The world’s greatest outrigger canoe (va’a) race – the Hawaiki Nui Va’a – is underway!
Contested over the next 3 day for a total distance of 128.7km, a record number of 147 va’a are here to test themselves against the best in a competition that defies superlatives. This year teams have come from as far afield as California, Hawaii, Japan, New Caledonia, Guyana, France, New Zealand & Peru, the first ever team from South America to compete. The race is transmitted across television screens world-wide – here’s the set-up of one TV station situated alongside Bora Bora’s legendary Matira Beach:
The local champion men’s teams are well known to readers including ‘Shell Va’a’ who have won 10 of the last 11 Molokai Hoes, ‘EDT Va’a’, the only team to have beaten Shell in the Molokai Hoe in over ten years & looking here to win their 3rd consecutive Hawaiki Nui Va’a, ‘Team OPT’ who have performed well this year winning a number of the lead-up races to the Hawaiki’Nui Va’a & who have trained specifically for the event. Amongst those who have come to do battle with the local champions a number warrant special mention:
Red Bull – in covering this year’s Molokai Hoe I made a certain Reference to Red Bull & their performance compared to that of the Tahitians. These guys have trained hard for a number of years under different names & will be competing in a new va’a constructed specifically for them in Tahiti. I for one have predicted that the Hawaiians may well win their first Hawaiki Nui Va’a within the next 3 – 4 years & will be closely watching their performance.
Another innovation for this year is the competing of a team of handicapped Tahitian paddlers in the juniors division. These guys are, in fact in training in the hope of being a 100% Tahitian team competing in the next Para-Olympics to be held in Tokyo in 2020.
The team from Guyana actually train back home in one of their traditional craft – a 12 man canoe with no balance. Today’s 6 man with a balance va’a would be a special treat.
This is also an interesting event for purists as with Tahiti hosting next year’s World Outrigger Canoe Championships the local constructors of va’a have been hard at it preparing new craft in the hope of producing vessels that will give their lucky paddlers a certain ‘edge’. (Check out Matahina and also Fai if you are interested.)
The President of French Polynesia & the High commissioner arrive in the company of the Mayor of Bora Bora to witness what is always a traditional battle:
The History of the Hawaiki Nui Va’a & the Cultural Significance of this magnificent event are already detailed in Bora Bora Insider – it makes for great reading & a better understanding of this exceptional spectacle.
For this, the 25th running of the event, 97 teams faced the starter’s gun for the first leg – a battle across open waters with the finish being contested by those who could dig deepest. The race started from Huahine & ended in Raiatea. The conditions were ideal for ‘pedestrians’ – those lucky enough to witness this great contest – but the sun & heat of the day would be testing on paddlers in the almost idealic conditions seaside – a gentle 1.5m swell behind & around 12 knots of ocean breeze.
Shell led the field through the pass at Huahine’s Avamoa Pass with other favourites, OPT – both A & B teams, & Paddling Connection in hot pursuit. Many had their eyes on Paddling Connection – a certain key paddler in the team is known equally for his enjoyment of the good life as much as his paddling genius ….. those who saw him slimmed down to a racing machine as he took the boat from Papeete to Huahine for the event knew that Paddling Connection meant business this year!
It was a great race this year with the top 5 teams spread over the essentially three ‘course options’ with all 5 va’a within 500m of each other & the lead throughout the race (& all paddling Matahinas). First to enter the pass always has an advantage in terms of the swell generated by the accompanying powerboats can wreak havoc on those that follow. OPT B was first into the pass some 50m ahead of EDT. EDT brute strength & the luck of a certain swell generated by the power-boats that followed would win 21 seconds ahead of OPT B with Shell A a further 1m.22secs back & Paddling Connection 2 minutes behind – the times are crucial as the overall placings in the event depend on the total time taken for the 3 legs.
Red Bull was the first foreign team to arrive. They finished 7th which was a credible performance.
