I glance at my sister Marissa, who has joined me for a week at Soul & Surf, a luxe surf and yoga stay in Ahangama in Sri Lanka’s laidback Southern Province, and smile.
With four children under eight between us, the chance to indulge in our childhood hobby of surfing twice a day, plus practice twice-daily yoga, meet likeminded people from all over the world, eat tasty, nutrient-dense cuisine, rest and explore a country that has been on my bucket list for a long time, means it isn't difficult to think of something to be grateful for.
Gratitude is practically seeping from our pores.
With psychologists recommending mums take regular child-free holidays for their mental health, there was no better choice of destination than the nation voted by Lonely Planet as the number one country to visit in 2019.
Usually after an - albeit rare - morning yoga class, it would be a mad dash home to prepare breakfast, and drop kids off to kindergarten and school before rushing to work.
After our morning Vinyasa practice, lead by Soul & Surf’s resident teacher Jess, my sister and I join the other 20 guests – and the retreat’s Head of Vibes, Lara - for a communal breakfast in the open-air dining space beside the pool, which runs through the centre of the property.
Meals are lovingly prepared by chef Aruna and his hospitable all Sri Lankan team and today we’re served local coffee, fruits, juice, toast and the special, which is pancakes with a twist.
Each day, breakfast is followed by a two-hour surf session.
Our jungle oasis is just a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride – or 2kms – to the beach and when we arrive, we are placed into surf groups according to our ability.
There’s more surf theory and support for beginners while experienced surfers are taken to more challenging breaks.
With a bit of surf experience under our belts, my sister and I, along with an affable German lad Denis, are put in the care of British-born surf coach Andy, who is both articulate and encouraging.
It’s not long before we have the confidence to surf bigger waves at breaks like Sticks, South Beach and Kangaroos and relished the chance to be surfing with likeminded people from all over the world, particularly an inspiring amount female surfers.
Each day, the morning surf is followed by a coconut and bliss ball in the pool and some free time to rest, read or indulge in a massage by the in-house therapist.
The food is a highlight of our stay and lunch is something we look forward to after an active morning.
After another couple of hours' downtime, we head out on tuk tuks for our afternoon surf session, followed by sunset Yin yoga practice.
We practically float down to dinner, which was anything from fragrant Sri Lankan curries loaded with spices, coconut sambol and dahl to grilled tuna steaks and healthy vegetable burgers.
Given the full daily schedule, after our meals and some interesting conversation, most guests were more than ready to retreat to their rooms at a civilised hour each night.
There are three levels of accommodation at the 12-bedroom villa – six Quite Special rooms, four Extra Special and two Top Rooms with balconies looking over the pool.
Marissa and I share an Extra Special room, which boasts considered, stylish interiors with mid-century modernist touches, concrete floors, pops of pastel, bespoke art works designed by co-founder Ed Templeton and the piece de resistance; a concrete outdoor bath tub for a soak under the stars.
More relaxed than a yoga retreat and not as serious as a surfing camp, Soul & Surf was founded by British couple Ed and Sophie Templeton in Kerala, India, during an around the world sabbatical 10 years ago.
Pop ups in Sri Lanka followed, and the permanent stay opened close to four ago.
“Soul and Surf is not overly worthy,” Sophie tells me. “We set it up to be what we would enjoy. We didn’t want a lot of surfers sitting around talking about surfing all day; we modelled it on the type of place we’d want to go to.”
With its laidback vibe, stylish setting and warm Sri Lankan hospitality, Soul & Surf attracts a lot of solo travellers, particularly women, looking for time away from their daily routine and to immerse themselves in another culture, and meet like-minded new friends.
“When staying at Soul & Surf, you’re instantly part of a community, so the idea of travelling solo becomes both more accessible and more exciting,” says Sophie.
Cool house tunes are played in common areas, there’s a sunken lounge area by the pool for chill times and plenty of sun lounges positioned around the gardens.
Needless to say, spare time is spent talking and exploring nearby beaches and towns with new friends.
A highlight of our stay was a long tuk-tuk ride to the completely unspoiled and truly spectacular Hiriketiya Beach where we hired long boards, surfed with sea turtles and ate $6 local fish curries and drank vodka nuts on the sand.
Another morning, we woke before dawn and enjoyed a guided SUP session down the river taking in the sunrise, local wildlife and our lush jungle surroundings from another perspective.
Needless to say, a week at Soul & Surf Sri Lanka felt like a month and the memories and friendships formed will stay with me for a lifetime.
TIP: Following the April 21 terrorist attacks, Smartraveller have lowered the level of advice to 'exercise a high degree of caution.’ Travellers should pay close attention to their personal security at all times.
TIP: We opted to visit the Sri Lanka’s Southern Province in late November as the monsoon season had ended and the weather was sunny and dry with smaller swell and less crowds.