Photography by @ria.the.wildchild

Our inaugaral Cove Surf Jam was a raw, low-key celebration of the creative, less commercial edge of surfing in Sri Lanka. An excuse to bring the community together and enjoy the soulful side of surfing. During the weekend we hosted two surf jams and a non-competitive expression session at the Cove with local and foreign surfers rocking single and twin fins, showing us what 'surfing with style' is all about.

Our good friend Sam Bleakley – writer, filmmaker, academic, surf comp judge & commentator, pro longboarder, and, as it turns out, an excellent table-dancer – chats with us about his experience of and involvement in the Cove Surf Jam.

Thanks for coming to help us with the first CSJ, for judging, advising, showing films, giving a talk and dancing on the tables at the closing party! What were your overall impressions of the weekend?

It was outstanding. These types of carnival gatherings of grassroots, local and international surf communities are the essence of why we all surf.

Surfing is very much a community experience. We ride waves as individuals, but we’re in that shared space not only with other surfers, locals, foreigners visiting – but also the community of the wider environment that we all share. 

I think that these types of gatherings are important to remind us of why we love surfing, why the fun and shared experience is key, and why it is so important to sustain, maintain and appreciate the locations that we spend time in.

Because without these shared blue spaces with healthy vibrant coastlines and communities that appreciate the value and role of surfing in those areas, we really will be at a loss. So gatherings like this are fundamental to really connect us with the value of our local coastlines. And they also allow us to come together and celebrate the joy of wave riding, irrespective of our level.

And I think for me, my overall impression was the element of inclusivity. The Cove Surf Jam really did bring together all levels, all backgrounds and all abilities, from elite performers to people who were just starting to appreciate the joy of Blue Health and Riding Waves.

We absolutely loved bringing together longboarders, single-fin and twin riders from all over Sri Lanka. This was the first surf event of its kind in Sri Lanka – which similar events around the world have you been to, or would liken CSJ to?

It really was important for the Cove Surf Jam to bring together all aspects of wave riding and empower surfers not to feel as if they had to perform in a particular way or ride a particular type of equipment. If somebody had decided to body surf, that would have been embraced – and everything from a 13-foot glider, to body surfing, to riding a mid-length foamy was celebrated – and should be celebrated – in these types of events.

There are a lot of single fin events around the world, such as the Smooth Movers in Cornwall in the UK, the Single and Unattached in La Union in the Philippines, and the Mexilog Fest in Mexico. These are real carnival gatherings that might mix retro board riding and longboard riding, but also facilitate the party atmosphere of surf events and allow those excited to push performances to a high level to really put on a show.

But I think that this event was unique because it restructured the expectations that we now already have for some of those gatherings, and was just a complete blank canvas. I felt like we tapped a potential for a new style of surfing event that incorporates music, entertainment, performance and dance.

When we were working as a group thinking about how we could put on the Cove Surf Jam, one thing we talked about is the idea of surfers in groups putting together a playlist and going out and performing to that music. Ideas like that are how we start to be much more creative and reframe grassroots surf events – I think it’s important that we connect surfing to music as closely as possible.

This was unique, it really had a Sri Lankan flavour with international inspiration.

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Photography by Malva Lorensson

I think that rainbow spectrum of idea, inclusivity, diversity, bringing international ideas with local passions is really important.


What place do you think these less-than-serious celebrations of surf culture have in the overall world of surfing?

An essential place. I think that for the vast majority of wave riders around the world, surfing is not a competitive activity.

And very few surfers actually follow or engage with the elite competitive side of activity. This is a big contrast to a lot of other activities like, for instance, football.

The beauty of surfing is that it's much closer to performance arts like music and dance. That is connected to the places they're surfing, the boards they're riding, the trips that they're going on, the people that they're meeting and being inspired by.

So competition isn't a hugely important thing for most surfers.

But what an event like this does is offer a less serious gathering of surf culture, so that people can enjoy the value of the exhibition on display. Perhaps we don't need to use the word competition, but rather an opportunity for surfers to push themselves in a fun environment so they can perform, have fun and be celebrated for their performance. 

And that comes down to simply enjoying what you're riding or what you're wearing or just your overall vibe for that moment. 

These types of events are a great template to inspire people to empower themselves to do things uniquely. So if you're going to do one in Liberia, do it the Liberian way. If you're going to do one in Malaysia, do it the Malaysian way.

If you're going to do one in Sri Lanka, do it the Sri Lankan way.

And when you ask what the Sri Lankan way is, well, the Sri Lankan way is exciting because Sri Lankan surf culture is a real meeting place of people who have devoted a lot of time to live there to help support surfing and surf tourism, and a really strong, vibrant, growing local surf community. So it has a very international flavour, surfing in Sri Lanka.

And that's why this celebration really felt relevant and important for me - and was a great example of the power of surf communities.

Do you have a handful of moments from the weekend that stood out for you?

