On the southern coastal tip of Sri Lanka, in a town called Midigama, young-business leader ‘Baba’ Pasindu Delgodage is the catalyst of a changing town. He’s the owner of ‘Cheeky Monkey’ – a guest house, a restaurant and a one-stop, full-service surf shop.
Like most kids in the area, Pasindu taught himself to surf at the age of 12 and he’s been riding the waves ever since. A little older and lot more seasoned, he worked as a surf instructor to the few tourists that ambled their way into Midigama for an undisturbed surf. He loved what he did, but he had bigger dreams; he saw bigger potential for his town.
Back in 2009, Midigama was hardly known, often overlooked for its more popular surfing neighbourhoods, Weligama and Ahangama. Only the most unpretentious mix of travellers and locals found its way there to chase the perfect waves up and down the rugged coastline around it. At that time, all Midigama had to offer were just three guesthouses, a few ramshackle surf shops, and a handful of restaurants overlooking the waves.
In late 2009, Pasindu opened Cheeky Monkey – a small guest house with just 3 rooms, a tiny surf shop and a restaurant. He still had bigger dreams for it, but this was a start. What would follow is a 10-year journey of sheer grit and perseverance as Cheeky Monkey gradually expands into becoming the biggest one-stop surf camp in the South rivalling those of its neighbouring coasts.
The Cheeky Monkey Surf Shop, the largest in the area, retails premier international surf brands such as Quicksilver, Billabong and Ripcurl while the Surf School offers guided surfing lessons by professionally trained surfers. The Cheeky Monkey, now a 10 roomed accommodation, has its own gym, an open-air restaurant and café and offers a number of curated events and activities such as yoga, surf and safari tours, classes and parties for guests to enjoy.
“I love what I do. For me, it is both work and a holiday” shares Pasindu. “When I first started the Cheeky Monkey, Midigama was still a developing town. Now, the town is becoming more popular and known as a surfing spot.”
As the oldest surf guesthouse in town, Cheeky Monkey is a pillar of Midigama’s surf tourism and Pasindu himself has empowered and uplifted the livelihoods of many in the area – especially of the youth; choosing to sponsor, train and employee local kids who are keen to learn surfing.
While Sri Lanka’s tourism industry remains multifaceted, surf tourism in particular has been a popular form of tourism for the past couple of years, attracting surfers from around the world who stay for months on end to enjoy Sri Lanka’s all-year round surfing seasons. The east coast enjoying the season from May to September, has hosted a variety of international surfing championships for competitive surfers on the beaches of Arugambay while the southern coast opens up for its season from November to April for beginners and non-competitive surfers.
Midigama too has been benefiting from the increasing surf tourism as many find their way into this town to enjoy the reef breaks and the quality waves it has to offer. But Covid-19 and the year long pause on tourism has affected the business badly. During the season, Pasindu and his team would work around the clock, barely having time for food but the pandemic has presented itself as a tough challenge. Though the last couple of months has seen an increase in local guests in the south, it is simply not enough to keep the business afloat.
“It’s been a tough year for us. But with the country open for tourism again, we are hopeful for a change. I think it will be interesting to explore the new ways we can improve hospitality. We are ready for a different spin in tourism and we are excited to welcome all surfers to our coast again.”