From first sight, the bay looked like a surfing paradise - like one you would draw on the back of a notebook while day dreaming in class. Clinging to the steep volcanic spires, the dense thicket of jungle avalanched as a chaotic, twisted mass of trees and vines, unbroken down to the crystalline sea. The coral fringing a group of jagged black sea stacks was clearly visible from our vantage high above the pristine bay. Waves peeled perfectly in every direction only a few feet above the colourful ocean floor.
We had our pick of three distinctly different waves. A left hand point on the west side of the bay was pitching top to bottom barrels along the entire length of the reef. The wedging river mouth would rear up out of deep water to double in size at the take-off, trouncing the unwary while peeling off in both directions. And a gigantic heaving right bombora - waiting in vain for a courageous soul. All sharp, all shallow, and all perfect.
The rusting blue Toyota rav4 bounced and squeaked its way down the steep dirt path, sending bright brown mud flying in all directions. As we reached the village gate, a big Samoan smile waved us on through. Almost all of the villages on Samoa have a toll gate to enter - usually manned by the chief of the village or one of his family members.
“We don’t have to pay here?” I asked our Aussie ex-pat surf guide Brett.
“Na, I let him use one of the old boards and he’s cool with us surfing here. Although, he breaks so bloody many of them, it’s not really worth the toll!”
We parked in the shade of a giant banyan tree to get suited up. Immediately the chief who was at the toll gate sauntered over to us and in his thick South Pacific islander accent, asked us if we had a board for him to use. Dressed in a typical lava lava (sarong) he was much slimmer than your average Samoan with deep dark eyes. His muscular body was covered in traditional tattoos - presumably, like most Samoans, administered with a sharp bone and wooden hammer. He grabbed one of Brett’s boards and immediately started to paddle out towards the wedging river mouth.
“He’s heading out just like that, huh?” I asked.
“Yup, you might get an eyeful out there…”
The rest of our group paddled against the currents to join the chief at the river mouth. The water was a beautiful deep dark blue and clear enough to define between the individual plates of coral below. Mesmerized at this colourful aquarium under my feet, I almost forgot where I was as a large set approached. Paddling out towards the relative safety of a deep water channel, I watched as the chief took off on a bomb of a wave. Completely out of control, he somehow managed to stay upright as the wave pitched over his head, slotted him inside the barrel. He came up the face towards me and nearing the top of the wave, the board and his legs went skyward while the lava lava along with the rest of his body headed for the depths of the sea.
A few seconds later, he popped back up from the foaming whitewash laughing through that gigantic smile. Bare assed, he clambered back onto his board and paddled around looking for that pesky lava lava.