Molokai Hoe 2016 – The “Professionalism” of Tahiti

The 64th running of the Molokai Hoe would see a remarkable achievement in Tahiti’s “Shell Va’a” winning their 10th Molokai Hoe & an equally remarkable response in the suggestion from certain Hawaiians that the superiority of the Tahitians was due to their being “professionals”.

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Mother Nature was generous today in offering paddlers wonderful conditions for the event – clear skies, a gentle breeze slightly from behind & a slight bump from a head-on swell if only to remind paddlers that they were crossing Kaiwi Channel, one of the world’s most treacherous crossings , the mid-section of which is known as “the washing-machine”.

The Tahitians had arrived along with teams from Japan, Hong Kong, Brazil, New Zealand, France, Australia & the US mainland to do battle with the Hawaiians. Almost 100 teams would line up at the start to do battle in this the World Championship of ocean paddling.

Given today’s conditions – specifically, a lesser number of variables seeing most taking the same line – a good start was paramount . Being amongst the leaders in reaching the first paddler change gives leaders an advantage due to the congestion & associated level of danger for those arriving later.

The cream always comes to the top & the first half hour of the course – which involves a sprint under cover of Molokai’s La’au Point to join the open sea – Shell would lead from EDT & Shell ‘B’ with the 2 favoured Hawaiian teams – Primo & Red Bull – just behind. Indeed this is the order in which the leading teams would remain ……….. right through to the finish.

In terms of the opening paragraph of this report, Red Bull warrants a mention here. With Tahiti winning the last 11 Molokai Hoes straight & more often than not filling all the places on the winners dais should they send at least 3 teams, a certain level of frustration has set in in Hawaii. One can understand the Hawaiians sense of humiliation in considering that last year the first Hawaiian crew finished 18 minutes behind the winning Tahitian crew in a performance members of the Hawaiian crew described thus: At least we could see the Tahitians this time”!

For 4 years now a composite team of Hawaiian paddlers, paddling under the name of Mellow Johnny’s has trained in Tahiti & with Tahitians. The aim was to learn the paddling technique of the Tahitians ……….. if the boats were basically all the same the difference must be in the paddling technique, now mustn’t it! This team now known as Red Bull is the first Hawaiian team to fully master the Tahitian paddling technique & there were high expectations.

To add to the veracity of the Hawaiian drive for paddling supremacy, many felt that the entry of a major international sponsor – Red Bull – would make victory inevitable …. the Tahitian supremacy after all must be due to the fact that “they were professionals”! A spectacular Red Bull Youtube video would see views soar, & to ensure all angles were covered a sweep from Tahiti was retained to steer Red Bull whilst another Tahitian was the va’a’s ‘motor’ – the number 4 paddler who provides the power. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

That the paddlers of Red Bull were overjoyed is one thing (even if only ‘teased’ by the sponsor as claimed by a former Mellow Johnny’s crew member) but whether or not it was seen in the same light by the local community is another …….. but that’s a different story.

In reaching the open seas off La’au Point the conditions, though not favourable were not inhospitable either. The crossing would demand an enormous & constant physical effort from those who would reach Oahu first. One can only marvel at the winning crews ability to maintain a stroke rate in the vicinity of 60/70 throughout the race. Perhaps herein too lies an explanation as to the Tahitian superiority – in Tahiti there are around 50 major paddling competitions per year when compared to perhaps a dozen in Hawaii.

Such a programme demands ‘professionalism’ but it is not of the monitary kind. Paddlers in Tahiti rise at 3.30am to be at training at 4am. They then go to work where the work day starts at 7.30am, seeing paddlers back in the water training by 4pm only to arrive home at 8pm before the cycle repeats itself. They have jobs, they are not paid to simply paddle.

Add to this the fact that the governing body in Tahiti gives equal weight to ‘development’ as to ‘tradition’. Advancements & improvements in craft design & equipment are encouraged. This sees paddlers actually paddling many different craft both va’a & other canoes – a member of today’s winning Shell crew, Hiromana Flores actually won the World Series Championship event, the Maraamu Surf Ski just last month – need I add beating a number of prominent ‘professional’ paddlers!

As mentioned by me in coverage of last year’s event : “There was a period of some 20 years when Tahiti could not break through to win. The Tahitians used that time to train their youth & to work on their paddling technique. The Tahitians are now reaping the benefits of that effort……………. & enjoying it!”

A move in the right direction is to see certain Hawaiian clubs generously inviting certain elite junior & veteran Tahitian paddlers to compete with them in this great race – the benefits flow both ways!

In watching Team Primo, a composite team of talented & dedicated paddlers in much the same way as Tahiti’s successful Paddling Connection, finish fourth & the first Hawaiian crew home, one place ahead of Red Bull, one has to wonder whether being a paid professional is really the answer.

Recognition must go to Shell – in a race which required power with little asistance from race conditions to finish within 1 minute of the race record is outstanding. Team spirit is an important factor in any sporting event & to witness Shell ‘B’ finishing 3rd with a paddler over 5o years of age (& a late replacement for a sick team member) is another story of what makes a team great.

There’s one other piece of magic in the mixture of Tahitian winners that I can’t conclude without adding. Every Molokai a group of Tahitains – part of the Tahiti Mana group headed by Manarii Gauthier – make Waikiki rock to the sounds of toeres to welcome in the Tahitian paddlers, no doubt giving them that added drive to succeed.

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Tahiti is today clearly at the top of the outrigger canoe world ………… we will all follow closely the direction taken to ensure that superiority is maintained.

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