Rass Raseek - "I survived the Tsunami"
Arugam Bay is a famous surf destination, it’s different from other places in Sri Lanka, people are much more relaxed and you can really feel the surf vibe. It’s also a very small town with a population of 3500 and with all the essentials located on one main street, which means you can basically walk everywhere. Local people are much more used to having tourists around so there are more relaxed and less pushy which is quite pleasant. The beaches around the bay are amazing, some of them completely deserted, others packed with surfers, but it’s for sure a good place to enjoy the beach and have a good time.
In one of our strolls down the main street, we met Rass, a surf instructor here and we thought he would be the perfect person to answer our eight questions.
1. What is your name, where do you come from and what do you do for living?
My name is Rass, I was born in Arugam bay and I’m working at Surf World shop. My boss lives in Japan so I’m the one in charge. He comes here for the summertime and works with me. Then, when goes back to Japan, I’m the one that takes care of the shop. I do everything; I’m also a surf teacher. I know the waves really well because I was born here and when it’s not surfing season, then I go fishing everyday.
Within one or two days, I can make any beginner stand on the board. Then they’re happy, so they come back and bring their friends.
2. What advice would you give to someone like us that just arrived here?
The first thing people ask when they get here is where to surf, how to surf, where to fix boards etc. The main thing you need to know about Arugam Bay is that you have many surfing points like the main point, the baby point, elephant rock, peanut farm, Okanda, Panama, lighthouse, whiskey.
That’s why Arugam bay is so famous for the surfing, because there are so many surfing spots. But be aware because some points have a reef!
Also, you need to know that here everyone is very friendly. And sometimes tourists aren’t used to it. But then they understand that we mean no harm and they appreciate our kindness. We respect the tourist because they invest in our country.
And for people who don’t surf, I always tell them about Yala National Park where you can see elephants, crocodiles, leopards and many birds.
3. What would you say is your favourite food?
Grilled fish. The best one is at home because the fish is fresh and goes straight to the barbeque.
4. What's your favourite place here?
My favourite place is Peanut Farm. It’s where local people used to make peanuts. It’s a great surfing point, with a nice lagoon and grass. You can see some wildlife also, like birds and even elephants. And Okanda is also a very beautiful place, it has bigger waves but it’s a bit farther. You can also see some very old temples there.
5. What would be the perfect Sunday afternoon plan?
During the surfing high season, I don’t have days off so I work six months in a row almost 24 hours a day. But it’s ok because it’s only during this time. After that I can rest for 6 months.
One day a week, usually on Fridays, I go to the mosque for three hours. So that’s like my day off.
I actually like to work because when I’m not surfing, tourists are usually asking me questions so I can improve my English and get to know people from all around the world. So I’m ok without holidays.
And in low season I go fishing everyday. It’s a hard job, harder than surfing. We are about ten people with our net and fish 20 kilos a day.
6.What do you usually do for fun?
For fun I like to play cricket, and football. In Arugam Bay I’m known as the fast bowler. Everyone wants me to play, they always call me to play on their team. I throw the ball very fast so I can take the players out. I’ve even received a medal for it, for a local premier league we have here. There are about ten or fifteen teams, everyone puts in some money and the winner takes it all. It’s a crazy game; everyone has a lot of fun.
7.How big is your family and are you close to each other?
I have three sisters and two brothers, and I’m the youngest. Both of my parents have passed away.
I live with one of my sisters, and the others have already gotten married and live around here.
I try to see them often. If I have time after work I go see them, give them some fish or money if they need it because my sisters’ husbands have very difficult jobs. I didn’t get married yet so it’s still easy for me to help out.
My parents both passed away in 2004 because of the tsunami.
When the tsunami happened, I was at the beach. My friends arrived saying that they hadn’t caught any fish so I thought I could help them. I went to get my father’s fishing boat and as I was holding it, it got strongly pulled into the water 50 meters away. I didn’t know what was going on, I started running away but fell into a hole that quickly filled up with water. So I prayed to god to help me and started to try to pull myself up. I was finally able to grab a boat and pull myself out. Nowadays, I still feel some pain in my chest because of all the water I swallowed that day.
Then I just starting running away. I must have run more than two kilometres away from the coast, towards the jungle. I couldn’t think of anything or anyone, I just wanted to survive. And I did, I survived the tsunami.
It completely devastated Arugam bay. The first wave was ok, but the second one flooded all the houses, destroying most of them.
So afterwards, most of the people decided to leave Arugam Bay because they had nothing left, they lost everything. A lot of people died. But we were able to rebuild the town, thanks mainly to all the NGO that helped us, so we’re ok now.
8. What would you like to ask our next host?
Have you ever travelled outside Sri Lanka? (read answer here)
Tips & Recommendations
Rent a scooter and check out other beaches. Even for people who don’t surf, the surfing points both south and north of Arugam Bay are worth a visit. Beaches are beautiful, and in some of them you won’t find anyone around.
Stay in a cabana on the beach. There are a lot of rooms you can rent around Arugam bay but only in a cabana will you experience the greatness of waking up to the sound of the sea and get to see the sunrise from your bedroom window (Water Music is a great option).
Have freshly caught fish on the grill for dinner. Many restaurants will start preparing the grill just after sunset and showing off their fish and seafood. You can choose the one you want directly from the exposed ice container.