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Nui Va’a

Photography by Steve Dickinson





Outrigger canoe racing is a way of life in Tahiti, where everyone seems to paddle, or at the very least has an opinion to about this sport with deep cultural roots throughout Polynesia. On Tahiti, the marquee race is the Tahiti Nui Va’a, a three-day, 105-mile circuit of the island.

Canoes charge off the beach at Mahina on the north shore of Tahiti, bound for Vairao 43.5 miles to the southeast. Below, a crew from Shell Va’a, the most dominant team in the history of outrigger sport, leads the pack.

Editor in Chief Jeff Moag MANAGING Editor Dave Shively SENIOR Editor Joe Carberry creative Director Robert Zaleski art director Parker Meek PHOTO EDITOR Aaron Schmidt ONLINE EDITOR Charli Kerns studio photographer JP Van Swae

Canoes gather in Tautira for the second day of racing, a 28.5-mile sprint from Vairao to Tautira. In Tahiti, where three-fourths of the population lives within easy walking distance of the ocean, big fields are common at canoe races. More than 700 paddlers competed in the 2013 edition of the Tahiti Nui Va’a.

A rainbow frames the crews as they begin the final day of racing. Over three days, the canoes race 105 miles and make a complete circumnavigation of Tahiti.

Home Team: Girlfriends and wives cheer for Shell Va’a. More than 200 women also competed in the event.

A canoe skirts close to breaking surf. The race passes several well-known surf spots, including the famously heavy Teahpo’o early on the second day.

Paddlers bail out during a planned crew change. The Tahiti Nui Va’a is a change race, meaning teams of nine paddlers compete, with six in the canoe at any given time. Making smooth and quick crew changes is a critical component of success.

Tahiti outrigger  
Tahiti outrigger