Photographer Dhillon Shukla travels to southern Sri Lanka, where he captures the country’s burgeoning surf scene – where tradition and Californian slider culture collide.
Photographer Dhillon Shukla travels to the coastal communities of southern Sri Lanka, where he captures the country’s burgeoning surf scene – where tradition and Californian slider culture collide.
In December 2017 I travelled to Sri Lanka for the first time. I was shooting a video in Kandy – a city located in the country’s central province – for two days. Not wanting to take the long flight back to London so soon, I decided to extend my stay by five nights and go in search of a personal project to photograph.
My uncle – who had lived in Colombo, the capital, for two years – tipped me off about the coastal communities of southern Sri Lanka, where there is a rapidly growing surf subculture. It has remained somewhat undiscovered by the Western world. So, that’s where I went.
The subsequent photos capture the eclectic communities of Weligama bay and its neighbouring beaches (Midigama and Mirissa), illustrating how California’s slider culture has reached an unexpected pocket of Asia.
Here, inhabitants embrace the archetypal ‘surfer’s uniform’ of Hawaiian shirts and sun-bleached wavy hair. Boldly identifying with these Western inspirations while still embracing their uniqueness, they dub themselves ‘Kalu Sliders’: Sinhalese for ‘black surfers’.
On my first day, I arrived on the beach at dawn; the combination of sunrise and a two-and-a-half-acre tropical island situated a 100 metres into the ocean (the only thing standing between this coastline and the South Pole) gave it an ethereal feel.
Mixing with the locals, I encountered young couples who had eschewed city life for a laid back lifestyle, families spending quality time in the surf, and pre-teens wanting to emulate their older peers.
Over the next five days I heard how for many in this seven-mile stretch, their first memories of the water were the three giant waves which hit during the 2004 tsunami, in which two-thirds of people lost their homes, livelihoods and loved ones.
15 years on, these coastal communities have been rebuilt – and the inhabitants continue to repair their relationships with the ocean.