A surf trip to the idyllic, laidback islands of Upolu, Samoa, has to rate as one of the best experiences of the South Pacific. Time it with a decent swell and you’ll be in the firing line for some of the most memorable waves of your life. Here’s our top 10 tips to make the most of Samoa’s line-ups.
1The hardest thing about a trip to the tropics is acclimatising – firstly to the heat and then to the cold when you return. Our first tip is to avoid air conditioning at all costs. By avoiding air conditioning your body quickly adapts to its new surroundings and if you’re going to be physical in the heat it allows your muscles to recover more quickly. Jumping in and out of the cold of air-con just confuses your body’s processes. Avoid it and suffer for a day, but earn the rest of the trip on form.
2Learn the local ways and adapt to them. In the case of Samoa, that means learning how to select, harvest and peel coconuts – the water of which is among the world’s finest natural electrolytes – the perfect recharge after a big surf session or day in the sun.
3 Don’t skimp on your boards. If you know there is a chance of a decent swell, then you’ll want a fast-paddling board that lets you get in quickly. Consider a more drivey quad, or even channels to help you get around sections. Waves like Salani Rights are notoriously fast breaking and can get very heavy in the right swell direction – it’s a hard wave on boards so consider bringing two primes, a small wave option and something special for those bigger days.
4 Be nice to the locals. Most of the resorts are managed by foreigners using the local Samoan people to run the shuttle buses, carry out the servicing work and entertaining. It’s a peculiar relationship, but it seems to work for everyone. Get to know the locals and you’ll learn a few extra bits about the area and may even discover some extra waves. As always when traveling, respect earns respect.
5 Get surf fit. Samoa has some seriously demanding waves and being fresh from a season of pie eating is not going to help your case. Salani Rights doesn’t take prisoners – there is no inside – just a draining reef face. So you want to make the drops, you want to handle the bottom turns and still have the energy to project through the warping sections. And if you get caught on the inside at Salani Rights or Nuusafee, then you’ll be wanting to produce the best duck dive of your life. Just not too deep.
6 Keep your mental game in check. At times you’ll be tested and you have to always remember that you’re in Samoa on a reefbreak with just a handful of good mates and the time to pull back is not now. Muster every ounce of positive energy you have and back yourself to get into that wave. If you don’t you’ll regret it for sure.
7 Take it easy on the roads. The road network around Upolu is a ribbon of bumpy, semi-sealed main roads with lots of dirt roads and tracks leading in all directions. The speed limit is variable, but basically you need to be prepared to drive very slowly and give way to everyone: stock, people, kids, chickens, pigs, other cars, they all have right of way. The tracks, some of which are not always drivable after rainfall, often lead to some of the less well-known line-ups. If the road is flooded, it’s time to beat the feet.
8 The south east corner of Upolu, around Salani and Nuusafee is where some of the heaviest waves on Upolu make landfall and are not really suited to those without a good deal of experience. If you’re regularly surfing The Ledge at Manu Bay or the Bar at Piha, then you’ll be fine, but if you prefer the softer breaks then look further north and west for point breaks and beaches that aren’t quite as demanding.
9 There are so many options on flat days in Samoa. On the south east coast of Upolu the To Sua Trench is a real highlight – and often used in promoting the natural beauty of Samoa. It’s a giant sinkhole with a tidal pool at its base and the thing to do is to climb down the cliff face on the ocean side and swim back into the pool through an ocean cave. Unfortunately many tourists get in trouble here and some have died trying to swim through. There is actually an air pocket halfway through, but it is easy to miss this. Coupled with the pull of the surging waves, swimming to the exit can be a real struggle. Take care.
10 There is no time to rush in Samoa. If you come from the desk of a busy office, then it’ll be a bit of a culture shock. Expect everything to take twice as long as normal – driving is slow, nothing is done in a hurry and the more you hassle, the slower time becomes. Embrace it, it’s actually pretty good for your soul. After a few days Samoan time will be your best friend. No wonder they’re all so happy on these islands. Good luck.