Incredible Samoa by John Finlay

It had been 21 years since I went to Samoa.  It was “Western Samoa” when I last visited – a constitutional amendment in July 1997 changed their name.  There have been other changes too.  They now drive on the left-hand side of the road.  In 2011, they skipped a day late in December and jumped back to our side of the International date-line.  Samoa is now just 4 hours ahead of Australian Eastern Standard time, making commercial interaction a lot easier than previously.


Parts of Samoa had also experienced the devastating effects of an earthquake & resultant tsunami in September 2009.  Some 20 villages on the south-east coast of the main island Upolu were destroyed and there were many deaths.  One of the hardest hit areas was Lalomanu, where I had stayed in an open air fale on the sand on my previous visit.  With the passage of time, the vagaries of memory and the damage and subsequent re-building after the tsunami, it was difficult to recognise much.


What hasn’t changed in Samoa is the surf.  It’s still mostly raw, powerful, pristine, hollow reef breaks.  And uncrowded.  Especially on the larger but less densely populated island of Savai’i.  There are very few local surfers on either island.


I started my trip with a few days at Aganoa Lodge on Savai’i (  Samoa is an easy 5-hour flight from Brisbane.  Having caught a late evening flight, the time difference meant that I arrived just before dawn, Samoan-time.  Alex, the long-serving surf guide from Aganoa, collected me from the airport & whisked me to the Sheraton Hotel for a great buffet breakfast & a few hours sleep.  We caught the 1pm ferry from Upolu to Savai’i (which takes an hour) & 15 minutes later, I was sipping a welcoming beverage in Aganoa’s beautiful main hall overlooking the ocean.  Half an hour later, I was in the surf.


Some reefs in Samoa are more accessible than others.  Like the break out the front of Aganoa.  Step out of your absolute beachfront fale onto the sand and paddle out to the cracking Aganoa home break.  No boat required.


In other parts of Samoa, a boat is mandatory and an integral part of the adventure.  Brent Ross of Samoan Surfaris ( on the south coast of Upolu makes great use of his boat to ensure an uncrowded surf experience.  Watch dolphins surf the boat wake, sailfish jump and giant turtles glide through the crystal-clear water as you head to an outer reef, kilometres from shore. 


I shared my time at Brent’s with a couple of young Queenslanders (maximum 5 surfers at Brent’s at a time).  They had started with Brent a few days before I arrived and were clearly evidencing signs of surf fatigue.  Three days later, I was fading too.  With 5am starts every morning, up to 8hours in the water each day (sometimes over 3 sessions) and no-one else in the water, it doesn’t take long for that delightful (but sometimes painful) “surfed-out” feeling to evolve.


During my time with Brent, I called in to Salani Surf Resort (  They were just about to shut for some renovations prior to the Christmas period but very kindly took us surfing out the front at Salani Right before closing.  What a gem that wave is!

A big thank you to all my hosts during my all-too-short stay.  Samoa is a very under-rated surf destination – I am not going to leave it another 21 years before visiting again. 


John Finlay.

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