Mara’amu is the name for the wind that blows between the French Polynesian islands of Taha’a and Bora Bora, which is where we were going to race. I had watched the awesome video from the 2012 event many times.  The images of Dean Gardiner skirting the coral reefs with veils of spray blowing of the tops of waves have entranced me for the last 3 years.  I do confess that the 40 km distance intimidated me, and for the past 10 days people had been throwing around different distances, and the constant threat of the race being against a head wind.

We flew from Tahiti to Bora Bora.  In my mind the name Bora Bora sounds as about exotic and mystical as it can get. The view from the flight descent did not disappoint!!  Blue is my favourite colour, and the waters surrounding the island encompassed every shade of blue you can imagine.

Bora Bora from the water
Captivating View of Bora Bora

After just a day on Bora Bora we shipped out to the island of Taha’a from where the race would start.  We boarded a well-used catamaran party boat and chugged out of the BB harbour, for what we soon realized would be a 4 hour voyage.  The sea became rough and the racers did what surfski racers do…..speculate on the wind direction, course selection swell size, blah blah blah….!  The highly tolerant spouses on the trip tolerated the singular topic discussions with grace.

Catamaran to Taha'a
The Catamaran to Taha’a

We arrived on a tiny dock in a small enclave of houses, with what I would learn was the local church and hall.  The hall was full of 80 colourful mattresses.  I decided to grab a mattress by the wall so I could prop myself up and read.  I seemed to have located myself in the Brazilian section of the room.  The guy next to me immediately fell asleep and started snoring like a Tahitian drummer who had drunk too much cava.  I decided to move a few mattresses over.

sleeping arrangements
Colourful Sleeping Arrangements

Dinner-time came, and the people of the community had prepared dinner.  They greeted us with Leis and traditional singing as we entered the dining hall.  The Pastor addressed us in Tahitian, and French and it was translated into English.  She had an incredibly warm smile and radiated kindness and caring.  She then guided us through some traditional sing-a-longs, which brought out the fierce Tahitian warrior in all of us.  After dinner it was time to hit the sack, as there would be a 5:30 am wake-up and 8:00 am start.  Big thanks to Justin from Epic Kayaks for loaning me a spare set of earplugs!!

The next morning the Tahitian guys were up at 4:30 with the crowing roosters.  They were laughing and chatting, and happy to be hanging out.  Daryl had gotten chilled in the night and was wearing most of his clothing, and using his paddle bag as a blanket.  After breakfast we had time to make the final preparations, install hydration systems, snacks, seat pads etc.

before the race start
Racers Get Ready
Surfskis launching for the race
Launching for the Race Start

We launched for the 3 km paddle to the Mara’amu Race start line.  I was looking for a motorboat wave to ride and I was able to jump onto the first one I saw. Two dolphins jumped on too, and one even leaped into the air to see what all the fuss was about.  When we were at Bora Bora the peaks had been clouded in.  As we rounded the corner the Island itself came into full view and it looked like computer-generated imagery.  Yep, we were definitely in paradise.

At the start line, Race Director Mosole Sebastion had his hands full trying to control 100 highly-strung thoroughbreds.  He had to wait for 3 stragglers, and as is typical, the guys started pushing the line.  One guy moved ahead, then the next, and pretty soon the whole line is rolling. Mosole was yelling into his bullhorn, “What do you guys think you are doing?” Add a French/Tahitian accent and it sounds pretty funny.

Start of the mara'amu surfski race
Race Start Line

Once the race started it was pretty great.  My plan was to run sideways on the waves, until their direction of travel lined up with my destination 30 km away.  That never really happened, but running diagonal on the swell was kinda of fun.  I mean who can complain?  Weather was great, and I was determined not to bonk. I had stuffed 4 of the world’s greatest mini bananas into my pockets and I was popping these like popcorn. Despite being sick as a dog, Daryl decided to race anyway, to my annoyance, he was still beside me and making ground.  The guy has grit!  I spent the next hour completely alone, with no other racers in sight.  Ocean swell was exploding onto the coral barrier reefs.  As I approached the white turn mark, a head current became evident, and as we rounded the corner a sidewind for the final 10 km. To this point I hadn’t seen anybody except a safety boat that offered me water, which I stoically rejected and immediately regretted as the boat drove off.  Me:  “No wait!  I was only kidding!!  I need waterrrr.  Please come back!”

Approaching the final stretch I could hear the Tahitian drums pounding and Mosole yelling into the microphone with his machine-gun commentary.  After crossing the finish line I had to look to see who had arrived.  Daryl was there…and had been long enough to change into dry clothing, Rob Hansen, but no sign of Warren or Bruce McT.  Daryl had a solid race despite being sick, and Rob followed the Tahitian line and killed it.  It turns out while all the international paddlers went right, all the Tahitians went left.  Local knowledge rules and Rob followed the locals.  I’m not sure why that would have been hard for me to comprehend??

Post race lunch
Location for the Post-Race Lunch on Bora Bora

After some water and the last racer had crossed the line it was off to a deserted island for lunch and snorkelling with Manta Rays.  Tough life eh?  The race was a great experience and a bargain for $150 USD which included, race T-shirt, boat transfer to Taha’a, a night’s accommodation on a mattress, lunch before the race, dinner, race day breakfast, lunch and dinner, AND a post race day breakfast.

This event is definitely something to work towards.  40 km of open ocean racing is not for everybody, and running ocean swell was very new to me and significantly different than our local wind waves and in The Gorge.  Somebody told me that the conditions we experienced in Mara’amu were very similar to what you could expect at Molokai.  While I wasn’t completely happy with my Mara’amu performance I am now inspired to train hard and improve for longer distance and open ocean conditions.  Once you get a taste it’s hard to forget.

We’re heading to Hawaii in December for my son’s basketball tournament, so I’ll get some paddling in there, and can relive the action by watching the race videos.

Lastly, thanks to Daryl for all the logistical organization.  It was great travelling with Warren Bruce, Rob Hansen and Bruce McTaggart.  Thanks to Vince at Epic Kayaks for organizing me a boat in the last minute.  Thanks to my wife Morgan, for letting me go!!  Thanks to Gordon Barff of Tahiti helping us out and being a great host.  Congratulations to Mosole Sebastian for organizing a great event.

[Thanks to Mike Mills-Thom and Dennis Simbes for their photos]