Travel

Zita's simply oarsome

SOMETIMES the best man for the job is a woman. And that certainly applies to Samoan long boat racing where Zita Martel rules the ocean.

The director of inbound tourism operator Polynesian Xplorer and matai (chief) is a human dynamo in business, church and village life but the male-dominated sport is her passion.

"It's an absolute passion - an addiction," she said in the lead-up to the annual Teuila Festival Fautasi Challenge last September.

The fit-looking 50-year-old remains the only woman in the sport - the rose among the thorns - but her record speaks for itself.

"I'm the pain in the side of all the skippers," she said.

And only a fool would take the first and only female long boat captain in Samoa lightly.

The wife and mother of four boys, who is also honorary consul of France for Samoa, came into the sport by accident.

Her church in Siusega village on Upolu Island had built a boat but had no skipper and was floundering.

Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi - chairman of Zita's church and now Samoan Prime Minister - nominated her, she thought, as a joke because it is a traditional sport for men.

Sure, she had rowed while a student in New Zealand's Canterbury University where she met her husband Francois 27 years ago.

She had even tried her hand at outrigger canoeing, windsurfing and sailing in New Zealand and the Caribbean. But this was completely different.

She had never set foot in a long boat but you get the feeling she has never backed away from a challenge. And this was no different.

As skipper, her job is to stand and steer at the stern, with the drummer sitting at the bow at eye level, setting the pace of the oar strokes according to her instructions throughout each race, which is like chess in strategy.

Up to 45 people, including the skipper, drummer and oarsmen can man the 90ft (27m) long boats which generally cover a five-mile (8km) course and can reach up to 12 knots.

Samoa takes its long boat racing seriously, hosting two races a year: The Independence Day race on June 1 and Teuila Festival race each September.

Up to 80 people in each village can train for two to three months in the lead-up to the races before a final crew is selected.

Perhaps Zita's proudest moment came in 2010 in Samoa - a challenge race with a longboat from American Samoa after she and her crew from Don Bosco Technical Centre won there in 2006.

Her timber boat, built in 2002 inside a church hall at a cost of about $A25,000, was up against a state-of-the-art, carbon-fibre boat at a cost of about US$350,000 and boasting sliding seats, pumps, and dagger board.

Despite heavy betting that the sleek American longboat would win the race in the flat waters of Apia's lagoon, Zita's wooden longboat still won against all odds.

The unmistakable bright green and yellow boat - the colours of the segavao bush bird found around her village - was the one to beat at the 2011 Teuila Festival.

As it turned out, Zita was unable to compete as the race clashed with the Pacific Games being held in New Caledonia, where she was competing as a compound archer and came home with one gold and one bronze medal.

For the first time, the Teuila Festival race was to include a turn and in the end, the Digicel Segavao II Don Bosco longboat was put on the rocks at Mulinu'u Peninsula by another longboat and couldn't finish the race. Savaii came from behind in a thrilling finish to win the day from the eight teams competing and the 22,000 tala ($A9300) prizemoney.

But I'm willing to bet that won't be the last anyone hears of Zita Martel: longboat captain extraordinaire.

GOOD TO KNOW

Three airlines fly to Samoa

weekly out of Brisbane and Sydney: Air Pacific, Air New Zealand and Polynesian Blue.

See your travel agent for details.

Up to 80 people in each village can train for up to two months in the lead-up to the races before a final crew is selected

>> Read more travel stories.

Topics:  samoa, travel


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Region given good dousing

Sandy Willcott sent CQ News a photo of her backyard from the weekend's wet weather. She said she was lucky her house is on stilts otherwise she might've been flooded out.

Emerald has received it's highest July rainfall ever recorded

Police drug raids prove successful with arrests

Blackwater police has led the charge in drug raids across the Central Highlands.

Police drug raids prove successful with arrests

On track for Brazil

Anna Meares has been announced as flag bearer for Australia at the Olympic Games later this year.

Cyclist Anna Meares is on track for Brazil

Latest deals and offers

Pizza chain goes into voluntary administration

The Australian company confirmed the news via a statement their website late last week.

Giving hope to those touched by cancer

Bev Donohoe will lead the Central Highlands Relay for Life this year, 2016.Photo Rebekah Yelland / CQ News

Springsure's Bev Donohoe is the face of CH Relay for Life 2016

Ipswich MP wants "royal commission into black lung"

Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Minister for Corrective Services and Bundamba MP Jo-Ann Miller at the official swearing-in ceremony when Queensland Parliament resumed in Brisbane. Photographer: Liam Kidston. POOL IMAGES: FREE FOR EDITORIAL USE IN PRINT AND ONLINE

MP and coal miner's daughter wants royal commission into black lung

Region given good dousing

Sandy Willcott sent CQ News a photo of her backyard from the weekend's wet weather. She said she was lucky her house is on stilts otherwise she might've been flooded out.

Emerald has received it's highest July rainfall ever recorded

Flights cancelled as fog causes chaos at Brisbane Airport

Flights from Brisbane to regional Queensland have been affected

Guy Sebastian a hit at Splendour in the Grass

Guy Sebastian performs at Splendour in the Grass with Paces.

REALITY TV judge a hit with festival crowd.

Superheroes of the big screen enjoy sounds of Splendour

CHRIS Hemsworth and his Avengers mates drop by Byron festival.

Dynamic pics from Splendour Day 1

The Strokes perform at Splendour in the Grass 2016. Photo Marc Stapelberg / The Northern Star

Check out the latest pictures from Splendour in the Grass.

Bindi Irwin: 18 magic photos to mark her 18th birthday

Bindi Irwin with a python.

Photos: Bindi Irwin from babyhood to 18

Aussie director makes his mark on new Roots mini-series

Malachi Kirby as Kunta Kinte in a scene from the TV series Roots.

BRUCE Beresford behind final episode of remake of iconic series.

The Avalanches pull plug on live broadcast of Splendour set

The Avalanches are an Australian electronic music group.

RADIO listeners won't be able to tune in to the band's show tonight.

You can own this Queensland town for just $1

Yelarbon

Unprecedented auction of town's business centre with no reserve

Work starts on $15M Caloundra apartment building

Turning the first sod at the Aqua View Apartments site in Kings Beach are (from left) husband-and-wife developers Alex Yuan and Stella Sun with construction company Tomkins director Mike Tomkins and Councillor Tim Dwyer.

Developers excited about addition to Kings Beach skyline

72-year-old Coast developer set to start new project

GREEN LIGHT: The Cosmopolitan has been approved for development at Cotton Tree.

Meet the Canberran set to deliver another chapter for Coast suburb

Plans revealed for 1500-lot 'master-planned community'

Precinct will be bounded by Boundary St and Shoesmith Rd

Ecco Ripley sales run sparks prime release

MOVING IN: Sekisui House has announced the release of more residential blocks at Ecco Ripley.

Sekisui House is preparing to unveil more land at Ecco Ripley

The climb is slow but property on the way up

Michael Matusik, director of Matusik Property Insights.Photo Allan Reinikka / The Morning Bulletin

The improvement would be mild when compared to past cycles