True story… I once saw a tuk tuk driver that I knew giving surf lessons to two girls at Elephant Rock. This tuk tuk driver could not even swim let alone surf!
Instructors and Safety
There are lots of “surf instructors” in Arugam Bay but there are very few people who can genuinely teach you to surf safely. Please understand that being a good surfer does not necessarily make you a good surf instructor. Everybody has different opinions about what is required in surf lesson no 1. Most agree though that the emphasis should be on safety in the water. That is, not getting hurt and not hurting anyone else.
The majority of surf lessons are not really lessons but are more about offering a “surf experience” and are more or less the equivalent of sky diving while strapped to a professional. However, this can be a lot of fun and can build confidence which are positive things! Here is an example of an instructor pushing a student into a wave. This is the preferred method of teaching in Sri Lanka.
This style of surf instruction can be counterproductive if it used excessively. The surfer gains confidence quickly but will almost certainly find it difficult to manage without the support of the instructor in the future. It can produce a surfer who is unable to use all of their senses in the line up.
There is a lot of pressure and competition between the different schools and independent instructors. This can lead to situations where the success of the school is demonstrated by the number of waves the student takes. So when 2 or 3 students are pushed into a wave on which there is already a surfer, accidents will happen. When this happens, guess what, it will be you paying for that expensive board repair!
Despite the increasing crowds, even during the high season some weeks are noticeably less busy than others. You just need to be lucky and hit a quiet time. If you do, the rewards are huge. Arugam Bay is a beautiful place to surf and the near perfect swells, warm water and sandy point breaks are almost always worth the trip!
If you prefer less crowds then it is advisable to come during the off season, especially if you can stay for a few weeks or more. Although the surf is not as consistent, absolute beginners will benefit from having more space and waves. This means less stress and a better environment in which to learn. Also, everything is cheaper and it really does not rain that much!