Sri Lanka’s first certified female surfers riding the waves of success

March, 11, 2019

Empowering women, one surfer at a time!

On 4 March 2019 Skills for Inclusive Growth (S4IG), an initiative of the Australian Government’s aid program, in partnership with the Sri Lanka Ministry of Skills Development and Vocational Training launched a professional development and certification program for the Arugam Bay Girls Surf Club. At the end of seven months of training, members of the club will be certified as surf instructors by the International Surfing Association San Diego, California (

In celebrating this event during International Women’s Day week, this certification marks a pivotal point of Australian aid’s efforts to bring positive change for women in a society and culture where riding the waves for success is not the usual pathway.

Breaking the proverbial glass ceiling and providing an opportunity for women to be certified coaches and instructors is certainly a new beginning. In keeping with this year’s theme for International Women’s Day - #MorePowerfulTogether - this initiative showcases how men and women can work together to support women’s empowerment.

Australia believes that women are an integral part and a driving force of the economy, and their empowerment is central to alleviating poverty. This initiative is an innovative way of uplifting livelihoods for women wishing to develop a business around the assets of the region – the surf breaks in Arugam Bay. With the certification of technical skills in surfing, safe swimming, first aid and communication, the members of the Arugam Bay Girls Surf Club will become surf coaches and instructors. This will enable the women to instruct both locals and foreigners in surfing. They will also be coached to develop their business skills to be able to book lessons, market their services and follow their passion to earn a living doing activities they love.

Speaking at the launch, which was organised to kick off International Women’s Day week, Australian Deputy High Commissioner Victoria Coakley said “Achieving gender equality does not just benefit women; it benefits everyone. Gender equality reduces social stigma and gender stereotypes that limit the potential of all individuals. Gendered jobs stifle career opportunities and stereotypical gender roles can prevent men from taking an active role as caregivers for elders or children.”

“When we talk of the tourism industry and women’s participation particularly in the East, we think of cultural constraints, family pressure and taboo. But these young women have proved us all wrong. They have families of their own but have not let their passion for surfing wither away. Instead they have honed their skills and this certification would go a long way in recognising their talents. With some additional training they will develop the business model to generate income and showcase what an impact quality skills development can have,” said Mrs. Lavanya Christy, Inclusion Officer for S4IG.

The club’s president, Shamalie Sanjaya, a young mother who has watched her brothers surf from a young age, says that it is possible to have a family, meet cultural obligations and still pursue one’s passion. “My husband looks after my child while I surf. My husband encourages me to go surfing and I am honoured that I can train other young girls,” she said.

Nadiya, another energetic and active member of this club says that her husband encourages her to surf, because it’s a skill that not everyone possesses. “Why idle at home when you have a skill which you can pass on to others,’ her husband Thushantha told her. Today, Nadiya’s daughter is also an active member of this surf club. Together, they will continue to ride the waves to greater heights.

The Skills for Inclusive Growth Program aims to create economic opportunities for all irrespective of gender by supporting skills development in the tourism sector in the four districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Pollonnaruwa. Skilled employment and income will support women to have improved access to health, education and services.