The Surfing Chief of Tiavea Samoa- Ben Haggar
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FIELD TRIPS

The Surfing Chief of Tiavea


From first sight, the bay looked like a surfing paradise.  A dense thicket of unbroken jungle was a stationary avalanche of chaotic, twisted trees and vines that somehow clung to the steep volcanic spires before spilling into the crystalline sea.  The coral shelves extended from the shoreline to a group of jagged black sea stacks which painted infinite shades of blue and green.  Waves peeled perfectly in every direction only a few feet above the colourful ocean floor. Little did we know we’d run into the surfing chief of Tiavea

What Dreams are Made Of

We had our pick of a left-hand point, pitching top to bottom barrels along the entire length of the reef.  A river mouth wedge, which would rear up out of deep water to double in size at the take-off, trounced the unwary.  And a gigantic heaving right bombora waited in vain for a courageous soul.  All sharp, all shallow, and all perfect.

Ben Haggar Surfing Chief Tiavea
photo: Ben Haggar

The Bumpy Road to Paradise

The rusting blue Toyota Rav4 bounced and squeaked down the steep dirt path, sending bright brown mud flying up from its bald tires, plastering the sides of the car.  As we reached the village gate, a big Samoan smile waved us on through.  Almost all of the villages on Samoa have a toll gate to enter – usually manned by the chief of the village or one of his family members.  

“We don’t have to pay here?” I asked my Aussie ex-pat surf guide, Brett.

“Na, I let him use one of the old boards and he’s cool with us surfing here.  He breaks so bloody many of them though, it’s not really worth the toll!”

Ben Haggar Surfing Chief Tiavea
A perfect wave peels down the point at Tiavea Bay. Upola, Samoa.

The Surfing Chief- Samoan Style

We parked in the shade of a giant banyan tree to get suited up.  Immediately the chief sauntered over to us from the toll gate, and in his thick South Pacific islander accent, asked us if we had a board for him to use.  Dressed in a typical lava lava (sarong) he was much slimmer than your average Samoan.  His muscular body was covered in traditional tattoos – presumably administered with a sharp bone and wooden hammer.  He grabbed one of Brett’s boards and started to paddle out towards the wedging river mouth.  

“He’s heading out just like that, huh?” I asked.

“Yup, you might get an eyeful out there…” Brett replied.

Ben Hagger Surfing Chief Tiavea
Photo: Ben Haggar

Pure Pleasure

Brett and I paddled against the currents to join the chief at the river mouth.  The water was a bright, beautiful, tropical blue and clear enough to define individual plates of coral below.  Mesmerized at the aquarium under my feet, I almost forgot where I was as a large set approached.  I paddled out towards the relative safety of a deep water channel and watched as the chief took off on a bomb of a wave.  

Completely out of control, he somehow managed to stay upright as the wave pitched over his head and he slotted himself awkwardly inside the barrel.  As he came back up the face and near the top of the wave, the board and his legs went skyward while the lava lava, along with the rest of his body, headed for the sea.

A few seconds later, he popped back up from the foaming whitewash laughing through a gigantic smile with no lava lava in sight.  Bare assed, he clambered back onto his board and paddled around looking for that pesky lava lava.

Check out another of Ben’s surf adventures here.


Ben Haggar

The author Ben Haggar

Ben is a Squamish based photographer and writer. Using surfing and mountain biking as catalysts, he aims to meld action sports with experiential travel in remote and wonderful locations around the globe. Ben also works as an Assistant Expedition Leader planning and executing expeditions in the Polar regions, but misses BC's alchemy of hops and water when away. He is an ambassador for On-Sight Equipment. Follow him on Instagram @benhaggarphoto
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