Day 2 took paddlers on a 26km dash from Uturoa to Patio in Tahaa, the only leg conducted totally within waters protected by the outer reef. As with the first day it proved a guts & all fight all the way as crews sought to gain valuable seconds for their overall placing. The choice of course taken at the start of the race was a determining factor with OPT A opting for a line close to the reef rather than the island which would see them lead from start to finish. EDT, yesterday’s winner, was in fact 21st early in the race but in brilliant surfing skills using the wake of following boats was able to work there way through to a solid 2nd place & maintain the overall lead (based on time). OPT B was third & now holds that place overall behind the now 2nd placed OPT A.
Air Tahiti performed well today finishing 4th ahead of a somewhat tired looking Shell. A most interesting performance is that of Team Tubuai who finished 6th on day 1 & 7th today – an incredible performance from these paddlers from a small island in the Australs. Paddling Connection was there again finishing 9th, one spot ahead of Red Bull, the first foreign team home & a crew showing plenty of potential.
The 2nd leg of the men’s event was preceded by the Women & Juniors events conducted over a course between Tumaraa, on Raiatea’s west coast, up to Utorua via Avamoa Pass. A record 27 teams will compete in the women’s divisions with Peru will be present & a further 2 powerful teams from Hawaii competing.
Both races provided sensationally close finishes with the Junior team from Papara edging out that from Bora Bora – watching these guys, paddling is truly in great hands! The women’s event saw a titanic struggle with Teva just edging out Mata Are. (Interestingly the winners here paddled a Fai Va’a).
Although a scenic course, let’s hope they can all race the final leg to Bora Bora next year as this would be both justified & spectacular as well as adding greatly to the legend that is the Hawaiki Nui Va’a. If not (due to logistics such as the avaiability of va’a) then why not consider promoting a women’s (& Juniors) event in much the same way as the Na Wahine O Kei Kai!
Friday’s powerful thrust to Bora Bora marked the final leg of this great event. In completing the event the men’despite the pain & required focus, cross one of the world’s most stunning oceans for an arrival at Matira Beach – a setting on Bora Bora the beauty of which has led most to simply acclaim the island as ‘paradise on earth”. Paddlers are received in a ceremony worthy of their efforts:
Heading into today’s event EDT held only a 52 second advantage over Team OPT A with Team OPT B a further 47 seconds back – the duel matched the promis! To give readers an idea – 52 seconds would normally represent just short of 500m in ‘normal’ race conditions, very little in a race of this length. Today, with a later start than usual & given the calm conditions, would be HOT!
After the very scenic & protected run along Tahaa’s western coastline the top 6 teams – Team OPT A, EDT, Paddling Connection, Team OPT B, Shell A & Shell B – surged to the lead on heading through the pass. For purists it is interesting the see the top teams lift their rating as they move into a head-wind, in order to keep the all important momentum of the va’a running.
From the pass through to Bora Bora the slight breeze was from behind with a small, maximum 1m, swell from the left. In these conditions the wisdom & experience of the sweep is critical – the va’a finding the best swell could well steal the race. This fact would see the leading craft moving between 3 logical course options looking for any slight advantage. In reality, however, it was power & dedication, will-power & endurance that would win the day (as well as all those Lucky enough to be present on a sensational & pqcked Matira Beach.)
The totally ecstatic winners EDT Va’a as they head to victory:
Congratulations to EDT Va’a for their 3rd consecutive win & to OPT A & B for filling the minor placings. Congratulations to Paddling Connection on their 5th overall placing proving those on a small budget can mix it with the best. There is no superlative to match the feat of Team Tupuai, that small dot in the Pacific way south of Tahiti, for their outstanding 8th overall. Finally Red Bull, the Hawaiian team & first foreign team home showed they are serious about winning this event. Aware that it will take a number more years of preparation, they purchased a new Matahina Va’a which they will take back & use.
I can’t tell you how great this event & this day at sensational Matira Beach are …. visitors to these shores should strongly consider the date!