Destinations – UPOLU, SAMOA

WHERE: The rugged volcanic coastline of ‘Upolu, Samoa’s second-largest island, smack-dab in the center of the sultry South Pacific.

WHAT: A collection of powerful, coral-reef barrels and rich culture right in the heart of Polynesia. Samoa is regarded as the most traditional of all Polynesian nations, and ‘Upolu boasts an incredibly lush, steaming landscape, consistent swell, pristine surf spots, and friendly locals (as long as you’re chill-there are few things scarier than an angry Samoan dude).

WHEN: Antarctica and the North Pacific aren’t sissies when it comes to brewing swell, so you can generally find surf year-round on ‘Upolu. For the south coast, the best months to go are April through July, with April having the least wind. The east-southeast trade winds can be a buzz-kill in the dry season, which is also the surf season for the south coast. The north coast pumps from November to March. Fall is a dandy time for both coasts, since south swells often last into October, and we all know about those clean autumn pulses.

WHY: ‘Upolu is uncrowded and unspoiled because its waves don’t suit the average longboarder’s/novice’s/girl’s/pasty-geezer-with-a beer-gut’s tastes-hence ‘Upolu’s epic environs, its lack of local surfers, oodles of swell, and its authentic tropical allure. Samoa is primarily best for shortboarding, especially if you’ve got a penchant for tube-riding, because ‘Upolu barrels and spits and snaps boards with the best of ’em-there’s probably a Samoan Teahupo’o down there somewhere, but the world doesn’t know about it … yet.

HOW: You can fly direct from Los Angeles to Apia for about $1,000 with Air New Zealand (boards fly free). Connections to Apia can also be made via Honolulu aboard Polynesian Airways (Samoa’s national carrier) or Hawaiian Airlines. Once there, you can rent a car (about $40/day for a cheapie, but to expand your options we recommend renting a 4WD jeep for about $55/day), hire taxis, or ride the public bus, which stops near several surf spots and is a fun experience, though not real comfortable.

PLACES TO STAY: By South Pacific standards, ‘Upolu has a fairly decent tourism infrastructure (though it’s quite un-touristy), and you can find something within your budget in the capital of Aipa. From there, with a taxi or bus or rented jeep, you can easily access all of ‘Upolu. Those who want a little pre-paid surf guidance and quick access to boats might consider the pleasant fale (bungalows) at Sa’Moana Resort, Salani Surf Resort, or the Coconuts Beach Club, all three located on ‘Upolu’s surf-rich south coast.

PLACES TO EAT: If you stay at the aforementioned surf resorts, you’ll likely just eat there-the food is great. Otherwise, a plethora of South Seas grub is widely and cheaply available throughout the island, especially in Aipa (there’s a McDonald’s, too, but last we checked, Big Macs aren’t Polynesian). You’re in luck if you like breadfruit, coconuts, taro, pork, and fish, because Samoan meals are full of that stuff. Don’t leave ‘Upolu without partaking in an umu feast, where the food is cooked in a dirt oven.

BABES: Unless you’re keen for big, friendly Polynesian ladies, you probably won’t do too well on ‘Upolu. Of course, this isn’t to say there are no hot women on the island, because there are, but if you actually hook up with one, you’ll be expected to marry her or you’ll be smashed by her three linebacker-sized brothers. Seriously.

CROWD FACTOR: Since the advent of packaged surf tours on ‘Upolu, all-star spots like Boulders, Coconuts, and Nu’usafe’e can get relatively “crowded” on good days. If you’re cruising independently, you can most definitely scout your own spot on any given day. But if you’re booked at one of the surf joints, plan on surfing with the guys staying at your resort, and sometimes the resorts take guests to the same spots concurrently. Needless to say, ‘Upolu is far from crowded, and almost none of the locals surf, but it probabbly won’t be long until they catch on.

STUFF TO BRING: There are no surf shops on ‘Upolu, so bring everything you’ll need, especially reef booties (unless you’re one of those cool guys who never wears ’em) and a first-aid kit in case you get slammed onto the healthy coral reef like I did on my first wave of my first session at Nu’usafe’e. Obviously, ‘Upolu is tropical, so you won’t need a lot of clothing; sunblock and hats are always good, though.

IF THE SURF IS FLAT: Ever played cricket? Samoans have their own version called kirikiti-it’s a blast, and the guys will gladly show you the ropes. If you’re a fan of the late writer Robert Louis Stevenson, pay a visit to his former home, now a museum. ‘Upolu’s fishing and diving are unreal, and its interior rain forests are equally epic for scenery, hiking, and waterfall fun. Lounging on an idyllic ‘Upolu beach isn’t so bad, and there are dozens to choose from.

HELPFUL WEB SITES: The surf tour operators’ sites have loads of good info-for starters, try wavehunters.com. For general information, the Samoa Visitors Bureau offers plenty at visitsamoa.com. Also try the Samoa Tourism Authority at visitsamoa.ws.-Michael Kew