line up than normal. Storms whip up nicely in the intense forty-degree mark, producing low-pressure systems into the Indian Ocean with nothing to slow them down until they hit land. So the waves may be on the smaller side by the time they reach Sri Lanka but the period from which they originated is long, producing impressive power on the beach breaks and points.
Whilst we were there we got word that the waves were starting to work on the east side and so our journey began – Arugam Bay was calling. That week we saw some of the most breathtaking sights imaginable from the train we caught, with stops at Kandi and Ella along the way.
Tranquil beaches and clear warm water greeted us in Arugam. After experiencing the chill of the mountains it felt hot and intense, so the treehouse cabanas were a welcome sight. We had been warned about crowds and bad vibes in the water at Arugam Bay, but I didn’t come across this in our time there. Smaller crowds are always an advantage of travelling out of the peak season.
We scored swell pretty much every day for two whole weeks, surfing Main Point, Whiskey Point and Peanuts Farm. The main point of Arugam bay is the most popular break in the area, due to its proximity to the town. It is also a swell magnet, generally being 2-3ft bigger than the surrounding breaks. The locals rip and tend to get most of the set waves – and so they should. If you want to be a travelling surfer then you’d do well to leave the ego at home.
Shooting images was a blast, but for me, it was the local kids that I enjoyed shooting the most. They really had the break nailed and surfed with a style that appeared effortless.
Both of the destinations are hot spots for surfers on a budget looking for the perfect combination of surf, culture and a bit of a sweat.
**Lead Image: Surfer: Mark Clohesy. Photo By: Peter Chamberlain