Travel Diary: Pro Surfer Pancho Sullivan Rides Samoan Waves with Jack Johnson
Traveling the world in search of the greatest pipe is a lifelong mission for Pancho Sullivan, a former professional surfer who made his name over a 20-year career, in which he finished seventh on the World Championship Tour. Since walking away from the competitive circuit, Sullivan has teamed up with two surfing pals—and fellow entrepreneurs—Abe Allouche and Marty Pomphrey to form a new lifestyle watch brand, called Aulta.
Designed for the stylish sporty male, Aulta’s designs transition from the beach to the boardroom with the same ease it takes to click-to-buy (the next-generation brand follows a direct-to-consumer digital sales model).
In between building his lifestyle company, Sullivan still finds time to hit the surf, as he did on a recent trip to Samoa to celebrate the 40th birthday of his childhood friend, musician Jack Johnson.
The group posted up at Salani Surf Resort, set on the southeast coast of Upolu, the second-largest Samoan Island, for an unforgettable week of sun, sand, and surf.
“We explored waterfalls and local villages, heard amazing music, and laughed our asses off!” Sullivan recalls. “Life can be hectic and filled with tons of responsibilities. This trip reminded us that we all need time to feel carefree and be young again.”
Check out Sullivan and Johnson’s epic surf sabbatical, which included stunning waterfalls, buckets of local brew, and real life double rainbows.
Salani Surf Resort
Nestled along the Mulivaifagatola River are the eight beautiful bungalows that make up the Salani Surf Resort. This is the perfect launching pad to one of the best reef passes in the South Pacific. You fall asleep to the lullaby of waves hushing the shore, and wake to a view of the surf breaking over the reef.
In the morning, everyone wants to be on the first boat out. There are no other surfers for miles, and with a perfect right on one side of the pass and a left on the other, it’s easy to split the pack and catch more than your fair share of waves. Hydration and sunscreen are key.
Navigating the river mouth at low tide was a mystical adventure. Especially when you’re greeted by a double rainbow.
The tug of a wave’s underbelly draws you into the smooth euphoria of light and strength. Such grace can be seen only when you relax in the ocean’s power and keep your eyes wide open.
Surfing forces you to be present. In the moment. Alert. When you drop into a wave, there’s no time for stress—only the forgiving canvas of water, and the delineation of flight.
We didn’t want to miss a thing. There are no expectations when you venture out from Salani Surf Resort, but you’d better be prepared for what Upolu Island has in store. We always had a checklist: surfboards, water, snacks, sunscreen. Expect nothing. Appreciate everything.
Lots of waterfalls in Samoa, but Papapapaitai was my favorite. We stood looking across a narrow valley shrouded in mist, and we could barely see what was before us. Then, slowly, the clouds burned off, and this is what happened. Magic.
To Sua Pool
Nothing better than cooling off Samoan Style. After a big rain, the salty seawater of the To Sua Ocean Trench flows with the dappled-green of a mountain river. Because it’s fed by a labyrinth of sea caves, the pool’s depth fluctuates with the tide. And it’s appropriately named. In Samoan, “To Sua” means “Big Hole.”
Climbing Coconut Trees
After a surf, a hike, and a swim, hydrating right from the tree is always the best way to go. If you know how to climb coconut trees, that is. It takes strong toes and a firm grip to scale the long trunks. Kona Johnson proved that he’s mastered this skill.
The reefs that frame the Vavau coastline are riddled with sea caves. They seem to be connected like a chain of watery pearls. Over and over again, we free-dived out of one cave and into another that was more beautiful than the last.
The village takes pride in the health and abundance of their reefs, and they carefully maintain this resource using methods that have worked for thousands of years. Although reef fish are bountiful in Samoan waters, it’s always best to support the local fishing families.
Celebrating life the best way we know how. By staying young and surfing together like we’ve done since we were little kids. Great times, good laughs, and new stories to share.
Sitting around camp, sun-tanned, well fed, and surfed out. We’ve grown older. We’ve got families, jobs, and the pressures of a 21st-century life. But here, now, on this small island in the South Pacific, we are young again. Inspired by the surf, comfortable with lifelong friends, and reveling in the best music on the planet. It’s a great way to stroll into your 40s.
Bucket of Beers
Evening surf sessions usually end with one of these beautiful buckets of award-winning Vailima Beer. When the sun starts to drop behind the mountains, it’s time to climb into the boat, pop off the lid, and let the golden elixir loosen the joints.
Pancho Sipping a Beer
The way I see it is, if the beer bucket is in the boat, and I am surfed out, then it’s my job to break the ice.
Before the equatorial sun drops the curtain on another spectacular day of surf, the brilliant golds and soft yellows light the sky and tinge the water. This kind of sunset can alter your reality.
‘Ava is a ceremonial drink used to mark a special occasion. The ‘ava root is dried and ground into a powder, then added to water and strained before drinking. To celebrate a trip to remember, and to honor the timeless cultural traditions of these wonderful people, I threw back more than a few ‘ava-filled coconut half-shells.
At the end of an incredible week, we were treated to a Samoan feast. After the traditional Taualuga was danced, an 11-year-old fire dancer took the stage. Fearless and well trained, this little man set the place on fire. Literally.