Nick Carroll: The Travel Boom Lies Ahead

3 Aug 2020 11 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Anthony Fillingim in a Mentawai Islands made empty by the halting of the surf travel industry. Photo: @kanduiresort / Justis St John

Anthony Fillingim in a Mentawai Islands made empty by the halting of the surf travel industry. Photo: @kanduiresort / Justis St John

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL

As Far as Surf Travel Goes, There’ll Never Be Another 2020

How’s this for a 2020 surf morality tale.

A friend of mine who works with one of the world’s elite surf charter agencies says a client recently put down a six-figure deposit on a trip to an exclusive surf zone — even though the client was currently unable to leave his country of origin.

The place is so elite, it keeps reservees up to date with daily pre-trip images and clips — teasing the palate, you might say.

“You do realise that you might never get to do this trip,” my friend said to the client.

The client said, “I know, but I need the hope.”

Hope! Isn’t this what we all need?

Hope underpins any plan any of us dare make in these very strange days. What’s the WSL’s recent announcement of a pro tour re-shuffle but hope writ large? In reality, when it comes to travel, they’re as fucked as the rest of us.

It’s no secret that the nation’s surfers have been spending up big during COVID. Australian Surf Business’s latest surf shop surveys tell the story: Average sales per store in May and June were up 71.3% and 64.5% respectively year-on-year. Wetsuits in May alone were up 174.6% on 2019; surfboards were up 99.8%.

Hard evidence for the mad boom-times we’ve all watched unveil themselves before our eyes in Australia’s lineups.

But if this plague-driven investment in surfing has seemingly done the nation’s board-builders an enormous service, it hasn’t found its way into surf travel — yet.

Jamie Gray, co-owner of Australian surf travel agency The Perfect Wave, says demand is non-existent. “There’s so much uncertainty in the market … We have been selling trips for next year and 2022 for some locations, but it’s nothing compared to what we are normally doing. Our role has primarily been working to manage existing bookings for this year and moving them to next year while serving our existing clients and partners to ensure they feel secure in their future trips. It’s pretty tough work for all our sales consultants, who are normally just serving stoked surfers on their dream trip.”

Jamie does some exclusive booking to resorts in the Maldives, which opened up to tourism in late July. “We have interest from surfers in countries that can travel there like Europe, USA, Middle East and Asia. However there is still plenty of hoops and protocols to follow for travellers as the industry adapts to the new normal for now.”

Other surf travel agencies have been forced to innovate. World Surfaris, based on the Sunshine Coast, has begun marketing boat charters to the little-known but occasionally epic surf spots in the southern Great Barrier Reef.

A few weeks ago, this would have been one of those “gimme” ideas. The Reef ain’t Indonesia, chances are you’d do more fishing than surfing, but at least with the Queensland border re-opened, you could go. And if you scored — happy days!

But as anyone from Victoria or Sydney who’s tried to get into Queensland in the past week will tell you, no sooner do you innovate in the day of the plague than it bites you in the arse.

Kandui, (practically) empty. Photo: Justis St John/Kandui Resort

Kandui, (practically) empty. Photo: Justis St John/Kandui Resort

Better still, imagine you’re an American. Sean Murphy of Waterways Travel, one of the US’s leading agencies, was in Tavarua when the plague first exploded. “I was talking with people in the United States just as things were getting crazy,” he told Surfline recently. “We decided, as a family, to just extend our stay on Tavarua. We didn’t want to go back to that madness… Then after a couple days, Fiji decided to close their borders completely.” Within three days, they were kicked out of paradise.

The mood among Sean’s customer base sounds a bit like that of our rich friend in the intro. “People really do want to still travel,” he says. “We have people calling us up saying, ‘Can you send me anywhere right now? I just wanna go somewhere. Anywhere you can send me, I’ll go there.’”

Thing is, there’s nowhere. Resort-rich countries won’t even take Australians, even if you were allowed out. Who’s gonna take an American?

Bali’s open! But only if you’re an Indonesian.

