Soul & Surf co-founder Ed Templeton reflects on returning to Sri Lanka for the first time since early 2020 and gives his first impressions of the two new Soul & Surf locations.
Words by Rachel Lingham | 15th Feb '22
At the risk of being a bit, well, obvious, quite a bit has changed for us these past two years. Not least Soul & Surf Sri Lanka’s move to not one, but two new locations. All organised in the midst of an actual pandemic, a fair few curfews and quite a lot of confusion and head-scratching.
It was a wrench to be so cruelly ejected, mid-lockdown, from the building we co-designed with our previous landlord. But in the face of what still seems such an unnecessary additional drama – in the midst of the existing global drama – two golden opportunities came to our door, and honestly the blend of the experiences that we can now offer is even better than before:
Jaw-dropping, high-end, tranquil, eco, hilltop luxury retreat. Tick.
Low-key, beachside, tropical-bliss cove. Yep, we got it.
Decent human beings as landlords. Check.
Below we chat with Ed, our founder, following his first visit to Sri Lanka since early 2020 – to get his first impressions of Soul & Surf Sri Lanka 2.0. And 3.0.
How has Sri Lanka changed since you were last there?
I suppose the world's changed quite a lot – which I know is a huge understatement. But then to come back to Sri Lanka – and it just being, well, the Sri Lanka that we probably took for granted before – feels amazing, open and free. There’s possibility here. There's creativity here. It's really nice to be back
Loads of people have moved to Ahangama and set up businesses – it reminds me a bit of when Canggu started getting really busy. I remember going there in 2007 and it was all tyre shops and haberdasheries. But the odd little cafe and restaurant starts to pop up, and suddenly Canguu is all just coffee shop / interior shop / coffee shop / bar.
In Ahangama we’re not quite at that point – but I do wonder where people will get their tyres from if it continues.
What were your first impressions of the two new Soul & Surfs?
It might sound really salesy, but I was just totally, genuinely blown away by how incredible both of them are. For the first two weeks, Sofie, Kit and I seemed to spend all our time just pinching ourselves.
We knew the Cove a little - we actually threw a party there a few years ago. But actually to be there and spend a lot of time there is mind-blowing. Literally I take four paces out the back of the hotel, and I'm in crystal clear water watching a reeling left-hander.
We've had a lot of breakfast, lunch and dinner dates here and not really moved very much. We've surfed out the front quite a lot, all three of us including Kit – it's much better than I remembered. Almost like a local secret, I suppose, because it's not that busy. The snorkelling is incredible - Kit found a giant turtle skull the other day which he found very exciting – and the sun setting into the sea is unreal, you can watch it right from our little lounge area.
And then nothing prepared us for the first time we saw Tekanda.
Everything that we had imagined from the UK was based on construction photographs, the architect's plans – nothing that did it any justice. I knew it was really nice, and I knew it was in a pretty good location, but nothing quite prepares you for the first view of it. When you leave the main road and go through their gates, it feels like you're driving for about ten minutes before you even get to the villa - which kinda looks like a hidden village on the top of the hill.
And then you walk through into the lounge and see this panoramic view of paddy fields and hills and jungle and tea bushes – jaw-droppingly beautiful and so unbelievably tranquil.
So even though we knew intellectually what we we'd taken on, we just weren’t prepared in real life for quite how amazing both of them are – and I'm pretty happy it wasn’t the other way around to be honest. It’s quite a thing to realise that we have found not one, but two much better venues for Soul & Surf. The freedom we have and what we can offer now is wildly improved.
How are the teams getting on?
We’ve got some of the original local team - Chef Aruna and Guyan, Budhika and Damika, who we managed to keep on all the way through lockdowns and curfews.
And we've now got Madu back too - he went to work for Richard at Tekanda for a little while - but when we re-opened, he wanted to come back to work for us, and we of course wanted him too.
We have an all-new surf team, and we’ve really lucked out with our coaches. We've never just wanted to import loads of coaches, and prefer to use local teams where possible. We've managed to find Asanka and Ashan, both locals who are really charismatic and brilliant coaches – and then Liam and Claire who are based more or less at the Cove and Tekanda respectively. Both of them are also amazing - and together they are a great team and we couldn't be happier. It’s a tall order coaching from two venues, and they are smashing it – all hands on deck, doing what they can in what has, at times, been a tricky season.
Our team are constantly praised by our guests, who are leaving great reviews. So, yeah, we lucked out with the whole team, and we are super grateful.
How was your house after being away so long?
Yeah. Wow. I shared the worst photos on Instagram - on the jungly side of the house it is all orange and black, mouldy and overgrown. We sadly had to chop down one of our favourite trees because it died, which had been home to a whole family of monkeys. It sounds like they have decided to take up residence on the roof now.
It's all a little bit shabby, but still really nice. I mean, it's one of those things here - the environment and the jungle are in charge, and things need to be lived in and replaced, and obviously we couldn’t be here.
The jungle doesn’t take long to reclaim its territory. But you know what? It's liveable, it's a lovely house to be in – the jungle is the boss – and it's all good.
How is Kit getting on? What are his impressions of the place? Does he remember it?
We were last here two years ago - he would have been five. He definitely remembers Sri Lanka – at his age, it’s a big chunk of his life to have been away for.
He said to me the other day that he used to think nothing of it, that he used to take it for granted, didn’t really appreciate how different somewhere like Sri Lanka was. Being back in Europe, the UK has really allowed him to see it as it is.
He’s loving it – surfing without a wetsuit, being back at school here – plus he has a really good little crew who he instantly fell straight back in with. He loves surf club Thursdays, loves hanging out at Soul & Surf and chatting to everyone, making friends with guests & staff. It’s really nice to see.
Want to know what Sri Lanka is all about? If you’re able to travel right now, you’ll find all you need about our very special locations here.