This year the Air France Paddle Festival in Tahiti, French Polynesia continued to grow with a record breaking 337 registered paddlers for both the 9.5km Lagoon Race and the 24km Elite Race. The weather predicted rain, but it held off as the festivities began with all the paddlers forming a circle of remembrance for two fellow waterman who had recently lost their lives.
Event organizer Jerome Loisel made it clear that safety comes first by strictly enforcing a no leash – no race rule. Last year a few paddlers broke that rule and were immediately disqualified upon completion. As a result, this year everyone wore a leash.
After the remembrance circle, the prone paddlers were given a 30 second lead before the sup racers took off who immediately kicked it into high gear! With a round trip ticket to LAX on the line, these guys were digging deep all the way to the finish line. There were several position changes in the lead pack throughout the race with the top 3 prize winners being Heiva Paie in 1st, Raimoana Terou in 2nd and Tevai Maroaunui in 3rd.
These guys were chomping at the bit to get off the black sand beaches and start digging their way to victory. The conditions were much more challenging than the lagoon race with strong steady winds, larger swells and choppy water, which all added up to make an exciting race to the finish.
Right from the start a pack of racers broke off from the rest of the paddlers and it was clear they were going to finish together. They made a huge gap that between themselves and the main group of racers that, after about 20 minutes, was too large for anyone to catch back up.
Local Steve Teihotaata, who won the 11 City Sup Tour in 2015, was a man on a mission and lead the entire race, while Titouan Puyo and Rete Ebb followed closely. There were some close calls when a few of the paddlers crept in too close to shore and had to portage over some jagged rocks nearly piercing holes in their boards and another paddler fell due to some serious side-chop. All in all it was an exciting, fast paced and well executed race that had some happy winners and a few upsets.
After the elite race was finished the stoke was high and they had a just for fun race including costumes and some activities for the kids. Groups were racing around on the Red Paddle Co XL and enjoying some BBQ. All in all it made for a great day on the water.
Thank you Air France Paddle Festival for your amazing hospitality and all you are doing for the sport of standup paddling!