As cliche’ as it may sound, Linn Lundgren and Petter Toremalm are living the dream. For real. They reside in a turn-of-the-century villa tucked amidst the jungle, less than a kilometer from the balmy Indian ocean in southern Sri Lanka. They’ve got an antique Land Rover, a dozen dogs, and unlimited coconuts. But more importantly, they’ve got a speed that the lifestyle of Sri Lanka allows. At a pace that is steady and relaxed, the young founders of Sunshine Stories surf and yoga retreat busy their days with work and pleasure, but most impressively, blur that line making both one-in-the-same. I was welcomed into their home with great hospitality and thoroughly enjoyed the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor. Their design aesthetic is a breezy mix of Scandinavian design (they are Swedish ex-pats) with obvious influence from tropics; native banana plants in concrete pots, white-washed stucco interior, big windows with great afternoon light. Their property is impressive, but cozy and of course close to the beach. I thank them for allowing me to pay a visit, try the homemade dhal, and borrow a few Bing Surfboards.
First question: there’s surf in Sweden? Tell us about it, please!
Yes, yes, yes! The surf in Sweden is rough, windy and a perfect adventure from the day to day life. You never know what you’re gonna get. It can be so fun and where we live we have some good point breaks that get fairly clean on a stormy day. Expect up to 50 miles per hour of sideshore winds, and a wave period of 9 seconds if you are lucky. In such conditions the Swedish surfers are smiling – we go out no matter the weather – rain, sun or snow. People even drive from Denmark and northern Germany on those days. The surf culture is growing and it’s an interesting scene. Believe it or not, but the last years it has also become quite crowded, so it’s part of the game to find those empty peelers.
What brought you to Sri Lanka from Scandinavia?
The childhood dream of being able to spend the winter somewhere far, far away from grey, dark, rainy and sometimes depressing surf life in south of Sweden.
Where did the idea for Sunshine Stories come from?
At first, Sunshine Stories was our platform where we published our travel stories and things we were passionate of. We were on the hunt for how we wanted to live our life. This was before every kid was a lifestyle/travel blogger. The word “influencer” was not heard of and Instagram didn’t exist yet. We interviewed some inspiring people we met along the way and called it Sunshine Stories. After three years on the road, we started university, it felt like the next step to go back and study for a bit. Sri Lanka was our one month winter break during our study time and when we were gonna write our thesis we moved to Sri Lanka to do it. That didn’t really go as planned and we dropped out of school and opened up a surf & yoga retreat instead.
I’m familiar with it, but please describe a typical day at Sunshine Stories to our readers.
It’s quite full on. The day starts with yoga at 6 am as the sun rises and the monks chant from the neighboring temple. Yoga is followed by a big breakfast and breakfast is followed by surf.
We have a wide variety of waves and cater to beginners as well as advanced people that are looking for barrels or doing their first hang ten. Everyone gets to surf with their surf coach depending on their level. You get back from the surf in time for a healthy lunch mid day which is followed by one on one video analysis. Every session, every wave is filmed and every day you get personalised feedback from your coach.
In the afternoon, there’s a bit of free time until the day’s second yoga session start. Some days we take the guests to the temple for a meditation with the monk, or to the local surf shack to have some Ceylon tea. At 6 pm there’s surf theory where we talk about everything from forecasting, how to read the waves or what board is good for which conditions and style. Surfing is a skill that is hard to learn and even harder to teach and we try and break it down. By the end of the day you’ve learnt surfing through physical experience (surfing), visual experience (video analysis) and by listening (theory). Most important is to have fun, so our weeks are designed around learning and fun at the same time!
At 7 pm dinner is served. My favorite day is prawn tacos or maybe our new addition; pizza night where we cook coconut fired pizzas under the palm trees and stars. Then everybody goes to bed quite early, because the day starts over the following day.
What are the realities of being a foreigner opening a surf retreat in Sri Lanka? What resistance have you seen from locals, and on the flip-side, how have you been welcomed into the community?
It’s not as easy as many seem to think. You kind of have to forget everything you learned growing up in Sweden and start over. Here the most important things are the community and the family so you have to integrate that in everything. Forget about lone wolfing. We have been very lucky to welcomed into the community and we try and bring the community with us in our success. We hire over 30 locals at Sunshine Stories and Ceylon Sliders and we give back to different causes every year. Last year it was a roof for the local temple and this year we hope to be able to contribute to one of the local schools.
What is the history behind the villa that you live in?
In the beginning, Petter and I lived on the retreat together with the staff and the guests. We also did everything from cooking dinners to cleaning rooms ourselves. Now we have hired professionals for that and both me and Petter have taken a step back to do more of the behind the scenes work and less of the daily maintenance. We have also moved out, to another 80-90 year old colonial villa. When we moved in, every room was in a different color, either orange, pink, purple or blue. We quickly painted everything white. Here we have plenty of space for our boards, books and dogs. There’s also a big garden, almost too big. With plenty of banana trees, mango trees and monkeys.
What do you see in the future for Sunshine Stories and Ceylon Sliders? Do you have any interesting events coming up?
We will continue to develop both Sunshine Stories and Ceylon Sliders. There’s still plenty of things to do, like put up Sean Spellman’s artwork on the walls or develop new merchandise for Ceylon Sliders. The coming season we hope to be able to host more speciality workshop-style retreats with some of Bing Surfboard’s team riders. At Ceylon Sliders we’re going to collaborate more with artists and surfers, the idea is to create a kind of hub for creativity, travelers and locals alike.
Can we publish that Dhal recipe from your chef for our readers to attempt?
Sure thing! Here it comes:
300g Red lentils
½ Brown coconut
10 Curry leaves
1 Cinnamon stick
4 Garlic cloves
1 ½ Teaspoon Curry powder
1 Teaspoon mustard powder
2 inches of lemon grass
Wash the lentils in water two times, cover so that they are 1 inch under water. Chop the garlic and add it together with all the spices except the coconut, and boil.
Grate the coconut, add 1 ½ cup water to the grated coconut, squeeze the coconut meat in the water with your hands 2-3 minutes until the becomes deep white coconut milk. Add the coconut milk to the red lentils, boil for another 5 minutes. Garnish with chili powder.
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