Bank Vaults. Photo: Justis St John/Kandui Resort

Bank Vaults. Photo: Justis St John/Kandui Resort

Nah, it’s devolved into a DIY surf travel world. You go where you can, or where your 4WD will take you. For evidence of that, just head north in WA right now and try to find a campsite. That is, if you live in WA. If you don’t, well as the WSL knows and Clive Palmer seems destined to find out, you don’t.

You’ve gotta think there’s an amazing head of steam building up behind this — that all the re-discovery and new board buying action of mid-2020 will at some point result in seething masses of post-COVID surf tourists, hurling themselves at every exotic surf spot they can book.

Sean Murphy agrees: “I do think the industry is going to bounce back really quickly. People like to travel, especially surfers. We prioritise surf travel. It’s not like someone who wants to go on vacation and see the Grand Canyon.”

In which case, spare a thought for CW’s buddies Justis St John and All Day Ray, stuck out there at Kandui, alone in the midst of the best surf possibly ever in modern history. As Justis told me in his last email: “None of us are going to look at surfing the same after this year.”

You’ll never get another year like this one, either.

This is part one of a new series – The Plague Hangs In There – by Nick Carroll. Stay tuned next week for more.

Tags: (create Alert from these tags)

blog comments powered by Disqus
Features
Watch: Episode 7 of Rivals – Bede Durbidge at Home in 4-5ft Straddie Barrels

Watch: Episode 7 of Rivals – Bede Durbidge at Home in 4-5ft Straddie Barrels

The best surf tv show format keeps on rolling!

25 Sep 2020
The Social Visa: Wondering How All These Surf Stars Are Cruising Around Indo? Here Ya Go

The Social Visa: Wondering How All These Surf Stars Are Cruising Around Indo? Here Ya Go

Remember when all this carnage started in March? And how briefly it looked like a whole Indo surf season would be going untravelled?

6 24 Sep 2020
Forecaster Blog: La Niña conditions are here, what does it mean for Surf?

Forecaster Blog: La Niña conditions are here, what does it mean for Surf?

La Nina conditions continue to develop. Will the surf pump?

2 24 Sep 2020
Recent

Watch: Episode 7 of Rivals – Bede Durbidge at Home in 4-5ft Straddie Barrels

The best surf tv show format keeps on rolling!

25 Sep 2020
Smashed In Vicco: A Couple Of The Lockdown State’s Finest Get Caught In The Mangler

Smashed In Vicco: A Couple Of The Lockdown State’s Finest Get Caught In The Mangler

1 22 Sep 2020
Master and Apprentice: Bethany Hamilton and Erin Brooks

Master and Apprentice: Bethany Hamilton and Erin Brooks

21 Sep 2020
Mick Fanning: Save This Shark

Mick Fanning: Save This Shark

22 16 Sep 2020
Watch: Episode 6 of Rivals – Shaun Cansdell at Home on the Coffs Coast

Watch: Episode 6 of Rivals – Shaun Cansdell at Home on the Coffs Coast

13 Sep 2020
Latest News

Smashed In Vicco: A Couple Of The Lockdown State’s Finest Get Caught In The Mangler

For a good chunk of this winter, it seemed like the Vicco crew had become the poor cousins of the surfing world...

Master and Apprentice: Bethany Hamilton and Erin Brooks

When Erin Brooks was nine and at the very beginning of her surfing journey, she met Bethany Hamilton.

Mick Fanning: Save This Shark

This is Mick Fanning’s take on that crazy incident at J-Bay in 2015 - the most watched moment in surfing history.

Popular This Week

Smashed In Vicco: A Couple Of The Lockdown State’s Finest Get Caught In The Mangler

For a good chunk of this winter, it seemed like the Vicco crew had become the poor cousins of the surfing world...

The Social Visa: Wondering How All These Surf Stars Are Cruising Around Indo? Here Ya Go

Remember when all this carnage started in March? And how briefly it looked like a whole Indo surf season would be going untravelled?

Padang Comes to Life as Late Season Swell hits Bali

Golden hour at perfect Padang Padang - it's been a good week to be in Bali... Photo: Childs

Video: The Fizzlot kids – SW Grom Bash

A stoked out portrait of Australian Junior Surfing in the year 2018.

Go to Top