On my flight from Sydney, I met a Samoan man named Maru sitting across the aisle from me who was heading home to Samoa for his father’s funeral. Maru’s father was one of the most influential chiefs on the small island of Upola with his modest territory covering the capital city of Apia. The chief of any given village controls the land and divides it out amongst the families living there and occasionally receives monetary gain from the land depending on what the family wants to do with it. Despite Maru’s fathers great wealth, he still lived in a very humble house with twelve family members as he had always done. Maru was very persistent in trying to convince me to come and stay with him and his family despite having only met me a few minutes ago. This overwhelming Samoan hospitality would become a major theme of my trip. He even went so far as to tell me about his sisters incredible prowess in the kitchen and that she was single and liked white men. Although tempted, I had already made arrangements to head to the South Coast of the island which accepted the brunt of the swells marching consistently Northward from the Southern Ocean.
Transport options don’t exist in Apia at 4am, so luckily Court, a German ex-pat and his wife Tausa’afia were able to pick me up from the airport. In 2009, Samoa was the first country in 40 years to change the side of the road on which they drive. Being a German colony until occupied by New Zealand at the start of the First World War, they kept the European practice of driving on the right hand side of the road. Rumor has it that the new prince of Samoa has shipping contacts with Japan, and stood to make a lot of money importing Japanese cars and thus decided to change the side of the road to driving on the left. In the dark, sweet smelling air we sped along the narrow palm fringed road at the posted speed limit of 56 km/hr.
As the sun rose, we pulled into the tiny village of Sa’anapu which is little more than a few open walled huts with palm thatched or tin roofs that resembled domed Roman galea helmets connected by dirt paths. Court showed me the way to my open air tree house in atop an ancient banyan tree. From my perch, I could see the shallow bright blue lagoon fringed by a wall of outer reefs, foaming white with swell. Still drowsy from the travel, I spent the day exploring the village, and sat listening to the religious family sing a longs echoing out of the huts every evening when the children return home from school.
The thick humid air hung stagnant and hot in the predawn darkness as I climbed down from my nest and grabbed my board and camera gear. I met Clark, a young Aussie surf guide who has attained a status throughout the South Pacific which far surpasses his age. Guiding in Samoa and Fiji since his teenage years has given Clark a huge respect for the power of both the swells and the sun. This experience can be seen as he charges heavy barrels while wearing a full face mask and long sleeves for sun protection. His boat is moored in the lagoon in front of the village and it is only a short motor through the sandy shallows before we can feel the mighty Pacific rock the small skiff as we head for the outer reef. A gentle breeze floating down from the hills above is a cool comfort on my sunburnt face and anticipation builds as we get closer to the reef. The sun is already making its mark on distant thunder heads and is painting both the sky and water in a vivid spectrum of red, orange, and purple.
We pull up to the break and watch the dark swell rises out of deep water turning molten orange before peeling across the reef purple and blue, finally finishing as pink foam. They march in one after another after another and I manage to snap a few frames off before launching excitedly into the warm tropical water with my board under my arm.
- February 2012