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New Territory | Soul & Surf In Sri Lanka

Swapping the elusive Brighton swell for Sri Lanka’s glassy reef breaks, friend of Finisterre Joe Coyne now spends his time chasing waves through jungles and coconut groves. We spoke to him about his thirst for adventure, Sri Lanka’s burgeoning surf industry and its environmental climate at the moment. 

What drew you to Sri Lanka?

My wife Jess had been choreographing for a festival out here for the past 10 years but I could never get away from work to come with her. Last year I finally made it and the mixture of waves, weather and food hooked me instantly. Our friends had recently bought a house here which got us thinking. Why spend the money we had saved for a deposit on a boxy 1 bed flat in Brighton when we could buy a 3 bed house outright with a load of land in the jungle and 5 minutes from the beach? So that’s what we did.

Have you always had a love of travelling?

I grew up in California and our folks moved us to England when I was around 13 so I guess the sense of travel was always in me. Growing up in California we were always outside, hiking, sailing, skating, riding bikes and exploring; it just felt weird to sit still or play computer games.

Jess’s parents travelled all over Africa and lived in Barbados in the 70s so grew up with stories of adventure. (and endless slide shows of lions and elephants).

This quote from John Muir sums up travelling for me: “Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.”

What was the impetus for packing up in Brighton and moving over there?

Life in England was getting really tiring. Jess was travelling a lot for work so we’d only see each other a few days a week. I was running a video company and being in the advertising world was beginning to destroy my soul. We were inspired by our friends Ed & Sofie who had given up successful careers in England to set up a surf and yoga retreat in Kerala.

I started reading the 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris and about 20 pages in I knew what we had to do. Find a way to surf and practice yoga every day, enjoy time with each other and escape the grind of earning and spending in England.

Shortly after, Ed offered me a role at Soul&Surf where I could work from anywhere. It took me about 5 minutes to decide to leave the video production world behind.

How does life compare now you are living in Sri Lanka rather than just visiting? What have you noticed whilst you’ve been there?

Every day is an adventure when you live here. A monkey might appear in your kitchen smash a glass and eat your bananas; you might open the front door and find your neighbour is up a tree cutting coconuts down for you; or you’re riding to work to find the local tuktuk gang have decided to strike and block the road into the village. It’s like the Southern Rail strikes, only with machetes and snazzy shirts.

We are so much more involved with our neighbours and local community here. We used to live on a beautiful street in Brighton with lovely homes, manicured gardens and fancy cars parked out front. But we only knew 2 people on our street. Here we get fresh fruit dropped off weekly, someone’s Mum will make us milk rice for breakfast and we’re invited to join the whole village at temple for Poya day.

Each morning we’re greeted with smiles and high fives on the way to work. Most importantly, we are living the life we chose and defining what we get from each day. I’m surfing at least 5 times a week, Jessie is teaching yoga 4 or 5 times a week and we get to enjoy at least 2 meals a day with each other, every single day.

Surf tourism and tourism in general is a growing industry in Sri Lanka. What are the visible pros and cons to this growing tourist culture?

Tourism is growing by the day here. New hotels, villas and guest houses are popping up on every spare bit of land and the spots are becoming more and more crowded. There are people doing it right, working with the local community, employing locals and being sympathetic to the surroundings. And then there’s the multinationals buying up land, building high rises and thinking only with their cheque books.

With all this development there is still a serious lack of quality bars, cafes and hang out spots on this coast. It’s just Bob Marley, plastic deck chairs and tacky paintings. Whilst we have the audience here, no one is catering for them.

I’m working on a bunch of projects with Soul&Surf and our first movie night brought in over 200 people from up and down the coast. We’re opening our surf shop and café in the next few weeks which we aim to have as a hub of alternative surf culture and there are some really interesting spots opening up nearby.

What is the current environmental climate out there? Is there much of a dialogue?

It’s pretty shocking to be honest. For example we found out that the guy who collects our recycling actually just dumps it in a pile by the side of the road. There are no government run schemes and the few eco initiatives on the island have been set up by individuals with a passion for caring for our world.

We are working with these guys to try and set things up for the long term.

So much more needs to be done in this country and we hope that by doing our bit, educating our guests and talking to others, we can slowly start to see a change.

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Photos by Jo Denison. To find out more about Soul&Surf, head to their website.

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