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Teiki Mathieu Baillan surfing a self-made Alaya surfboard in Macaroni, MentawaÃÂ¯, Indonesia. Photo by C. Naslain, 2009.
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Response to Murph the Surf Tour Operator: Part 1 - So good ol’ Murph the Surf Operator feels it necessary to respond to some of my comments, does he? I guess those comments must have hit pretty close to home to demand his attention, being the busy man he is running his surf tourism empire! So even though I didn’t intend to post any more lengthy diatribes lambasting the STI in Samoa, now that Murph has popped his weasely little head up and entered the fray, a full response to his nonsense is needed lest he mislead any young impressionable surfers. Because what Murph has done is offer up some more pure unadulterated bullshit in an attempt to obfuscate and hide the nefarious dealings of the STI in Samoa. So yes, Murph, I do have some “strong opinions” and I am “informed” about Samoa, but not just to “some extent” as you claim (more on that later). And, as you say, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but the question is, dangerous to whom? For as I see it, the greatest danger is not to those who want to surf Samoa on their own, STI free, but rather to those, such as yourself, who are exploiting Samoa, her waves and her people, for their own personal gain, profit, and/or self aggrandizement. But before we go any further with that debate, allow me to give some background info about myself so that those following this battle of words can judge for themselves the reliability of my information and/or claims. Although I have been back in the US mainland for the past nine months or so, I lived in American Samoa for a number of years, working there first as a teacher and then later as a writer/editor for a newspaper. During that time I made many a trip to Western Samoa, the duration of those trips lasting anywhere from 2 days to over 2 months. While in Samoa I traveled to and surfed both Upolu and Savai’i, I have many Samoan friends and acquaintances and, to top it all off, I am married to a Samoan woman from Upolu (and no, she is not from Salani). In addition, I have traveled throughout the South Pacific and have seen the negative effects the STI has had in places such as Fiji. Therefore not only do I feel qualified to comment on the STI in Samoa, but also believe my comments to be well-informed, valid, and insightful. And sorry to burst your bubble, Murph, but I am not trying to single out Waterways for criticism, but have focused on your resort at Salani simply because I have spent a fair amount of time in Salani village, staying with a village family on all my visits, so I am quite familiar with the situation there. Although I never stayed at your resort itself (so I am not just some pissed off wanker trying to seek revenge), I did visit it on occasion for an overpriced beer or two. And because I stayed in Salani village I heard firsthand the many complaints about the resort voiced by many, many Salani villagers (unsolicited complaints, I might add). And because the head of the family I stayed with was the highest ranking matai of the village, I also learned firsthand what had transpired in the village fono regarding Waterways operations there. In addition, since Samoa is not a very big place (picture two islands both about the size of Oahu) there are really only three main STI operations there: Waterways and Sa’moana (at Salamumu) both on Upolu, and Savai’i Surfaris on Savai’i. So although Waterways happened to end up in my direct line of fire, I could also tell you a sordid tale or two about Savai’i Surfaris (like, for example, the fact that their native Samoan surf guide was paid only about US$17 a week, which was far, far less than what they paid their Aussie and American expat surf guides. Why? Because Surfaris said that the Samoan, being a local, didn’t need as much money to live on as did the Aussie and Americans!), but from what I have heard Sa’moana is pretty much guilty of the same crap as are Waterways and Surfaris. So sorry to disappoint you, Murph, but I am not one of your competitors. In fact, other than writing first a newspaper story and then later a magazine article about surfing in Samoa, I have absolutely no connection whatsoever to any surf business either inside or outside of that country. Anyways, your claim that maybe I am a competitor is pure nonsense on the face of it. Think about it. Why would I blast the STI and tell surfers not to patronize the STI in Samoa if I myself were a member of that gang? That just does not make any sense. So sorry to disappoint you, Murph, but my motivations for criticizing the STI in Samoa have absolutely nothing at all to do with lining my pockets or controlling access to the waves there. What motivates me is my belief the STI is committing a great sin and injustice in Samoa and I would like to see the Samoan people get properly compensated for what is rightfully theirs. I would also like to help keep greedy capitalists such as yourself from strangling the true free spirit and nature of surfing and would like to see more Samoans learn to enjoy surfing for themselves (something the STI seems to be rather indifferent to at best). I also believe that if the STI does not clean up its act then the Samoan government should ban the STI from doing business there (but this is not likely to happen any time soon for a variety of reasons), to be replaced by an indigenously based surf tourism industry in Samoa, one completely owned and operated by and for the benefit of Samoans and not some greedy foreign capitalists interested only in sucking whatever profits they can out of that poor country!
