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Manulele Tausala Low Rider takes 1st Place in Flag Day Fautasi Race

Nuuuli village celebrates

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A normal scene was played out all over American Samoa on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 after the Flag Day Fautasi Race. Villagers sporting their fautasi colors and flags packed vehicles and held motorcades all over the island showing their pride for their fautasi, despite the end results.

 Of course, a motorcade celebrating Nuuuli’s win of the 2024 Flag Day fautasi race was a given, with the Manulele Tausala Low Rider once again proving its design, as well as the strength of its crew and its Captain Taufetee Manutafea’s experience when it comes to competitive fautasi rowing.

The motorcade began from the Nuuuli boat shed in Utulei and made it  to the Nuuuli village, making the village round at least 4 times in celebration of its 2-peat win.

It is a 2-peat win, as it also won the 2023 Flag Day race, which started the Flag Day races in the Territory once again after a long hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions. The race also repeated its rivalry with Aua’s Paepaeleulupo’o, captained by Utaifeau Leonard Liufau.

Manulele Tausala #1 of Nuuuli village crosses the finish line to win the 2024 Flag Day Fautasi Race on Tuesday, April 23, 2024. Skippered by Taufete’e Manutafea, the Nuuuli fautasi was also the winner of last year’s fautasi race. [photo: faaTalanoa Media]

(Of note, Nuuuli did not not compete in the 2018 Flag Day race, the one before the COVID restrictions, because of damages the village sustained from Cyclone Gita. Nu’uuli’s Manulele Tausala Low Rider was a three-peat champion of the Flag Day fautasi race tradition at the time.)

 Considered the elder of the two fautasi that Nuuuli puts on the water for competition, the Low Rider is based on a design by the late Ben Solaita, and was built in 1993 — which also makes it the oldest boat to compete. It has competed in 30 races, just one year short of how old it is as of 2024.

The Low Rider gets it names from its design, which has it sitting lower and wider in the water than its competitors. It has a ‘rounded’ hull making gliding its power move when it makes it to inside the harbor without the ocean swells.

Nuuuli’s newer fautasi — Manulele Tausala II Air Force One — was bought from Aoa in 2012 and has not won a race. As a result, Nuuuli has tended to use the fautasi as a ‘training’ boat, introducing a much younger inexperienced crew to fautasi racing in real time.

Unsurprising, the race once again began with a controversial start. Never mind that it began a 1/2 hour early from its announced beginning time of 9 am, with even the commentators of KVZK-TV taken by surprise that the race had started. No one, except whoever started the race, seems to have heard the gun/ ‘pa o le faga’.

And the usual accusations followed with posts on social media pointing to either the Low Rider or Paepaeleulupo’o “jumping the gun” — depending which angle of a photo/ video shot was shown as proof. What is certain is that both fautasi started to battle it out on the vasa right away, with Aua’s fautasi leading the way until rounding the curve leading into the harbor.

The Paepaeulupo’o of Aua village is the second place winners of this year’s Flag Day Fautasi Race. Some of the crew are seen here looking across where hundreds of their family, friends and fans were yelling and cheering from the streets of Satala. [photo: faaTalanoa Media]

As in last year’s race these two fautasi would remain in the front and would be seen gliding across the water, as captains & crews set up for a perfect race finish that saw victory snatched up only in the last few minutes of the race to cross the ‘tigi’ line.

There was a moment that Fagasa’s Fealofani gave an excellent performance catching up to the two front runners, and giving both a run for the tigi, coming from the back, but then fell back to take 3rd place.

In the meantime, the front runners continued their battle inside the harbor, but Aua’s boat was unable to take the lead again after the Low Rider took it from them when they reached inside the harbor, around the area known as ‘glass harbor’.

The Low Rider’s rounder/ wider hull played out its gliding strength, allowing it to stay ahead by at least 2- 4 row seats each time Aua’s rowers put their strength to their oars for long pulls attempting to take the lead. Both fautasi continued to row until the end of the race. And from KVZK-TV footage, both crews were evenly matched, keeping pace with each other. Ultimately, the gliding power of the Low Rider kept it minutely in front.

There were nine fautasi that competed, including the new Iliili boat — Lupelele — that was officially christened in March of this year. Nuuuli put two fautasi in the water with Aua, Fagatogo, Fagasa, Iliili, Manu’a, Pago Pago and Vatia putting in one. All nine fautasi finished the race, without apparent damage or incident.