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25 Years Young – World Surfaris

30th Mar 2022

World Surfaris Owner and Director John Finlay, reflects on the 25 year journey of World Surfaris.

As a grandfather, I have experienced what a 25 year journey feels like. In fact, I can divide what I’ve seen into several 25 year journeys, even though I still feel (somedays, at least) like a 16 year old grommet frother. But at the start of any journey, it is virtually impossible to predict how the path will pan out.

Like so many business stories, World Surfaris (WS) started in a garage with a person, a vision, a passion and a single product. This was March 1997. Not that long after, in relative terms, the late Tony Hinde had (accidentally) discovered the surfing paradise that is The Maldives. Which he managed to keep largely secret for the best part of a decade!

WS began its journey with one boat in one destination – The Maldives. Advertisements were created, they worked, adventurous surfers were found and they travelled. Upon return, they spread the word about the beauty of the destination, the waves, the ease of travel through World Surfaris, and momentum began to build. From those very humble beginnings that proved the demand for the product, staff were recruited and a business began to build.

Fast forward a few years to early 2003, the (by now) rapidly growing WS surf travel business hit the SARS outbreak hysteria brickwall. With hindsight and comparable to what we have experienced with Covid over the last 2 years (2 years OMG!), this was a small bump in the road. But at the time, it seriously impacted the WS surf travel business, albeit for a short period of time.

Back on the bike after SARS, the WS client base continued to grow. The variety of destinations expanded, and resorts and land camps were added to the growing list of charters. The Maldives remained the number one destination but Indo was becoming a very close second. The philosophy of only representing destinations that a WS staff member had visited, experienced, and could attest the value for money, is a great foundation that continues to this day. A few halcyon years ensued.

Then came the GFC. For those readers too young to remember, GFC stood for Global Financial Crisis. Students of history can debate the causes of the GFC long into the night. But the effect on business and households was immediate and catastrophic. Why? Because the provision of credit virtually ceased overnight. Meaning – the banks stopped lending…to anyone. So many businesses failed when their credit lines and their overdrafts, were withdrawn or called in on short notice. It’s like being asked to repay your home loan in full, which you were diligently doing over 20 odd years, within a month – when no one is lending anyone any money.

In the USA, in an attempt to persuade their banks to lend to businesses and households, the Federal Reserve introduced negative interest rates. Meaning – for every dollar that a bank would place with the Federal Reserve, the bank would receive less than a dollar back at the end of the term. Not a sustainable long term proposition for any bank. But the USA banks were so scared of potentially making capital losses if their lending to businesses or households went bad, they preferred to take a known small loss by placing their funds with the Federal Reserve.

It was a crisis that crippled the world for quite some time. But with the spirit of adventure so entrenched in surfers, WS ultimately survived the GFC. Unlike Lehman Bros (google that).

Fast forward again to 2014 and the WS business now had offices in Bali and San Clemente, as well as Mooloolaba and Kirra Surf. I had been on several surf trips, some with WS and some with competitors. To me, the WS service was significantly superior and I felt like they were with me on the journey, not just selling me a ticket and wishing me good luck. Their expert advice and extensive knowledge helped me travel to some great surf destinations. In short, I became a WS fanatic who liked the company so much that I bought it!

Life was pretty cruisy for a few years. Bucket loads of travel. When my passport expired in 2017, I decided to pay for the larger passport that has the extra pages. That was a good call. So many uncrowded, warm water surfs with just a handful of friends. I Loved it. Whilst my first love will probably always be The Maldives, I came to enjoy the many and diverse surf wonders that other destinations have to offer, like PNG.

Which is why I took the death of Justice Nicholas Kirriwom in early April 2021 from Covid complications so badly. Justice Nicholas had founded the Tupira Surf Club, adjacent to the village in which he was born in Madang Province, in 2008 and had been its patron ever since. WS had partnered with Tupira and the SAPNG from the very beginning to help grow and develop Tupira. Over and above the effects of Covid on PNG and travel overall, the death of this most generous and wonderful man has been widely felt by many in both the local and international communities. In the many years in which we did business, Nicholas went from colleague to being my friend.

Yes, Covid – I have mentioned the word and now I need to acknowledge that the last 2 years have been the most brutal and demoralizing I have ever experienced. It seems like only yesterday that WS was celebrating 20 years in business. We had the Kombi-Keg van in the carpark in front of the (then) office at Mooloolaba. We started early and partied long into the night. I even remember that hangover.

Now we have the privilege of being able to celebrate 25 years in business, what a journey it’s been. One of the many that I have been privileged to have been part of. We are still here. In 2022, we are now able to start surfing beautiful parts of the world, in warm waters, with our friends again. We have proven our resilience. In fact, we have acquired an inner strength and determination to not let history and what we have suffered get to us. Yes, Covid cost us some staff. But the core team is now even more knowledgeable and passionate about surf travel and helping our clients to get to wherever they dream of surfing. Traveling post-covid means having as many allies on your side as possible – like an experienced and reliable travel agent.

Our position of leadership in the surf travel sector is based on our reputation for innovation, reliability, integrity and outstanding customer service. To this day, we still hand-pick our surf adventures. We will still only represent resort and boat operators who offer the qualities we require for our clients. We have remained true to our core values.

Happy Birthday WS – 25 years young. Best wishes for the next 25 years.

John Finlay

Chairman – World Surfaris

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