By Sean Murphy (Not Anonymous)
Surf Operators - Salani & WaterWays - Hi All,Sean Murphy hear from WaterWays Travel and Salani Surf Resort. I have never particpated previously in the banter on this site, but feel it is necessary to respond to some of the comments from Mr firstname.lastname@example.org. It is obvious this individual has some strong opinions, and is informed to some extent, however, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. It appears this individual is to some extent trying to single out Salani and WaterWays. Who is this individual and what is their true motivation? - Competitor possibley.I would just like to take a moment to correct some errors in the past statements.First, Salani Surf Resort has NEVER requested an exclusive to any of the waves around Salani village. Quite to the contrary. On more then one occasion the village Matai have offered an exclusive, or to make it more difficult for independat surfers to access Salani. On each occasion we have declined the offer as we have not wanted to open up the "can of worms" that would be unleashed in both local world opinion. We take the same approach to all independants surfing Salani, we advise them how many guests we have staying at the time,that we will be surfing hear every day it is good, and suggest other breaks that could be good options with no surfers.Secondly, quite a few years ago there were discussions with the tourist board regarding "sustainable surf tourism". The Samoan Visitors Bureau are looking to promote Eco-tourism, surfing falls under this heading. They highered an independant consultant from New Zealand with much experience around the world in this field. It was his proposal that suggested the government may want to look at instigating some sort of permitting process to control the number of surf tourists in the country at any one time. This proposal was not presented by any one of the surf tour operators. It was supported by the surf tour operators, and I am sure would have been supported by local surfers. The government want to make all attempts possible to protect local culture, and not have Samoa and the villages around the island go the way of many villages in Indonesia - becoming surf slums for the traveling independant. The govenment has actually used Salani as an example to the type of small development that will benifit Samoa in the long run, supporting the way we work closely with the local village for employment and supplies of food and other services. Contrary to the appoach of some of the larger developments. Another point - if somebody would like to address me personally, my name is Sean Murphy, not Peter Murphy.As far as the economics go, I will not really get into this issue. A business must run as a business. If I were in this business for the huge capital gains you suggest, I am definately doing something wrong, no money has yet come out of Samoa, hopefully one day soon. Salani pay employees better then the minimum wage suggested, and better then most other hotel operators. Most of our employees have never had a job prior to working with Salani. Our Staff take great pride in the resort. We are constantly doing projects to assist the village. This list would be endless. We try not to give money directly, as this typically will only benefit the person who receives the money. We have built the school new desks & black boards. Constantly assisting with village transportation issues - not once to the hospital as suggested by mr email@example.com. Use of Salani vehicles for village "emergencies" is almost a daily scenario. Last month I organized a shippment of two pallets of school books in conjuction with Air New Zealand. Next month we are hosting a family to Salani at a greatly reduced rate for one month who are doctors and will be working with Salani staff and villagers in conjuction with the Red Cross to address health issues.The level of service and amenities we supply are a value for the rate charged. I would not argue that one could travel to Samoa to surf and do the trip on a budget. I would suggest that for somebody looking to do a short trip of 7-14 days with comfort, style and convenience that they would get more time in the water at the better breaks on any given day by staying with one of the surf tour operators then by trying to do it as an independant.
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.
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