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Bump, Set, Samoa

So the guys tell me they love to play volleyball. I’ve played some myself, so I think maybe I’ll join them in a pick up game. The court is a cracked concrete pad with two uprights anchored in tires and a tattered net. I think, How good could these guys be?

The game is underway when I arrive. The rag tag group—guys playing six on six, with a seventh woman serving—in their lavalavas and worn out flip-flops looks pathetic; the court is gravely and riddled with small ankle-twisting potholes. I sit down to watch.

Once again, I am blown away by the physical prowess of the Samoans—this is the best amateur volleyball game I have ever seen, by far! It’s like watching the Harlem Globetrotters. The game is relentlessly fast paced, about 50 percent faster than in the States. Everyone plays like they are possessed—perfect digs and bumps; quick sets; back-sets; fake spikes; single, double, and triple blocks; and hitters flying in from all directions. Spikes are going down so hard that the half-dead ball is careening into the jungle or bouncing off the nearby corrugated-metal houses. There are precious few unforced errors; even well-blocked spikes get dug back up by lightening reflexes and an uncanny sense of position.

As usual, there is no personal aggrandizement—no “claims” or high-fives (and definitely no pats on the butt)—it’s a team effort. They are certainly having fun—lots of laughing and high spirits—but only stoicism for individual moves.

Needless to say, I remain a spectator, as my skills are rusty at best, and never up to this standard. The game goes on for two grueling, sweaty, fun hours. As the sun begins to set, the players spontaneously scatter for dinner. (There are no “goodbyes” here—people just walk away.)

One last thing, most of the guys who just put on this extraordinary exhibit of athletic skill and stamina had worked in the jungle carving canoes all day!

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