“Even a zombie apocalypse wouldn’t stop surfers from traveling to surf.” It was an optimistic Alex Smith, quoted in a March 5, 2020 Surfline article.
Of course, no one, including Smith, could have predicted the COVID pandemic and its effects over the next 18 months. No, there were no reanimated undead bodily revenants wandering the earth, but the world as we knew it had been flipped on its axis.
In the scheme of things, surf trips – or lack thereof – were hardly one of the most pressing problems facing our species. But travel has always been a key element that underpins the surfing lifestyle. A recent study derived from the largest survey of international surfers – undertaken by Jess Ponting and Leon Mach – estimated that pre-pandemic global surf tourism spending was between $31.5 billion and $64.9 billion per year. . This figure exceeds the falls of the last two years.
“I would say we’re down 80% on bookings since COVID started,” says Sean Murphy, president of Waterways Surf Adventures. “However, we are also ahead of 12 months ago, and it feels like the world is opening up. Obviously, with Omicron, that could change very quickly.
Now, writing anything about travel and viruses is a fool’s game. The rules of each country change faster than an Italo Ferreira haircut. After a measure of new normal in the second half of 2021, the Omicron variant swept the world. At the start of 2022, surf areas such as New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Indonesia (to name a few) were either impossible or extremely difficult to access for foreign tourists. Australia reopens its borders to tourists on February 21, although quarantine and testing arrangements depend on the state you are traveling to. Western Australia, for example, is still closed, even to non-Western Australians.
Still, for surfers planning a spring and summer mission, all is not lost. Traveling still won’t be easy – and nearly every country mandates vaccination, as well as other forms of testing – but options do exist.
“Mexico is the easiest place to visit right now and remains the number one destination,” Murphy says. “Many of our customers also choose El Salvador, being open to travelers and energized by the positive coverage and epic waves recorded at last year’s ISA Games. The last months of the dry season (April and May) being conducive to southern swells, it is a good time to investigate a mission in El Salvador.
Only the essentials: El Salvador travel guide
Costa Rica and Panama have also been reliable surfing destinations, not only in terms of swell, but remaining accessible throughout the pandemic. The Costa Rican tourism board was quick to point out low transmission and death rates, quality health care, and boutique destinations with built-in isolation and social distancing on secluded beaches.
Only the Basics: Costa Rica Travel Guide
Away from Latin America, Fiji reopened on December 1, 2021. With Namotu and Tavarua often booked by large groups well in advance, Murphy feared the Omicron variant would hit Christmas and New Year bookings. An. “I thought people might be scared,” he admits, “but everyone was foaming. People were excited, they just wanted to go.
Europe is wide open and Morocco, after a two-month closure to international travellers, reopened its borders on February 7. month.
However, there is still a huge Indonesian-shaped hole in surfers’ tropical vacation plans. “The government has been shifting targets in terms of entry requirements and quarantine days daily since the pandemic began,” says Steven Sewell, owner of Mentawais-based Huey Surf Charters and Telo Surf Camp.
Display: Forecast Mentawais
International visa-free tourism had been suspended in Indonesia since March 2020. Yet as borders reopened on February 7, 2022, a mandatory five-day hotel quarantine was required for fully vaccinated travellers. Needless to say, this is a deciding factor for most surfers, regardless of the quality of the waves. “We hope that will change, and there is talk of loosening restrictions,” adds Sewell. “Most operators are still honoring their 2020 bookings, and we are taking charters for 2023, so there is a backlog to deal with. It is crucial to organize charters this year for the operators to survive. We’re here, just trying to get over this thing.
Deeper in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is one of the few surfing destinations that has remained open throughout the pandemic, offering warm water perfection to those who might make it there. “The Maldives was a lifesaver for us because a lot of surfers who would normally go to Indo or Fiji went there,” Murphy says. “And without Australians allowed to travel, who make up a big segment of that market, there was availability.”
View: Live Vodi, Maldives Cam
The issue of availability is one of the few silver linings when it comes to planning a surf trip in 2022. With operators desperate for customers and dwindling bookings, it is now possible to book deals from last minute, as accommodations are available. You can check forecasts with less risk of sudden changes in entry conditions; or, if you’re comfortable with the prevailing conditions, you can just pack a board bag and a bolt.
For those without this flexibility – say those with pesky obstacles like partners, jobs or children – the other option is to purchase travel insurance that covers all cancellations. It’s expensive and many policies only cover 75% of COVID-related cancellations, but it’s the only way to commit to travel and take the stress out of it.
“My advice is to do a lot of research and only commit to doing what you’re comfortable with,” Murphy concludes. “Whether it’s through insurance or last minute bookings, there’s always a chance to get away safely and get screwed.”