“Have you ever seen a local Sri Lankan female surfer?” I asked my friend, Ama, who rents surfboards from a tiny bamboo shack on Weligama beach. “No, never,” he replied.
I asked him why that was. “The men are scared something will happen to their daughters so the women never learn,” he replied.
For nearly two weeks, I was on a mission to find a Sri Lankan surfer girl. I asked more than twenty local surfers if they had ever seen a local female surfing and the response was always the same. Apparently, there are none.
We live in a world where women have done it all. Nearly. We are leaders of nations. We fly through space, lead expeditions to the world’s tallest peaks and to the bottoms of the oceans. There is no doubt about it: we are powerful, amazing creatures. But here in this particular part of the world, I cannot find one local woman who surfs. In fact, I rarely see local women even playing in the ocean. Instead, they are simply swimming and splashing. On this stunningly beautiful teardrop-shaped island, what I have found is that women rarely interact with the ocean. I have been told it is a cultural taboo, but times are changing.
After nearly a year living in Sri Lanka, I fell head over heels in love with the country. The food, the beaches, the culture, and the people are all wonderful. Every person I met was lovely, but nearly all of them were men. During my time here I craved the comfort and connection of other women. Perhaps that is why I found myself frequenting establishments run by women, such as Mama’s Rice and Curry Shop in Midigama and Number One Rotti in Mirissa.
A few months ago Lucy Kirkland, a big-hearted surfer from the UK who selflessly works for the Rosie May Foundation, reached out to me and told me about her dream. She told me she “wanted a Sri Lankan based supporter who emulated women having fun in the water and having a sense of freedom which is what I think your business, Santosha Society, is about.” She was right and I am now honored to be a part of this amazing project.
Lucy dreamed of taking the women she has been working with to the ocean for the day, whether to surf, swim or merely just to appreciate. The Rosie May Foundation is a non-profit organization aimed to empower women all over the world. In Sri Lanka they run Project Hope, encouraging single mothers to develop businesses where they can work from home, giving them financial support and independence. A few of the women who joined the surf day also came from the sewing room run by the Manacare Foundation in Telwatta. Excited to have a day in the water, just like that, the Watura Women’s Surf Club was born.
With an aim to put a smile on the faces of these hardworking women and their children, Lucy’s dream is now a reality. Lucky for me, the stars aligned and I happened to be in Sri Lanka to experience one of these surf days myself. It was nothing short of amazing, magical, inspirational, and long awaited.
Excitement filled the salty air as the group of twelve women and children left the bus and walked up the beach. The women changed into leggings and t-shirts that Lucy thoughtfully brought for them to swim in. In the beginning, they were extremely shy and it was easy to see some were scared, but before long each and every one of them walked out into the ocean and began to experience its bewildering effects.
At first, the women and children walked to their ankles, then their knees. Inch by inch the water levels rose on their bodies just as their confidence levels rose in their hearts. They became more comfortable in the shallow waters and less fearful of the gentle white waves washing past them. Surprisingly, by the end of the day, every single one of them had taken a turn at riding a surfboard. The kind folks at Ahikava Surf School at Dewitt Beach near Galle generously donated foam surfboards for us to use for the day. They too believed in the mission to get these women up and riding.
Adventurous little girls and toothless grannies took turns catching the first waves of their lives. There was one little girl in particular who would not quit. She must have caught nearly 100 waves that day. She was the first one in the water and the last one out.
You can only imagine the enormous smiles and loud laughter that day. These women had a blast! It is hard to say who enjoyed it more really, them or me! At the end of the day I can assure you my cheeks hurt and my heart was full. It is a day I will remember for as long as I live and I know these women feel the same.
This is a project that deserves support. It not only empowers women, but it makes them smile, laugh and for a brief moment twice a month, the saltwater washes away their stresses and heals all their day to day worries. It makes the old feel young and the young feel free.
The thing is, there are a lot more women in Sri Lanka. This project will grow, because it is amazing. Word will spread and more women will want to come and join. More women will want to experience the ocean just as these twelve did this day.
An astonishing part of it all is how just a little generosity can go a long way with such a program. It takes just $2 to rent a surfboard for the day while $5 will buy a culturally acceptable swimming outfit for the ladies to use. $25 will pay for the entire bus to transport a group of women from their village to the ocean. Every dollar buys not only the items needed for this project to succeed, but it buys smiles, laughter, confidence, and perhaps it will help one small girl become the surfer she dreams to be.