HawaikiNui Va’a

The Race that Stops a Nation



  • The ultimate test of paddler’s power, determination & endurance – mental & physical;
  • The world’s leading off-shore outrigger canoe race;
  • Sensational maritime journey through the world’s most stunning waterways;
  • Brilliant opportunities to snorkel, dive or fish the world’s most beautiful passes & lagoons;
  • Chance to participate in a culturally enriching experience;
  • Unforgettably jaw-dropping, gob-smacking finish at Matira Beach in Bora Bora.


The idea of conducting a prestigious event difficult enough to test both the physical & mental power of paddlers can be traced back to at least 1983. The idea gained momentum in 1984 with several friends pushing the idea to local authorities. It would not be until 1991, however, once many of the logistical issues had been ironed out, that a race from Tahaa to Bora Bora would see the day.

The following year, 1992, would see the running of the 1st Hawaiki Nui Va’a, a race conducted in 6 man va’a (outrigger canoes) designed specifically & fine-tuned regularly for off-shore racing, starting from Huahine – the most feminine of islands, soft & welcoming (hua meaning vulva, hine meaning woman), to Raiatea – the sacred island & centre of all Polynesia, then across to Tahaa – wild & mystical, before ending in Bora Bora – simply the world’s most beautiful island.


The Hawaiki Nui Va’a is conducted over 3 successive days over 3 consecutive courses as follows:

  • Day 1 (in green above) – A 45km race across the ocean from Huahine to Raiatea. The leaders will cover the distance in around 3 hours & 15 minutes; the course record – 3h 11’ 47”.
  • Day 2 (in yellow above) – A comparative ‘sprint’ of 26 km within the lagoon from Raiatea & Tahaa. The leaders will complete the course ‘comfortably’ within 2 hours; the course record – 1h 52’ 49”.
  • Day 3 (in mauve above) – A gruelling 58km race across the ocean that separates Tahaa for Bora Bora. The leaders will complete the leg in just over 4 hours; the course record – 4h 07’ 01”.

The winner of the event is determined by the overall time taken to complete the 3 legs; the fastest overall time in any one year – 9h 20’ 51” (Shell Va’a 2009).

On the afternoon of Day 1, races are also conducted for women & for junior men in a 24.5km race both inside the lagoon & in the open seas between Raiatea & Tahaa as outlined in red in the above image.


Hawaiki Nui Va’a 2013

This year’s event was conducted on the 6th-8th November 2013 & marked the 22nd consecutive running of the event. 124 magnificent va’a crews ‘paddled their guts out’ over 3 days the majority to complete the Hawaiki Nui Va’a, the world’s greatest outrigger canoe race ending on the world’s most beautiful lagoon:




The powerfully built Tahitian paddlers take you back to the days when Polynesians were a race of fierce warriors; these guys are built like Atlas to a man! The Tahitians are world champions in this discipline – to watch the best at any sport has a certain appeal & one can’t help but reflect on the All Blacks who are world champions in rugby. It takes a particular mixture of courage & determination, of power & endurance, of agility & mental aptitude to succeed at this level.

Hundreds of support vessels & many hundreds of spectators follow the race throughout the competition. The adrenalin pumps for spectators & competitors alike!

In advance of this year’s competition, the favourite for the event was Shell Va’a who only last month won their 8th consecutive Molokai Hoe. Shell Va’a would make a critical error in judgement in determining the line they would take in leg 1; the error would cost them the race & see the event thrown wide open into a gripping challenge between 4 great teams. Indeed Shell Va’a would be thrown over in the big swell which accompanied the paddlers on the last leg to Bora Bora; the event is not without its spectacular moments!

The finish of this year’s Hawaiki Nui Va’a 2013 race:

Back on Matira Beach its party time – everyone from Bora Bora is there, the locals drapped in floral leis & couronnes:


Beers chilled in the ocean whilst awaiting the arrival of the paddlers:


This race defies superlatives. The final leg was conducted in 3m following swells seeing the va’a surfing at break-neck speeds in the charge towards Bora Bora. To witness the finish at Matira Beach is a gobsmacking sight you’ll never forget!


I’ve asked many a paddler what it is that really hurts in a competition such as the Hawaiki Nui Va’a – is it the arms, the shoulders or maybe the back…?  To a man I have always received the same response: “It’s your backside that kills you!”

The Hawaiki Nui Va’a is not only Tahiti’s premier sporting event but also a major event in the social calendar of locals in all of French Polynesia. Teams came from far & wide to compete, for many it’s the dream of a lifetime, & are followed back at home in far-away archipelagos by radio, by TV, by any means to see how their home-town team is performing. For those living in the Society Islands of Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa & Bora Bora where the race is conducted it’s a particularly vibrant time. Hawaiki Nui – it’s the race that stops a nation!

The winners celebrate on Matira Beach:


Some points of interest:

  • The largest number of  va’a (pirogues or outrigger canoes) to compete in the Hawaiki Nui Va’a was 158 in 2011.
  • Paddles are made mostly from Kevlar & wood to give overall strength & lightness. The angle of entry varies according to purpose; the length adjusted to match the paddler. Expensive to break!
  • The va’a are weighed prior to competition & must weigh a minimum of 150kgs.
  • Prizemoney is paid down to the 15th placegetter overall with the winning crew for 2013 to receive 1,200,000 Fcfp (2nd – 780,000Fcfp & 3rd – 490,000Fcfp).
  • Va’a is the most popular sport in French Polynesia with 6,500 licenced competitors in 600 clubs & a further estimated 22,000 who paddle for pleasure.


For those interested in paddling here’s the link to an event I covered in Vietnam recently – http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/35632-SOC-TRANG-quot-Oc-Om-Boc-quot


  • Arrange well in advance if you wish to accompany the event by boat;
  • Accommodation can difficult to find during the competition, especially in Bora Bora;
  • Be careful, you’ll wish you were paddling with them!

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