The question pops up now and then. Why canoeing is not our national sport given our proud history of being seafarers and navigators does baffle the mind.
How rugby took over as the national sport is certainly a mystery.
But then there are many things that puzzle us here on these beautiful shores.
One of them is how Samoa can be surrounded by so much water and yet a great number of our people cannot swim? Yes it’s true, you’d be surprised to find out just how many of our people don’t know how to swim.
Contradictions of our time?
Maybe, maybe not.
It’s interesting though.
The good news is that interest in paddling events is slowly and surely rising and the occasion of the Vailima Alo Paopao Festival in Samoa this week is a great step.
Opened last weekend by the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Samoa’s premier international paddling event has come a long way since it was launched in 2012.
Now in it’s 6th year running, the Festival has brought to Samoa 10 international teams with paddlers from Tahiti, American Samoa, New Zealand and Australia. They join the local paddling community and from what we’ve seen so far, they have had the most fabulous time.
Ask Charmaine Matiaha, the captain of the Tai Tonga 41 degrees Paddling team from Patea, New Zealand, and she is happy to tell us all about it.
“I have been to regattas in Rarotonga, Tahiti, Hawaii and done a few world sprints but the location here has been great,” she said.
“The harbour I find is handy to get to. We searched online for accommodation and where things are. Knowing that this is where the races are being held it’s nice and central, it’s close to the city. We’ve had a good time.”
She’s not the only one.
Paddlers from Team Hikoikoi, Wellington, New Zealand are equally thrilled.
“It’s my first time here and I’m absolutely loving it,” Ron said. “Looking at the local life and chilling out with the people has been really good. We had a great experience with Chef John who took us out to the Trench, it’s been absolutely wonderful.”
Tomas from Argentina had this to say: “All my impressions of Samoa have been positive, I find the country side is so clean, tidy and green. The nature and water is fantastic.”
“Also the people here are very friendly and helping, everyone has big smiles and reach out to you to say hello – it’s a really welcoming attitude. I’ll come back to Samoa for sure and hopefully explore the other islands.”
Tomas also has another reason to love Samoa.
“I find a loot of effort and focus is on family here. For us Argentinians, family and faith are really strong - so it feels like home here. I went to church on Sunday; it really felt like being back home in Argentina with all the beautiful singing. I just randomly found a church.”
“I have been sending pictures back to my family and they are going crazy about my pictures and how everything looks here, they want to come and visit in the future.”
Moana of Wellington is in Samoa for the first time. She said it is great to come to an event with lots of Polynesians and it’s been awesome to see so many Maori, Samoans, Tongans, Hawaiians and Fijians come together for such a positive event.
“It’s been a totally good location here for these races. Especially being here at Aggie’s Sheraton, we are right out on the waterfront, which has been helpful for us.”
“What I have noticed within the past couple of regattas that I’ve also done, is that the closer to the venue you are the easier it is for you and the teams that come over. So it’s been a great location with its beautiful views and scenery.”
We can go on and on with the positive comments but we will stop here for the sake of time and space. But you get the general drift.
The fact is there is no reason why Samoa cannot become the paddling capital of the Pacific. Given our proud ocean history and our God-given magnificent surroundings, who wouldn’t want to experience paddling the pristine waters of beautiful Samoa?
I know a little bit about paddling and I can tell you we have got some of the most stunning views to enjoy once you muster enough courage to grab a paddle and head out.
Apia is a magnificent place to look at with its picturesque scenery once you are on the water. There is nothing better than feeling the canoe gliding along smoothly as the sun rises or sets in Apia. I tell you it is a worthwhile adventure.
Venture out of Apia towards Solosolo, Fagaloa and Aleipata heading east is equally fabulous. For those looking for a more challenging adventure, paddling to Savai’i and back is one of the toughest challenges there is to be done here. It’s another must do activity if you want to see Samoa from a different view. It’s not easy but it is worthwhile.
The point is that it is wonderful to see the effort gone into hosting Festivals such as the Alo Paopao and the Le Aito later this week. There is no reason why we shouldn’t try to attract more of these races all year round.
We’ve got the surroundings for it, we have the facilities to host now it’s just a matter of pushing it more and getting the right support on board and Festivals like the Alo Paopao can only get bigger and better.
To all the crews visiting this week, we say Talofa lava and welcome.
Be water safe and God bless!
Now paddles up, alo!