The History of Tahiti’s Hawaiki Nui Va’a

The Hawaiki Nui Va’a is an intense, three-day outrigger canoe race through the Leeward Group of Society Islands—from Huahine to Raiatea, Raiatea to Taha’a, and finally Taha’a to Bora Bora. This year’s race is scheduled to take place on November 7th, 8th and 9th. We’ll have your exclusive updates once it’s underway; but until then, here’s a little history behind the event! 

Hawaiki Nui Va'a
Hawaiki Nui Va’a

The idea for the Hawaiki Nui Va’a started with a man named Edouard Maamaatuaiahutapu in 1983. He wanted to establish a race that would be as prestigious as the Molokai Hoe in Hawaii, but slightly more difficult. His goal was to create something that would truly showcase the physical and mental strength involved in outrigger canoe racing.

Edouard Maamaatuaiahutapu
Edouard Maamaatuaiahutapu

Edouard also had a deep love for the islands of Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a and Bora Bora. They each brought something different to their surrounding waters: Huahine, the most feminine of the islands, is soft, smiling and welcoming; Raiatea, the heart of Polynesia, is sacred and majestic; Taha’a, known as the “Vanilla Island,” is wild and spellbinding; and Bora Bora, a celebrity in her own right, is romantic and breathtaking. He wanted to find a way to connect each of these islands, and decided that the Hawaiki Nui Va’a was the best way to do that.

In 1984, he shared his idea with a group of friends that loved va’a as much as he did. These friends included Gaston and Yvonne Teihoarii, Jo Galenon, Marcel Thunot, Henri Guilbault, Damas Rochette, and Julien Maurin. Full of enthusiasm, they went from island to island to present their idea and convince various organizations to join the race.

In 1991, Rony Pouturu, with the assistance of Gaston Tong Sang—the mayor of Bora Bora—organized an open sea race from Taha’a to Bora Bora. From there, at the request of Tony Hiro, the Minister of Sports, everything came together. The race was initially named Raro Matai Hoe, but it was later reinvented as the Hawaiki Nui Va’a.

Before Edouard died in 2007, he made the following statement: “We received a beautiful heritage from our ancestors: the va’a. And, it is of our duty to take care of it, in order to transmit it to our children who will do the same. Let us not forget that we are the guarantors of its durability.”

That was his message and that is the story behind the Hawaiki Nui Va’a. Today, more than a hundred teams from around the world show up to compete in the event, making it one of the most famous local and international canoe races of its kind. Stay tuned for more information!


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