Uturoa, French Polynesia – Confusion reigns at the start of the second leg of the great outrigger canoe race, Hawaiki Nui Va’a, in the blue lagoon of Raiatea, French Polynesia.
“Teri Tico 3 centered”
Either the race officials fire the gun early, or some teams arrive late. Whatever the case, chaos at the start line, including a catastrophe for the Hawaii all star team, sets the tone for the shortest but most intense of 3 races between 3 islands in 3 days.
Team Hawaii, who yesterday finished sixth overall in the first leg from Huahine to Raiatea, their best finish ever in this great race, hulied today and lost a chance of standing on the awards podium tomorrow. But the Hawaii women, all heart and soul, have accomplished an unprecedented feat by winning the women’s race between Raiatea and Taha’a in a field of 18 canoes. Hawaii should be proud of these iron women.
Today’s race is a sprint between Raiatea and Taha’a. Departing from the lagoon at Raiatea and paddling into deep water between the two islands, the racers converge in a narrow body of water inside the fringing reef of Taha’a. They are literally squeezed together. With hundreds of escort boats following and cheering them on, the scene looks more like a wild spectator sport than the greatest paddling race in the world.
“Teri Tico 4 centered”
OPT, the post office team, takes the lead, followed closely by Shell Va’a, the OPT “B” team, and Paddling Connection. But the real battle is between Huahine’s Matairea Hoe and EDT, the electric company team, who change leads six times before the finish. It is an epic battle.
When OPT passes Matairea close to the finish line and pulls ahead, hundreds of Huahine fans on dozens of escort boats do not give up. Screaming and cheering their team onward, their emotional determination drives this unsponsored team forward. Just before the finish, Matairea pulls ahead and never looks back. They finish fifth overall with EDT in their wake.
The race is now too close to call. With combined times determining the final outcome, the top six teams are separated by minutes. Tomorrow’s race from Taha’a to Bora Bora is the longest and most grueling of the three legs. Anything can happen.
‘Teri Tico is a Kauai-based photo journalist and attorney’