Last year, Seea partnered with Sunshine Stories, Bing Surfboards, Poler, Nixon, and Manduka to give one random winner a free surf retreat in Sri Linka plus loads of free gear for her trip. The luckiest girl in the world was Betsy Harris from Florida.
Betsy saw the congratulations email on her smart phone after another windy session in a disappointing tropical storm season.
“I read the email a dozen or so times, trying to find 'just kidding' or 'we mean, thanks for entering, you've won a discount to our site or something' in the fine print. When I don't find it, I jump out of the car and run over to a friend, insisting someone else read the email,” Betsy said.
Her friend confirmed that she wasn’t seeing an illusion and she indeed won a free surf trip to Sri Lanka, Betsy started jumping up and down in hysterics.
“It sounds dramatic and it was. Who wins these type of things? The coordination and planning begin and the next thing I know, I'm shedding my wetsuit and boarding a plane to Colombo,” Betsy said.
Here, Betsy shared her experience flying to Sri Lanka for the first time.
By Betsy Harris
The sun spreads across the sky and a warm, spicy fragrance fills the air as the plane touches down. A few days early for the Sunshine Stories retreat, but anxious to get our first glimpse of the Indian Ocean, my boyfriend David and I headed straight for the southern coast, dreaming of gliding across any of the numerous waves we had seen in our research before the trip.
Unfortunately, our boards decided they wanted to spend a couple of extra days in Dubai before coming over to join us. We use the time to explore the surrounding area, walking for miles along tropical stretches of beaches lined with majestic coconut palms and the bustling streets of Ahangama brimming over with people, shops and traffic. The days are sunny and hot, the people warm and friendly.
While there appear to be no traces of it along the southwest coast, Sri Lanka suffered a brutal civil war from 1983 to 2009 (and the devastating tsunami of 2004) and so it seems as if time has stood still if but a moment here. Western culture has yet to permeate in Ahangama, though the streets are very busy, the storefronts are all locally owned and appear to sell regionally produced goods. The markets are full of local produce and street vendors offering up traditional hoppers, roti and spicy crisps. Fishermen and divers stand at the road hawking their morning catch of lobster and octopus alongside the coconut vendors. My blond hair stands out in the sea of shiny black locks and not a child walks past who doesn't shout out 'hello!' only to hide their blushing face when I wave in return.
Arriving at Sunshine Stories, we are greeted with fresh, cold coconuts and given a tour of the beautiful Dutch Colonial Villa we will be sharing with the other guests for the week. The courtyard is my favorite part, with it's blossoming frangipani tree and shaded lounging area alongside the kitchen and dining area where we will gather for meals and excitedly share details of the day with each other. We're also given the schedule for the week with surf sessions, surf theory lessons, yoga classes and a variety of extra activities to make the most of our time in Sri Lanka.
Our boards have also arrived and I'm almost too excited to sleep the first night, waiting impatiently on dawn so we can get down to the beach. Stepping out into the backyard of the villa before the morning yoga class, the sounds of monks chanting carries across the yard from the temple down the road. Yoga is followed by a breakfast of fresh fruit, granola, yogurt and bread with coffee and tea. The tuk tuks are loaded and we're off in search of waves. Our guide and coach for the week, Josh finds a glassy right hander peeling across a reef and we get our first taste of sliding across the Indian Ocean. The water is the warmest and clearest I have ever felt or seen. Schools of brightly colored tropical fish swim beneath the surface and sea turtles pop their heads above to check out us newcomers. The waves are waist to chest high and a nice warm up to the week ahead.
We stop at a roti shop on the way back to the villa for a quick snack before lunch and video analysis of the session. Later in the afternoon the group gathers down the road for an afternoon tea with an incredible view of the ocean and a table full of delicious treats. Not wanting to waste a moment of the day, tuk tuks are called back to the villa and a group of us head out for a second surf of the day before the evening surf theory class and dinner.
Unfamiliar with how to read the surf forecast for Sri Lanka, we're pleasantly surprised the next morning when Josh tells us the swell has picked up a bit and that there is another right hander breaking just up the road that is perfect for logging. We arrive at 'Fishsticks', named for the Sri Lankan stick fishermen who mount perches above the shallow reef, and are delighted to see a crystal clear wave rising up out of the blue, not a drop of water out of place. For the first two hours it is just David, Josh and I, trading wave after turquoise wave, tracing the crisp line of the lip that forms as the water follows the reef from outside to in. To my delight, the next person to join the line-up is Karson Lewis, a fellow ladyslider from the East Coast who I knew was in Sri Lanka and was hoping to share a session with. Thanks to a couple of tips from Josh during the previous days video review, instead the of quick little fives I'm used to, I'm dangling my toes over the nose of my board across the entire wave and am almost delirious over the beauty of the entire morning.
Like any other place, there has to be swell to produce waves and we're in a bit of a lull during our stay, but while the conditions fade one day, they resurface the next. It's never completely flat and a few days are down right magical for this Florida girl. Outside of the surf we're busy soaking up the splendor of the area and charm of the people. At the suggestion of Sunshine Stories, we take a train to Galle one afternoon and explore the fort and admire the architecture left behind by the Dutch. The next day we are treated to a Sri Lankan cooking class, trying our hand at making fresh coconut milk and frying papadums while admiring Chef Bandulla put together a delicious dal and fried eggplant dish. Friday afternoon we tour a Buddhist temple and monk school and are invited to a traditional meditation and blessing ceremony. The week rounds out Saturday evening with our final video analysis, including a bonus highlight reel of everyone's best wipeouts and dinner at a local restaurant with our group.
This is my first time in the Indian Ocean and I am completely enamored with it all. It's tempting to call it the trip of a lifetime, but I hope my days exploring the tropical islands of Asia and dancing in her oceans have only just begun. I can say confidently that it was life changing and that I left with broader horizons, a fuller heart and deeper sources of inspiration than I arrived with. Thank you so much to Seea for hosting the contest and to Sunshine Stories and their crew for the incredible hospitality and welcoming me into your world. Loads of love and respect to the other retreat guests who shared the week with me, it was an honor. Legends, all of you!