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Jim Habig of International Surf Properties discusses COVID-19’s impact on his business and surf travel

By Jake Howard

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, San Clemente’s Jim Habig was down at his resort property in Popoyo, Nicaragua.

Owner of International Surf Properties, a real estate company that specializes in selling exotic, wave-rich properties around the globe, Habig figured the best thing he could do at the time was hunker down in Central America and ride things out. And that’s just what he’s been doing, surfing his brains out while we’re stuck here wondering what’s next.

“I had moved down from Popoyo, to Pavones, Costa Rica, because of some great opportunities for surf property sales next to one of the longest lefts in the world,” Habig said when I caught up with him via email last week. “Unfortunately, COVID kicked in with all of the travel restrictions and put an immediate hold on everyone’s plans.”

In normal times, summer would be the season for surfers to travel around the world and enjoy the many opportunities that foreign shores provide, but, of course, these aren’t normal times.

A small cadre of team riders for Lost Surfboards, including world tour surfers Kolohe Andino and Griffin Colapinto, broke the seal last month with a mission to Indonesia. Several other savvy travelers have made strikes down to Mexico, one of the few places in the world where Americans are free to travel at the moment.

But for the most part, the lockdown has been real, and everyone’s been stuck surfing Trestles—and I mean everyone.

So, for somebody like Habig, who makes a living from wandering surfers, what has this meant for his business?

“The one positive for buyers is many of the prices for surf villas and surf camps have come down,” Habig said. “Now is a great time to buy as the travel restrictions lessen.”

Easier said than done. Wading through the myriad of travel restrictions and technicalities can be overwhelming when it comes to thinking about booking a trip.

“Everybody needs to know the requirements for the country they plan to visit,” Habig said. “For example, Costa Rica requires a COVID test within 72 hours of flying and travelers’ insurance, while Mexico requires neither of these. Do your research and know before you go. One thing that hasn’t changed is all of Central and South America require a passport valid for at least six months from entry into the country.”

After seven months in lockdown, a surf trip somewhere like this is sounding really nice. Photo: Courtesy of International Surf Properties

In other words, as the old Surfline adage goes, “Know before you go.”

As Habig points out, this could be a great time to go search for surf, as crowds are light and there are some ridiculous travel and airfare deals out there.

“The never-before-seen situation the world is in does not change our quest by surfers for great waves,” Habig said. “There are so many places you can find just the type of wave you are looking for. With all of the what-if scenarios, we are not sure when our next surf session is going to be. Get out there and explore while you can.”

And in terms of investments, if you’ve been sitting on a pile of cash throughout the pandemic wondering what to do with it, now could be the time to throw down on the surf resort of your dreams.

“A few areas like Indonesia, Morocco and El Salvador come to mind as having some great deals on surf resorts,” Habig said. “We also have a few pocket listings in Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.”

To be sure, buying a surf resort right now could seem like a dicey proposition, which is why Habig and International Surf Properties have also launched a rental side to their business.

“Surfers have always been exploratory in the search for uncrowded waves, so it makes total sense they want to travel to find those perfect breaks. If we are going to flash amazing locations in front of a crazed surfer, we should give them the opportunity to get there,” he said. “It started with a try-before-you-buy program and grew from there. We have surf destinations in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Indonesia and beyond. We are adding new locations weekly.”

There is no shortage of concerns about traveling right now, and rightly so. Southern California has been an epicenter for the coronavirus over the past six months, and the idea of getting on a plane and potentially spreading the disease in some Third World country, where most of these exotic surf spots are located, hardly seems like a responsible thing to do.

But through better testing and other preventative procedures, things are slowly reopening, and moving around on this great, blue planet has become a little more realistic. And at the very least, we can all dream and plan for better days to come—and that’s part of what makes surf travel so alluring for so many hungry wave-riders.

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including the San Clemente Times, Dana Point Times, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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