The shape and contour of the southern Indian coastline where Varkala makes its home has drawn the eye of a lot of veteran surfers. Knowing that the same geography works well on nearby Sri Lanka, they thought maybe, just maybe, there too?
However, this part of the subcontinent lacks the same reef shelf that you get on the teardrop, so can’t match anywhere near the quality. What you do get is a string of long, cliff-backed beaches that are colored a lovely mix of gold and ochre, with relatively – at least for India – consistent chest-high swells.
Now if that’s reading like a beginner surf mecca, then that’s really because it is. The breaks here are mellow, mushy rides that will forgive and forgive again until you’ve mastered the pop up. That dovetails especially well with Varkala’s rep as one of south India’s hippy backpacker hubs. There are cheap hostels, affordable surf camps, loads of yoga studios, and all-round good vibes.
Varkala surfing at a glance
- Great vibes to this town
- Pretty beaches
- Mellow swells suited to beginners
- Lacks anything uber-challenging
- Some pollution in the water
What’s in this guide to Varkala surfing?
- An introduction to Varkala surf
- Where is Varkala
- The top Varkala surf spots
- Surf hotels and surf camps in Varkala
- When to surf in Varkala
Where is Varkala?
Varkala crowns off the Keralan cliffs about 20 miles north from the big city of Thiruvananthapuram and nearly 90 miles out of the colonial-era fort city of Kochi. The closest airport is about an hour away at the Trivandrum International Airport – it’s best to get a private transfer from there but don’t rely on the taxi touts at arrivals. Trains from both of the big cities go daily into Varkala itself – tickets need to be pre-booked and cost 30-250 rupees, depending on what class you want to go for.
A guide to the Varkala surf spots
All the spots in Varkala get the brunt of the Indian Ocean swell on the western side of India. There’s a mix of rocky point breaks and beach options to cater to a range of levels, going from total beginners to intermediates, along with decent logger waves to boot.
Huge seawalls made from colossal boulders now string up the whole length of Kappil Beach, which is a couple of clicks north of the town center. Thankfully, they don’t seem to have affected the swell and the shape of the waves all that much, which is great because this tends to be the place where the local surf schools head with more advancing groups. Sets can hold up to head height but rarely get any bigger than that in the dry season. On the green waves out back expect short logger rides. Closer to the shore there’s mush that’s perfect for learners.
Edava Beach is one of the more sheltered of the ones in the area of Varkala town. That’s mainly because it’s where the high mud cliffs start to get big enough to help with the offshore winds when they do come in the wet season. It’s still very much beginner to low-intermediate stuff but that’s the case with all the breaks around here. However, Edava does have a couple of mini rocky headlands that jut into the sea to give a couple of rare point breaks that can work on the bigger days. The best of them – a semi-hollow left that rides faster than anything in the area – has been christened by the owner of the nearby Soul & Surf guesthouse.
Papanasam Beach/Temple Beach
If you can catch Papanasam Beach when the sandbars are in the right place then there’s a chance that S-SW swells will give a series of peaky beach breaks that form both left and right shoulders. It’s a lovely place to surf, since you’ll probably be all alone.
South swell can send some refracted waves into the south-southwest facing sands of Eanikka Beach, one of the closest beaches to the center of Varkala town. We won’t wax lyrical too much as they are rarely great but can be okayish when there’s hardly any wind and there’s the right swell angle to help the shoulders hold up into relatively clean lefts.
Where to stay when surfing in Varkala?
There’s a pretty good range of surf hotels and surf hostels dotting the cliffs of Varkala these days, and there seem to be more and more added to the roster every year. Here are some of the best in town right now…
Pointbreak Surf & Stay- Top Pick
In-house dogs, chilled vibes, and a location that’s about 600 meters from one of the main surf breaks in the area – what more could you want? The charming accommodation at Pointbreak Surf & Stay ranges from a comfy double for couples and garden tents for surfers on a shoestring budget. They also do a tasty Asian breakfast for those post-sesh refuels.
Cliff & Coral
Cliff & Coral has the air of a homey backpacker lodge but a twist of surfer vibe to it. Just 400 steps off Varkala main beach, it’s got great access to the beginner surf and a whole range of uber-affordable shared dorms. The communal lounge is cracking for meeting other travelers and surfers and the reception does their best to help organize surf lessons.
Magnolia Guesthouse Varkala
You can pick from private cottages and suites in the Magnolia Guesthouse Varkala. They are at the more luxurious end of the spectrum and offer real seclusion away from the hubbub of the town proper (you’re about three miles from the train station). Guests can join in with sunrise yoga sessions and partake in Ayurvedic massage treatments on site.
When to surf in Varkala?
Varkala lake and ocean
Varkala is a strange one when it comes to seasons. The peak time to chase waves really depends on your level. The wet season in the south of India is prime for the biggest sets. They come when the southern Indian Ocean turns on the goods and gets Bali cooking further east, between June and August, though remember that you’re going to be dealing with heavy rains and storms in between sessions then and getting skunked isn’t unheard of. The shoulder seasons of October and then March are good for those who prefer it cleaner and more consistent but on the larger size (intermediate). Beginners should come for the peak vacay time in Kerala, between November and February.