Laauli Alan Grey memorial race this weekend, from Sheraton to Sheraton

Samoa's sporting and tourism champion, the late Laauli Alan Grey will be the face of the annual Sheraton Aggie Grey's to Sheraton Mulifanua this Saturday.

Nearly 50 paddlers and several sailors will undertake the 34 kilometer journey, starting before 7am on the shores of Aggie Grey's in Apia.

Organiser Ulugia Jay Ah Fook-Schuster said not only is this year's race special because of Laauli's memory, but because it signals the beginning of a new drive to improve water safety in Samoa.

"We've come to the realisation while we're trying to develop the sport is that a lot of our people actually don't know how to swim, and don't understand the currents and waterways," Ulugia said.

"A lot of our people are drowning every year."

This years sees the third Sheraton to Sheraton race, and fees and sponsorship leftover from putting on the event will go towards a fund for water safety projects.

Ulugia said swimming is no longer an automatic skill for many Samoan children, whereas when he grew up, it was a given.

"Kids just don't get out on the water, and parents don't get out on the water. 

"Back in my days there were only one or two families in the village who had a TV, so the rest of us were out here playing games," he said.

To get more people understanding how the seas currents work, and learning how to swim, Ulugia said he has been speaking with the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (MESC) and the Samoa Swimming Federation to integrate some lessons into the curriculum.

As well as that, the Alo Paopao development trust are connected to their own villages and can start there. Ulugia is from Maninoa, and wants to begin water safety programs there before taking it around others.

"Being a Pacific Islander, swimming should be something everybody does, you should know how to swim," he said.

"Just like we teach our young people the fa'aSamoa, it's not just the way you speak, it's not just the way you dance, it's the way you live.

"For us, back then, we didn't have to teach people how to swim, that's just how everyone lived, they fished to survived."

As for the Laauli Alan Grey memorial race, Ulugia has big dreams for its development, like making it a must-do race for the Pacific.

"In the future we're looking at having any vessel out there, it could be the paopao, stand up boards, windsurfers, we all meet together in the harbour and everyone journeys out together to Mulifanua.

"I think I would like to get it to that stage, it will be a very special event."

He would also like to see Tahitian and Hawaiian paddlers participating, which would then encourage the international community to take interest too.

"The course itself is a very attractive course. There are races like this in Tahiti and in Hawaii, and you don't really find conditions like this in New Zealand, so this could potentially be one of the big events in the Pacific.

Registration closes at 6:30am on Saturday 23rd and the first races kick off at 6.45am. The race is expected to take between two and three hours, and spans 34 kilometers. 

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