Team Savai’i came from behind to win the Teams’ Upolo-Savai’i 22.3km swim race to Savai’i. Team captain Mailata Iosia Leau, who swam solo to Savai’i in 1988, led his team to an outstanding victory on Saturday. The other team members are Daniel Afoa and Sam Nimarota.
The swim is the opening act of the inaugural 2016 Savai’i Games. The other two events are the Ford Ride Savai’i 1 Day Challenge and the Savai’i Marathon later this week.
Team Savai’i’s time of 7hrs 55mins 20 seconds was quicker by five minutes over Team Samoa.
It was not an easy swim. The planned course to Salelologa was washed away by the mighty current that swept south to north across Apolima Strait. That current was aided by cyclone Zena that was blowing over Fiji all last week.
Team Savai’i was in prime position to take advantage of the recalculated finish line at Salelavalu. The team drifted further north, past Lalomalava, but came back to snatch the victory.
The strategy for both teams was to rotate the swimming every thirty minutes. That shortened considerably to 10mins at a time.
Team Savai’i tactic of short bursts of three to four minutes each, especially when entering the channel, seemed to work. At the start of the race, they were a long way back out of Mulifanua. But once they got into the open sea they got their mantra going and rotation working quite well.
“The current was very strong behind the reef and the breakers. For us to go forward and gain any distance we had to do short bursts of sprinting by each team member,” Mailata said after the race.
Team Samoa, captained by Kim Taunga of Auckland, had a more direct course to Salelavalu but were not as efficient in the entry through the channel to ward off Team Savai’i for the win. The other team members for Samoa, Shane Taivai Paulo and Steve Nimarota were prominent in the team effort.
“The problem for us was that our kayaker was not used to sea kayaks and he was going all over the place,” Shane Paulo said. “It was hard for us to follow the kayak.”
Both teams had their own difficulties. Team Savai’i was the first to be off the planned course having gone north early on in the race. Team captain Mailata calculated the current to be sweeping north to south, like it was in the 1988 swim he did.
On that swim the current swept swimmers behind Apolima and ended up at the Tafua headland where that swim finished.
Despite all the difficulties, the two teams were in celebration mode after the swim. This was a first for five of the team members.
Daniel Afoa was in awe of the swim course. “We could see the sea floor all the way to Apolima. Sure it was 40 or so meters below us, but it was amazing to witness what is down there.”
No one saw a shark or a fish in the deep. It was only on entering the channel to the finish that one of the solo swimmers spotted a reef shark. It was harmless.
The swim has given the team members huge inspiration for the future. A few of them will now aim to do the swim on their own in 2017.