Tamahana – Paddling in Paradise

The Va’a (Tahitian outrigger canoe) has been in existence for at least 4,000 years & competition amongst different va’a has existed for just as long. Most of the Pacific islands were settled by Polynesians aboard their va’a. Over history the va’a has been used for transport purposes, war, fishing as well as competition.

Major competitive racing in the va’a traces its roots back to the 19th century, particularly to the annual staging of the Heiva or the Tiurai as it was known at that time – see the Report on the Heiva I Bora Bora 2013 . The Heiva  is an excellent time for visitors to join with locals in watching races in single manned, 6-manned & double hulled 12 man crews. Its a wonderful display of power & colour forming a central theme to the Polynesians celebration of their culture. The Tahitians, of course, are world champions in the discipline, a sport growing rapidly internationally & now extensively practiced world-wide. It adds much to know that you are watching the very best!

Those not fortunate enough to be here for the Heiva should keep an eye out for various competitions that are conducted throughout the year. You’ll be aware that competition is at hand upon seeing the tell-tale signs of a large gathering of spectators, many outriggers & such improvised structures as a restaurant or a prize-giving/dance area where coconut leaves enclose the area concerned. A roadside ‘pointer’ that festivities are at hand:


The race venue for this the 1st Edition of the Tamahana Race also included several petanque grounds much to the delight of all present – see the Report on Petanque – & the prize-giving dance ran through until 2am!

The race was for V1 (single manned outriggers). Such an event presents spectators with the chance to witness a spectacular start – competitors start from the beach & as the start flag drops they pick-up their outriggers & charge into the water, jumping into their canoes with great agility before racing away. To witness the start of such a event is something special – if you think it’s easy, ask someone if you can try to paddle his outrigger & see if you can remain upright!



The race got underway under pleasant skies with the 30 odd competitors facing a southerly of just under 15 knots. It’s hard paddling into the wind but such a breeze keeps paddlers cool & makes for superb ‘surfing’ conditions when the wind is at your back.

The Tamahana course started beachside, mid-way between the Maitai & the Sofitel Resorts taking paddlers out around the Sofitel Island Resort & the adjoining motu before they battled their way down to the Intercontinental Thalasso Spa & then back to where they had started.

It would be almost 2 hours of intense battle & effort before the leaders came into sight with 3 paddlers sufficiently well placed to win. The winner would take home a trophy plus a cheque for 40,000xpf (around $US500) with 30,000xpf & 15,000xpf going to 2nd & 3rd respectively. Here’s the winner taking his last stroke before, accompanied by his proud son reaching the finish line & being given a traditional lei:




Third place was filled by Henere, a paddler from Motu Roa – that’s his father & brother in the aluminium boat pictured behind him; his brother, Honoura, won a silver medal in the World Outrigger Championships held in Sacremento, USA in 2008:



If you get the chance to witness such an event, grab the opportunity & why not try your hand in an outrigger or in playing a little petanque all with a deeper understanding of the culture & of what is happening around you.

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