Sitting on the Shoulder
This story was sent to us by Ari Lurie from Tahiti. He is an avid outrigger paddler and surfer.
'Haole go home.' This glaring message was scrawled across a building in the center of town. I was visiting the port of Fare on the beautiful French Polynesian island of Huahine. I smiled at its bluntness but stopped to wonder about what had transpired to make local people feel this way. It's not hard to imagine. Travelers have come to this island for years to surf and enjoy the Polynesian lifestyle. I'm sure some were gracious and unobtrusive while other visitors probably lacked respect. Huahine is a gorgeous place, the people are truly welcoming, but like most islands they are protective of their sanctuary.
It makes sense to understand the history of one's surroundings. France colonized the Polynesian islands just 120 years ago. So it's easy to understand why locals would be skeptical of foreigners.
After my last trip to French Polynesia a friend of mine gave me some great advice: ease yourself very slowly and graciously into your surroundings. Bring some gifts, be patient, paddle out to the lineup and sit on the shoulder, celebrate other surfers’ waves, smile with them. When the people of the island are ready they will welcome you. So on my next visit to Huahine I did just that.
My first day in the water I paddled out and parked myself on the shoulder, making it clear to all that I was the guest. I remained there for close to an hour. As hollow waves pealed down the line I sat and enjoyed the barrel rides of others, laughing and hollering in appreciation of their skills. Eventually the guys in the lineup were flashing shakas back to me, and smiling. There were good vibrations among us. Then one man waved me over. I was invited to partake in the fun. When the next set approached the man looked at me and said, 'You go.' I’m not sure what was better, floating down the face of the wave or feeling welcomed.