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Teiki Mathieu Baillan surfing a self-made Alaia surfboard in Lances Left, Mentawaï, Indonesia. Photo by C. Naslain, 2009.
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By Island Native
Reply to Dano - Eh braddah Dano! Anytime! I just need your e-mail addy. I plan on returning in December. So feel free to write me- firstname.lastname@example.org
To: Island Native From braddah Dano - I agree, let the waves be, as you say Fa'a Samoa!! The ocean is not to be fought over or disrespected. It is to be praised and enjoyed, appreciated and respected. Respect the island people and culture! I would like to visit and meet local people and learn some of the culture. It is really about sharing. Surf industry folk, Try coming to Hawaii and making a buck on a surf break, you'll find yourself on the next flight out. Don't ruin it for the Samoan people and future visistors. Island Native, if you have some time I would like to ask you some ?'s about Samoa.Aloha,Dano
How to travel to and surf Samoa without the help of the STI - The surfer who wants to travel to and surf in Samoa even for the very first time has options far beyond and much better than patronizing and supporting the economically oppressive and exploitive STI. No matter how much time or money you have available, whether enough for one week or one month, if you have any travel sense at all about you then you can easily check out the islands, people, and culture of Samoa, hopefully scoring some great surf along the way (keep in mind, however, that in the world of surf travel there are no guarantees so you could get skunked!), all while entirely bypassing the STI. Here’s how: First thing you must do…get to Samoa! (Easy enough, right?) Get there either by boat or by plane, it does not matter how cuz the first thing you’re gonna wanna do once you are there is check-in to the capital, Apia, because from Apia you can easily access any of the breaks on Upolu (obviously you want to closely study a map or two of Samoa before you even set foot there) and/or make arrangements to get over to Savai’i. You should plan on staying in Apia for at least the first night, either on your yacht or in a hotel, in order to get your bearings and/or make your arrangements. Accommodations in Apia range from luxury suites to backpacker hostel type set-ups (your choice), and even if you haven’t already made some sort of arrangements ahead of time you can more or less land at Faleolo in the middle of the night and still do OK. If you arrive via yacht you will have to first check in at Apia before sailing anywhere else in Samoa anyway. If you fly in, get a ride from the main airport (Faleolo) into Apia via either taxi or shuttle van. Both are relatively inexpensive (you will probably pay about US$35 or so for the 45 minute taxi ride into Apia). If you don’t already have a place to stay, ask at the airport or your driver and he should be able to recommend something suitable. If you want to, you can stay in Apia for the entire trip, hope the north breaks are working (a rare event and most are hard to access anyway) but plan on making the longer daily commute to the south coast breaks (about an hour or so each way via car) which are much more consistent and accessible than the north coast breaks. (Believe it or not, this may actually be your best option if you do not have much time, say less than a week, and you can only hit one or two well-known spots). But in all likelihood you will probably want to make the move to the south coast of Upolu to be within better striking distance of its world class breaks (probably 99% of all pictures of Samoa you see in mags or on the Net are of south coast breaks on either Upolu or Savai’i). You can stay at one of many locally owned and relatively inexpensive resorts (as low as US$25 a day two meals included), popularly known as “beach fale”, spread all along the south coast of Upolu and throughout Savai’i, some of which are at or near known, accessible breaks. Although beach fale typically are family run, if you want to you may be able to make arrangements to stay with an individual Samoan family. To get over to Savai’i, there is regular daily air and ferry service (limited on Sundays) from Upolu, however, you will want to have made arrangements for where you’re going to stay in Savai’i before heading over there, as options are fewer than on Upolu, and taxi and bus service is much more limited. (Some beach fale resorts may be able to pick you up at the ferry dock or airfields in Savai‘i, but you must have already made arrangements.) To get around in Samoa you can: rent a car (rather expensive but also gives you more options in terms of searching for waves and rented cars can be taken over to Savai’i on the ferry if arranged ahead of time); hire a taxi on an as-needed basis (involves less expense, less hassle and less responsibility but also limits your wave-search options somewhat. You can, however, hire a taxi for the entire day at a relatively reasonable rate. Negotiate!); or, ride the bus (quite cheap but can be rather inconvenient and a hassle and definitely restricts your mobility as well. But if you already know exactly where you want to go the bus is actually a very good option, especially if your finances are limited.) So as you can see the serious surf traveler who wants to can travel to and surf Samoa entirely free and independent of the STI, and there are many options for doing so that can be mixed and matched, so to speak, as his or her desires, previous experiences and finances dictate. Notice here that I have specifically avoided talking about specific