The Tahiti Traveler

The Hawaiki Nui Va’a , the queen of outrigger canoe races – the race of champions

If there is an event in the year that symbolizes the commitment and the passion of Polynesians for outrigger canoe racing, it is the Hawaiki Nui Va’a Race . Every year, since 1992, the Hawaiki Nui Va’a Race is held in early November, between the islands of Huahine , Tahaa, Raiatea and Bora Bora . For Polynesians, the Hawaiki Nui Va’a symbolizes the biggest sporting event of Tahiti and her islands.

Spectators and avid aficionados of this race have to get up early and stay up late to see the V6 teams train for this challenge (V6 is the race category event of the 6 man race team) in all the lagoons of all the Polynesian archipelagos all throughout the year. Rain or shine, the rowers train, braving the waves and sometimes at night.  They row in quiet synchronicity, solely encouraged by the race directives of the” fa’ahoro “, the member of the race team that calls the shots to race rhythm and with a the mental fortitude and a nerve of steel.

A Way of life

Once the traditional mode of transportation between islands by the locals, the outrigger canoes have now been replaced by motorized boats. Nevertheless, it would be inconceivable to imagine Polynesians without their paddles today. Every weekend throughout the rowing season, direct radio and TV crews go head to head to cover the heart stopping marathons aimed to make prime time and the subject of every Monday office coffee break. OPT, Shell Va’a, EDT? Who won Saturday? It is not uncommon to see fans sporting tshirts or caps of their favorite team to show their support and join in the Hawaiki Nui fever …

Halfway between the marathon and Formula 1

Abreast of technological developments and athletic performance, the races have steadily evolved in distance and degree of difficulty. Distances often rival that of a marathon, if not exceed it.  The race equipment, starts to ressemble that of F1 racing in form and material, with reinforced carbon fiber fabrications and ultra slender hulls. Eventhough each team has their special “secret weapon”, they all have one thing in common.  They all train hard and enforce a strict diet comparable to that of any athlete. The price to pay for those who want earn their place on the starting line and aim for a place on the podium.

Hawaiki Nui Va’a, the great outrigger canoe challenge

2014 race video

“Hawaiki Nui Va’a” literally Great Hawaiki, named after the mythical island in which the settlement of the Polynesian triangle would have begun: Hawaiki in Maohi. And as Raiatea attracted Polynesians throughout the region in the pre-European period, the entire Pacific region partakes in the queen of outrigger canoe races.

On the water, it is not easy to clear a path since the pack is rather compact. Some 150 canoes, and even more support boats following, “poti marara” (small, fast and easily maneuverable skiffs) improvised as fan boats … as well as used by the media. Team support boats shout up-to-the-minute race strategy here, the first name of one’s favorite steersman there or else the final standings on the side of overexcited journalists. One has to witness the fervor that emerges from this race as demanding as it is exciting.

Don’t miss this year’s race program :

Wednesday, Nov 4, 2015 : Huahine – Raiatea (44.5 kms)

6 :00am : Huahine, Fare beach, all racing teams present

7 :30am : Huahine /Fitii, start of the first leg

11 :15am : Raiatea, Toa Huri Nihi,  estimated finish of first teams.

Thursday, Nov 5,  2015 : Raiatea – Tahaa (26 kms)

7:00am: Raiatea, Toa Huri Nihi beach, all racing teams present

9:00am: Raiatea, Toa Huri Nihi beach, start of 2nd leg

11 :00am : Tahaa, Patio beach, estimated arrival of first finishers in Patio

Friday, Nov 6, 2015 : Tahaa – Bora Bora (58,2 kms)

6:00am: Patio beach, all racing teams present

7 :30am : Tahaa, Patio beach, start of 3rd leg

12 :30pm : Bora Bora, Matira beach, estimated arrival of first finishers

7 :00pm : Bora Bora, Vaitape beach Motoi, event gala sponsored by the town, Awards nights and closing ceremonies of the Hawaiki Nui Va’a 2015.

 

Photo Credit : Tatiana Salmon, Christian Durocher, Steeve Dickinson