Well, what was special for me was I had a lot of dialogue with the planning of the event, but I was also in Sri Lanka to participate in the Galle Literary Festival - and actually one particularly important panel was happening on the Saturday morning when you had the non-longboard riding event.

So I was in Galle on a sustainable tourism panel about revival for Sri Lankan tourism in the morning, and then I came down in the afternoon to be at the Surf Jam and judge the expression session, which was absolutely incredible.

Saturday was a really important moment that stood out because I had spent the morning in a very global environment with academics, writers, authors, musicians, tourism people, bureaucrats, business people at the Galle Literary Festival, in a world that crossed into politics, funding, and the bigger picture of international imagery of Sri Lanka.

I appreciated that because I do love to live in those worlds, to be able to fly the flag for surfers in those contexts - but then also participate in the real grassroots activities with sand between the toes.

A big moment for me was straddling those different worlds, having attended this sustainable tourism panel and talked intellectually about surfing with integrity and honesty - and then moved into a beautiful event in Ahangama that really encapsulated the power of surfing. And that was a lovely juxtaposition.

And lastly, yeah, a big highlight was dancing with you and Sofie - but also just dancing to your music, always been a fan. You know, we're all from that similar generation where we know the value of just being able to cut loose on the dance floor and how important that is for our soul.

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Vibes, playfulness, spontaneity and creativity were high on the judging criteria for the CSJ. How do you think that changes a surfer's approach to normal competition?

So I think that idea of style, flow, and creativity was empowering because it really allowed people to not have any rules.

And it's really interesting to see if you loosen up rules and regulations and let people simply be relaxed and excited, you do also get a very high level of performance. Not only was there a display of very fun things – like new moves we coined, such as the Gandhi, where two surfers or more would hold hands, to things like coffin rides and headstands – but also very critical hang 10's, hang heels and kick fives that we saw from the likes of Sean and Vasco.

And Vasco even had the audacity to jump onto a rock. And that says so much about the confidence that was flowing through all of these surfers, to be in an environment where we really let go of rules and boundaries and really encourage creativity.

And that's why these types of events can really thrive.

Tell us about the talk that you & Leandro had as part of the Galle Literary Festival?

Leo and I put on a really wonderful talk sharing our insights respectively.

From Leo's point of view about his being raised in Sri Lanka, and his new book about surfing in Sri Lanka - and how we guide surfers and support local surf communities and really become stewards of our coastline.

And then my own perspectives from my work internationally as a writer and a filmmaker with regards to surfing and mindfulness, and the Brilliant Corners films I have made that engage with grassroots surf communities around the world.

So it's really special to be able to share that space with Leo.

It was nice also to celebrate the great work that Ed, Sofie and all of the Soul & Surf team have done from Kerala through to Sri Lanka through to Portugal and I certainly wanted to reference that powerful work.

And this was actually my first time seeing the new location for Soul & Surf in Sri Lanka. I really was blown away by not only the location and the mix of people working, but the quality of food, the vibe in the cafe, the incredible energy and atmosphere. That's something unique to what Soul & Surf have created, and I think the Galle Literary Festival really ties nicely into that.

But the highlight of the talk I think for me was a short reading from a chapter called 'The Gift of Hospitality' from my Mindful Thoughts for Surfers book. It was really quite touching to read that because hospitality is a huge element of the surf community. It's extremely important for us as local surfers welcoming visitors, as traveling surfers going to new places.

And also for us to appreciate that we are in that shared ocean space that is already inhabited by sea life, of which we are responsible to support, maintain and be stewards of.


Photography by @ria.the.wildchild

And Vasco even had the audacity to jump onto a rock. And that says so much about the confidence that was flowing through all of these surfers, to be in an environment where we really let go of rules and boundaries and really encourage creativity.


Photography by Malva Lorensson

Okay, so moving on to the last one. Those commentators made the weekend very fun for us all. As a professional commentator yourself, how do you think they did? 

My role since 2014 for longboarding and parasurfing with the World Surf League and the ISA has been to work as a broadcast commentator for the online or TV coverage. The role that you do there is that you are talking through the live action for the benefit of the viewer around the world. So you're not on the beach, speaking to the surfers, you're in a small studio, close to the action, watching the live coverage that the viewers around the world are seeing.

Now what we had with regards to the Cove Surf Jam is we had that live beach commentary - and David, Liam and Justin did an incredible job.

They not only entertained the audience and communicated with the surfers, but they really brought together that community in the moment - they were absolutely incredible and it was so positive and fun.

I thought that the commentators did a brilliant job and they really brought together all elements of carnival celebration, grassroots surfing with an international display of performance and a lot of fun, and that is priceless.

So big shout out to everybody, to all of the people behind the scenes who put so much time and joy into making this a really special gathering and building something that we know we can do annually.

It can become something that the community looks forward to each year - and I certainly look forward to being back and helping next year.

Check out the story highlights from the Cove Surf Jam over on Canteen's Instagram >>


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