breaks, how to get to them, best times to go, conditions, etc. If you’re at all serious about traveling to and surfing in Samoa then I must assume you are doing your own research in this regard and it should be enough for you to know that there are empty waves waiting there to be found. To find them on your own, however, means that you must be prepared and you should enjoy the search no matter what happens surfwise! (If, on the other hand, all you want is to be picked and dropped off at the airport, herded around Samoa like a bunch of sheep in search of waves, have no sense of adventure or self-respect at all and nary a single ethical bone in your body, then definitely go with the STI. You’ll be much happier.) At the same time, don’t expect Samoa to be Indo and know that, although the Samoan islands can and do go off on a regular year-round basis, they can also be very inconsistent (like I said, there are no guarantees in surf travel). In terms of knowledge of local conditions, of course that counts for something and, as it does most anywhere, long-term experience in Samoa helps both in terms of getting good waves (by making the right call as to when to hit a particular break) and on knowing what you are getting yourself into before you get into it (aka as safety considerations)! All I can say in this regard is this: do your homework before you go, know your limitations, study the conditions and waves carefully both from shore and the line-up (before paddling into one) and if you’re at all unsure of yourself, better to play it safe than sorry, at least at first. Coral reef injuries can be very, very nasty, keep you out of the water until they heal up and thus ruin what would be an otherwise good trip (so if you’re going to get cut up better late than early in the trip). If you have ever surfed over shallow coral reefs in your life, you should be OK. On the other hand, if you have never surfed coral reefs before, well I guess ya gotta start somewhere and Samoa is as good a place as any. Finally (whew!), whatever you do be very respectful of the Samoan people, their way of life and culture (for example, no surfing on Sundays.) Samoans are quite friendly and approachable people. They are also very curious about westerners and our way of life and eager to strike up conversations. The general population’s command of the English language spans the range from non-existent to limited to quite good, so if you make the attempt to communicate with them at whatever level you will be well-rewarded. Fortunately, when you are dealing with more official matters, making travel arrangements, etc., there is almost always someone available who is quite fluent in English. Also, the Samoan islands are some of the most beautiful in the world and there is a lot more to see and do than just chase waves. So while you may be there primarily to surf, if the surf sucks be prepared to go snorkeling, fishing, hike up to a waterfall, rent a bicycle, etc.
Reply to Surf Tourist - Look at it this way, Mr. Surf Tourist, if you are paying US$120 per day to stay at Waterways’ Salani resort (its peak surf season charge) and surf in Samoa then you are probably not going to be too happy when some independent traveling surfer spending the equivalent of maybe US$35 a day paddles out next to you. Here you were promised a pristine uncrowded surf experience which you were willing to pay a small fortune for, and yet you have to share “your” dream waves with some traveling surf bum who is too poor (or perhaps just too cheap) to fork over some real cash. Of course you conveniently ignore the fact that going as far as one can on whatever money one has and, in the process of doing so hopefully scoring some perfect waves, is and always has been the essence of surf travel (as opposed to surf tourism). So while surfing should never be about who has the biggest bank account, nowadays many surfers, especially older ones and younger pro-punks, have more money than time on their hands, and it has become the STI’s endless task to separate them from that money. And if, in the course of doing so, they must shut out those surfers who do not have the same considerable financial resources…“well sorry,” they say, “nothing personal, just part of the game, a routine business practice if you will, and you lost this time. But hey, better luck next time!” However, in my opinion (one shared by many who travel and surf independent of the STI) if you want to fork over the dough to travel to and surf in comfort and luxury to whatever 3rd world country you care to name, then fine, that is your prerogative. Do not, however, try to exclude the rest of us poor souls who are either a bit more adventurous, a bit less well-off, or some of both, from surfing those same waves, for in the surfing world that is, without a doubt, the ultimate and most unforgivable sell-out of all time! And although you may not feel personally responsible for this reprehensible act, Mr. Surf Tourist, by patronizing the STI you are just as guilty of this crime as are they. And regarding your feeble attempt to defend the STI’s economic exploitation of the Samoan people (or any other 3rd world people for that matter) you should be aware that no defense is possible! The only reason that some of my arguments did “not make any sense” to you is that you did not pay attention to the details of my arguments and/or perhaps you just do not understand the philosophical and economic bases of those arguments to begin with. For example, you are mistaken in your assertion that I said that STI’s Samoan employees are getting “eight times the local wage”. What I said was that they are