Tweed teacher's beautiful act of kindness abroad
WITH a surfboard strapped to a tuk-tuk canopy, dodging the wandering cows that rule the Sri Lankan road, local surfer Michael Thompson roared away from Colombo International Airport not knowing what he was in for.
Thompson, a casual high school teacher at Tweed River High, accompanied by his girlfriend Angela Scott, a nurse at Tweed Hospital, spent a month travelling the southwest coast of Sri Lanka in a tuk-tuk earlier this year.
As a result, four young surfers in Sri Lanka now have the chance to follow their surfing dreams due to Thompson's generosity, and Thompson's life has taken a welcome twist.
"I first learnt about Sri Lanka from my friend Wayne who owned a surf shop on Sydney's northern beaches in the '90s when I wrote the surfing column for the Manly Daily,” Mr Thompson said.
"I wrote a story on the surf scene there and I've wanted to travel to Sri Lanka ever since. It was worth the wait.”
Finding a home in Weligama, a long U-shaped bay with white sandy beaches on the island's southwest coast, Thompson soon realised the waves were not much good for experienced surfers.
But for beginners, it was paradise.
What Thompson saw was packed beaches full of beginners, especially people from land-locked European countries chasing the thrill of riding a wave, and a boom tourist industry for local learn-to-surf schools.
But he also detected a problem: the price of surfboards was a huge barrier to entry for less privileged locals who were desperate to give surfing a go.
"At around $700, surfboards in Sri Lanka are very expensive to buy and were well out of the reach of most local surfers,” Thompson said.
Thompson befriended four local youngsters through Batu, who ran one of the local surf schools.
Batu told him the four youngsters, not able to afford their own boards, had to share one between themselves.
What Thompson did next, they never could've guessed.
"I decided to donate my Mick Fanning, six-foot thruster surfboard to the young grommets,” Thompson said.
"None of the young school boys could speak much English, so Batu translated their appreciation and gratitude.”
Thompson travelled further around the bay, where there were a number of reef breaks to suit more experienced surfers. He discovered that many foreigners had made the beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka their home.
He learnt that Sri Lankans have a kind and friendly nature, and noted that the locals, always keen to chat Warney, Ponting and all things cricket, were particularly fond of Aussies.
He met a fourth generation Sri Lankan diver, learning the man's family had suffered utter devastation in the 2004 tsunami. The man told Thompson Australian soldiers had provided them with food, water and medicine.
And Thompson learned that he also wants to return to Sri Lanka again, and set up a foundation to help young Sri Lankan surfers, as he puts it, "ride the waves and follow their dreams”.