Tsunami destroys water sports around the island
By M. Shamil Amit
The tsunami that wrecked havoc in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and Thailand apart from countries like Maldives and the African countries, has done enormous damage to the water sports industry in Sri Lanka. This is a sport that has heavily supported the tourist industry in Sri Lanka. Today it is in shambles.

The president of the Windsurfing Association Baron de Livera speaking to The Sunday Times said the one time popular surfing areas in Kalutara, Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Weligama in the southern part of the country and some areas in the Negombo district underwent heavy losses which he estimated at over Rs. 30 million.

The president along with Tilak Weerasinghe director of Lanka Sportreizen popular known as LSR in Sri Lanka who also owns most of the water sports centres around the island had visited the affected areas a few days after the devastating tsunami to asses the damage and what they found out at the conclusion of the fact finding mission was a sorry plight.

The Confifi Marine in Bentota run by Tilak was a complete wreck. The water sports centre he runs at the Kani Lanka Hotel (formerly Sinbad Hotel), in Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Weligama incurred heavy damages. Many diving schools in the Bentota region and the Club Robinson, another popular tourist attraction, have also been badly damaged.

Equipment such as jet scooters, windsurfing boards and sails, skiing, diving and sail equipment along with deep sea fishing boats including Arthur C. Clarke's underwater safari equipment had been completely wiped out by the tsunami. "We are going to have a tough time to bring back the sport to normalcy," said a sad president.

Although the Airport Garden Hotel in Seeduwa and Jetwing Group in Negombo too faced the same fate, the damage to them is not that high as in the southern part where the tsunami had struck with severe force. Some equipment have been recovered and the two hotels concerned are now back in operation as before.

Tilak Weerasinghe, who has helped water sports activities in Sri Lanka in a big way is dejected. Having spent millions from his own pocket, he has now come back to square one and will have to start all over again. This task is definitely going to take a considerable period of time. But the only thing that the president could be happy is that none of the boys working in these water sports centres were injured or had died or unaccounted for. The boys had been unable to save many of the equipment but they were able to save the lives of many tourists who were bathing along the beaches.

"We will to start from scratch. Many of the local boys around the vicinity have lost their jobs. Some of the lads learnt their trade here and run water sports schools in other countries. Now all is lost," said Baron.

He said this year the association was having big plans and were looking forward to conduct an international windsurfing meet, like the one that was held in 1984. But the tsunami has brought everything to a standstill.

But the determined president, a man of immense experience for the last two or three decades, stated: "I am confident we can rise from the ashes. What we need is a little push".

Baron is hoping to meet Anura Bandaranaike, the Minister of Tourism, as soon as he arrives from overseas to start rowing the boat as early as possible.

He is also looking for help from foreign establishments, embassies, to re-establish the sports which has been completely wiped out. "The tsunami also helped Sri Lanka to become a world recognized country. It will also help restore our tourist industry. Hence water sports is a tourist attraction sport", he said adding: " I am confident that we will get the much needed help to bring the sports to where it was".


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