getting Samoan minimum wage, about US$0.50 per hour, and that minimum wage multiplied by 8 hours worked equals US$4 a day. Simple enough for you? (Please note that I have not made a comparison to ‘western wages’ here at all. I have merely performed a simple math calculation made in units easily understood by most westerners, US dollars, so I hope you have been able to follow along this time.) Regarding your argument that “comparing their wages to a clients bill is also easy but not very smart”. First off you trot out the same tired old arguments used to justify economic oppression and exploitation of all workers in such situations, but most especially those of 3rd world countries. But we are not dealing here with “chambermaids, salesmen, oil-workers, (etc.)”, who are all working within the western world’s already established capitalistic free-market system, are we? Rather, we are talking about the people of an underdeveloped 3rd world country who are vulnerable to economic exploitation and predation by outside economic forces armed with the power and resources to do so. And your argument that “clearly (I) haven't run a business” is a typical ad hominem attack used by someone who is either ignorant and/or personally benefiting from that exploitation (or both). First off, you don’t know the slightest thing about me or my background so it is ludicrous for you to even make such a statement. Secondly all the points you raised regarding costs such as building the resort, customer demands for imported western foods, long periods with few guests and no income (which are probably not too long, however, as luxury resorts in general typically average over 50% capacity and STI resorts most likely fare much better than that industry-wide average), etc., are all rendered moot in this situation. Why? Because those costs are all completely artificial and unnecessary, created entirely by the existence and presence of the STI resort! So your argument that the STI is just meeting a “demand” is without merit and falls flat on its face. What the STI is really doing is creating an endless, pumped-up and artificial demand for its services (through, for example, extensive advertising) in order to justify its investment in the resort; an investment made not to satisfy an already existing demand, but to make a profit. And in order to realize as large a profit and get the best return on their investment as possible, they must minimize wages while maximizing control of the one resource their investment centers upon; access to the waves. And sorry to tell you, Mr. Surf Tourist, but this is not a fantastic conspiracy theory dreamed up by some wild-eyed fanatical Marxist radical, but rather the fulfillment of plain old western classical economics theory! And while we’re at it, philosophically speaking, in most moral belief systems I know of no one has the right to exploit another human being for any reason whatsoever; especially not an economic one! So no matter how you look at it, western capitalists who set up a profitable business venture based on exploiting the natural resource(s) of a 3rd world country but who then deny responsibility for ensuring that the local people fully share in the benefits of using that resource (and this involves much more than providing minimum wage service jobs) are fully engaged in the immoral exploitation of other human beings, as are those who knowingly support them in this exploitation because they enjoy the access to this resource that that exploitation provides (like, for example…surf tourists!). There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it; if western capitalists cannot make a go of it without exploiting the Samoan people (or any other 3rd world peoples, for that matter), then those capitalists simply should not devote any of their time, money, and/or resources to developing their luxury resorts in the first place! And before you cry that the loss of their minimum wage jobs will harm locals, think again. The truth is that independent surfers were traveling to and surfing in Samoa long before the STI got its hooks into the place, so should the STI magically disappear overnight, all traces of it wiped clean from the Samoan islands (one can only hope), then the Samoan economy would feel nary a burp! Why? Because independent surfers would still be spending their money at Samoan owned resorts and Samoans could open up more of their own surf camps (there are already at least one or two in operation) to meet any extra "demand" resulting from the STI’s demise (of course, when the STI chases away independent surfers that certainly doesn’t help develop an indigenous Samoa surf tour industry, now does it?). So sorry to tell you, Mr. Surf Tourist, but the only near sensible thing you said was that government income from taxes would be affected (but probably not much). You did, however, get one thing absolutely right: You are 100% correct when you say that “any resort (that) tries to 'own' a wave has gotten a long way from their surfing roots!”. To that I can only add, amen!
By island native
to surf tourist - Dear surf tourist. The Samoan land is known to be sacred to their people. The Samoans came a long way to declare their independence from the western world, and for an STI to set foot on their land declaring waves is repeating history that happened to the polynesians; "invasion". These people are very nice and love to have guests over, but they shouldn't be taken advantage. So who are you guys to invade a land and custom, and declare a wave by making up your own stupid rules when your not even from there....Let surfing just be and let Fa'a Samoa live.
