Photos and words by Shawn Parkin

The small and normally quiet village of Fare on the island of Huahine in French Polynesia is abuzz with activity. Children play in the ocean, climbing the mooring line of a research ship, and jump into the water below. Local vendors of island crafts and food sell their wares along the main road, which has been closed to vehicles to accommodate the influx of people. Large and muscular men carry their paddles through town while Va’a (outrigger canoe) teams take turns carrying their canoes to the water. This is the opening ceremony of the Hawaiki Nui Va’a, the largest annual sporting event in French Polynesia. In this race nearly a hundred, six-man paddle teams from island nations and beyond gather to put their experience, determination and strength to the test.

The Hawaiki Nui Va’a begins on Huahine, and the three-day, 80-mile race takes the teams to Raiatea and Taha’a before finally finishing in Bora Bora. The event is deeply rooted in Polynesian culture and is very prestigious. Competitors train rigorously all year, and this is the culmination of their efforts. It’s also very much a spectator sport with what can seem like the entire nation coming to watch. All the schools are out for the whole week, and many businesses are closed as well. This is, as the Communications Manager for Tahiti Tourisme puts it, “the Super Bowl of Tahiti.”

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