Ten years down the line, and the Savai’i Crossing hosted by Pualele Outrigger Canoe Club, is still considered one of the most challenging outrigger canoe races held in Samoa.
Drawing participants from around the Pacific, it tests the strength and endurance of local and international paddlers alike.
Set against one the most beautiful backdrops in the world, the Savai’i Crossing is a 42km race from the shores of Mulifanua (Upolu) to the Salelologa wharf (Savai’i) and back.
Passing the smaller islands of Manono and Apolima situated in the Apolima Strait, and an occasional ferry in its path. If the weather is in your favour, one has to tolerate burning sun beating down on your back as you race across metre high waves while pulling yourself in and out of the va’a (canoe) multiple times; if the weather is not in your favour, add 3 metre waves, torrential downpours, and no visibility…how long will you endure all of this? Anywhere between 3 to 6 hours. Sound fun? It is!
The first Crossing was held in May 2008. The event was meant to be a challenge just for the members of Pualele and thus was made of two va’a of men’s teams with a support boat. It was meant to be a serious physical challenge but also fun for the club.
“Part of Pualele’s desire to host the race was to provide unique paddling opportunities for its members,” said Cam Wendt, former President of Pualele who was instrumental in creating the Savai’i Crossing event.
”Also, there was talk from a group in New Zealand, who were interested in doing a Savai’i Crossing and the Exec at the time decided that Pualele needed to do it first!”
As the race began to draw more interest, it was organised under the umbrella of S.O.C.A as part of the training and selection for Samoa’s National Team for the 2009 Pacific Mini-Games in the Cook Islands.
The majority of the paddlers trying out for the National team were from Pualele with both National Coaches also coming from this club, (Cherith Lober-Women’s team; Cam Wendt-Men’s Team) and it was decided that the S.O.C.A Savai’i Crossing would be an excellent test of skill and stamina.
It was also the first time that a women’s crew took part in the Savai’i Crossing covering the first 21km.
Cherith Lober, Women’s Coach, described the experience, ”It was a thrill to iron out the Savai’i Crossing. We did it in 1hr:57mins. The best stretch is the washing machine between Apolima and Savai’i... I could feel the unease on the canoe but it tested the ladies mentally to paddle through their fears and appreciate the bipolar ocean conditions.”
2012 was the year the Savai’i Crossing became an official race.
Teams from overseas included: American Samoa, Fiji, and New Zealand.
Unlike the one day race it is now, this Crossing was a two day event with a 16K Iron around the Island of Manono and concluded with the Savai’i Crossing.
Local Clubs Tautai and Nafanua (who had a women’s team as well as men’s) also took part, bringing the number of teams to six.
Conditions were rough, so instead of going to Saleleoga teams turned around outside the reef in front of the Church at Salaelua and back. It was won by Team Fue’e from New Zealand in time of 3.15:12. It was also the first year the Crossing raised funds for the Samoa Cancer Society, donating $5,000.
Seven teams took part in the 2013 Savai’i Crossing (Tautai, Nafanua, Aliyah, Laumei, Vaailaufoe, Pualele and Alo Samoa from American Samoa).
Tautai had a substantial lead over all the teams but their ama fell off on the way back allowing all the teams pursuing to overtake them.
The 2013 Savai’i Crossing was eventually won by Nafanua O.C.C. in a time of 4.03:46. This is the fastest time to date for completing the Crossing.
A Women’s event was introduced in 2014, allowing Women’s teams to race formally. This was also the year with the most entries - 4 Women’s teams, 7 men’s teams and 1 mix team from Australia.
Conditions were the toughest to date with two teams losing va’a and a number of them not finishing. The Women’s race was won by Nafanua in a time of 6.19:11 while Pualele won the Men’s division in a time of 5.02:47.
“The Savai’i Crossing in my view is one of the toughest races on the international calendar. In other major international races, like the Molokai and Hamilton Island, the race conditions at times are rough with 20-25kts winds, 6-8ft swells, but this is all down wind and with the waves and current,” said Anthony Talouli, President of Pualele and long-time club member.
”For the Savai’i Crossing, you can have the same conditions 20-25kts winds and 6-8ft swells but this is only for the first half the race.”
“Just when you’re feeling tired, and you’re half way through the race you have to turn around and paddle all the way home against these elements. And the return leg usually takes twice as long. This is why I rank the Savai’i Crossing up there amongst one the toughest canoe races on the international scene.”
Now the Savai’i Crossing is an event for mixed teams, allowing men and women to race together against nature and test their stamina.
It has had many variations in the decade of its existence, but the adventurous spirit and desire for excellence that inspired the first race has not diminished, rather the challenge is open to all who love outrigger paddling and the open seas.