Sheeiittt - Dese waves is fucking heavy!!! fo real, island style
AmSamSurf or other... - I'm going next month but haven't made my bookings yet. I've never been to Samoa and I'm going solo. I was looking into the SIT's until I read your post. I think my biggest concern is being at a heavy, tidal spot without some transport and guidance. Also I'm going for 10 days max and dont want to spend half my time looking for spots. So I'm wondering what the best options are? Best way to find surf?Best place to stay? etc. I dont want to contribute to the corporate scum but it seems like SIT's are my only option.
On the colonization of Samoa by the global surf tourism industry - Surfers who utilize the Western owned and profit-driven surf camps in Samoa (Salani’s, Salamumu, Savai’i Surfaris) should be aware that by patronizing the global surf tour industry in Samoa (STI), they are supporting multinational corporations who not only screw over the Samoan people, but who have also attempted to exclude all independent surfers from surfing in Samoa. The first STI attempt at monopolizing individual Samoan breaks came when Waterways’ Se’e Galu surf resort at Salani, which first began operations in 1997 and is owned by Sean Murphy, asked Salani village for exclusive access to the break on the communal reef in front of the village. Waterways requested that the village ban all surfers other than those brought in by the resort on at least two separate occasions, but fortunately both times their request was turned down by the village fono (a kind of town council comprised of traditional Samoan chiefs), because it ran counter to Samoan culture’s spirit of generous hospitality. The STI also made a brazen attempt to gain control of all outside surfers coming into Samoa when it proposed to the Samoan government a scheme whereby anyone coming into Samoa to surf would first have to obtain a special permit and pay a tax on their board(s) before they could surf there! The STI said this was necessary because too many surfers were coming to Samoa and needed to be controlled. But who should decide who would and who wouldn’t get a permit? Certainly not the STI as that would be a clear conflict of interest (a clear case of ‘the fox guarding the henhouse’ if ever there was one)! And even if it was getting “crowded” (which, by the way, it really wasn’t, the STI just didn’t want any competition for waves), with their all-out media blitz and incessant hyping of Samoa any crowds there were entirely the fault of the STI anyway. Fortunately, this dastardly scheme of theirs went nowhere, but who knows if or when it might come back? Of course, the STI always uses lies to cover up its elitist, greedy, money hungry, predatory nature. But flimsy excuses such as “we are only trying to protect the quality of surfing in Samoa”, or “we are only trying to protect inexperienced surfers”, or “we are only trying to protect the people and culture of Samoa” are all easily seen through and the true goal of the STI in Samoa then becomes readily apparent: the complete control of all surfing in Samoa which would then enable them to sell off their fantasy wet dream surf trip to the highest bidder! At the same time, local Samoans would see little if any of that money while yet another poor 3rd World country fell to the surfing world’s version of neocolonialism; the complete economic domination and control of access to world class waves by the global surf tourism industry! Fortunately that has not happened in Samoa as it has in Fiji, for example (not yet anyway) but in the meantime the STI continues to freely exploit an impoverished 3rd world country for its own selfish economic gain. And no one, certainly not the national government of Samoa and certainly not the surfing community at large, is up to stopping them. Bottom line: Surfers who travel to Samoa courtesy the STI are helping the STI exploit the Samoan people for its own selfish gain while harming the free spirit and nature of the surfing world in general and individual surfers in particular. Therefore any self-respecting surfer (that is, those with a social conscious, a spirit of discovery or both) traveling to and surfing in Samoa should do so entirely on his or her own.
By surf tourist
STI - Although I agree in principle with your stand point - some of your arguments do not make any sense: eg. to compare local wages with 'western' wages. If the workers are getting paid eight times the local 'typical' wage then that is 'relatively' good. I would like my employer to do that. Comparing their wages to a clients bill is also easy but not very smart. What about a chambermaid's wages vs the cost of a penthouse in a big NY hotel, or a ferrari salesmans wage vs the cost of the car, or an oil-worker who finds a new oil-field etc... Also you clearly haven't run a business. You ignore sunk-costs (building the resort), customer demands (imported 'western' foods etc), other running costs (apart from wages), long periods with few guests and no income, and both taxes and "taxes" which will contribute to the local economy...The bottom line is that STI happens because there is a demand. Still, any resort which tries to 'own' a wave has gotten a long way from their surfing roots!
Regarding the global surf tourism industry's economic exploitation of Samoa - There are quite a few postings on this site concerning the negative aspects of the global surf tourism industry (STI) in Samoa. For anyone who cares about such things, here is the low down about what is going on there, for in addition to the inevitable conflict between independent surfers and the STI over wave rights, the STI is economically exploiting the Samoan people. While Samoa has certainly received economic benefit from visiting surfers, not everyone involved in the surf tourism industry there has shared in that benefit equally. The STI has taken a huge bite out of the Samoan pie while leaving only scattered crumbs for the locals. For example, while Waterways Travel (owned by Peter Murphy) likes to boast of the great economic benefit it is bringing Samoa, its resort at Salani is a self-contained operation supplying its own food, transportation, accommodations, etc. So even though Waterways supposedly pays rent to the family which owns the land the resort is located on (I say “supposedly” because as is typical in Samoa with its communal system of land ownership, there is a family dispute over land rights and the money is tied up in court), Salani village itself has been cut out of the economic loop. So at best, Salani villagers receive minimal economic benefit from the STI’s presence there. So while Waterways charges as much as US$120 per day per surfer to stay at its Salani resort, it pays its Samoan employees as little as US$4 per day! (To put this into proper perspective, ask yourself this: Would you work over three hours just to buy a tube of toothpaste? Probably not! Yet at US$4 per day that is what those Samoan employees must do.) Obviously other expenses such as food, fuel, insurance, etc., as well as any Australian and American expat employees (only about US$100 per week) must also be paid, but something is seriously wrong when a Western owned resort pulling in as much as US$1800+ per day (just do the math from their ads) pays its Samoan employees the pathetically low wage of only US$4 per day. Oh well, I guess that is just business as usual as another fucked-up-the-ass Western multinational corporation ruthlessly exploits a poor 3rd World country and its people (move over Nike). But at the same time this is also a sad, sad commentary on the ethics (or lack thereof) of those surfers who support and patronize this sort of thing! The STI justifies its exploitation of the Samoan people by claiming that not only are its Samoan employees paid the prevailing wage for unskilled menial labor in Samoa (about US$0.50 an hour), but they are also spared the trouble and expense of making the hour-long journey into Apia, the country’s capitol and only real city where most low wage service jobs are found. Although one could argue over whether or not these claims have any validity, at the end of the day the STI is still profiting quite handsomely from the use of an important natural resource in Samoa, her world class waves, and should be held to a higher standard than are locally owned businesses. So while the STI boasts of its contribution to the local economy, it is really interested in only one thing: sucking the fattest profits out of its surf camps as it possibly can. Though independent surfers might not spend the same exorbitant amounts as STI surfers, they still do spend a fair amount of money on food, beer, lodging, transportation, etc., money which goes directly to locals (a very important consideration). Yet Waterways’ resort at Salani has actively and aggressively chased non-STI surfers away from the village. And it certainly isn’t helping the village in any non-economic ways either. Just ask the resort’s manager (who has been aptly referred to by others as a “gay midget”) if they have any ongoing environmental, education, or health projects in Salani village, and the best he will be able to come up with is that they “have a permanent anchor rope for their boat out at the break” (actually a fairly standard practice on coral reefs). Oh yeah...they also recycle their beer bottles (but this is no big deal as 99% of all beer bottles are re-used in Samoa anyway). Ask villagers what Waterways has done for them and they will tell you that the most the resort has done thus far is lend them a vehicle to get to the hospital. And of course, although the STI advertises heavily in mainstream surf media, it does nothing to support indigenous Samoan surfers. Hell! Waterways even went out of its way to prevent native Samoans from learning to surf when boards given to Salani villagers by visiting surfers were later retrieved by Waterway personnel from the resort. Its motive for doing so quite clear: If villagers ever got good enough to claim their waves at Salani this would mean the end of Waterways’ resort there! Moral of the story: Do not use any global surf tour company to travel to and/or surf in Samoa, and when there stay only with locally owned and operated businesses. In fact, do not patronize any STI anywhere in the world at any time (Fiji, Indonesia, etc.) as they are all the lowest of scum sucking bottom feeders in the surfing world. Learn how to do it locally and do it yourself. Others have. You'll be glad you did!
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